I decided to do this interview after Notre Dame had burned down, causing some discussion as to whether it was ok to rebuild the roof structure by cutting down ancient oak trees. I was particularly shocked when I read a statement by the head of the Belgian Agency for Forest and Nature (i.e. the person responsible for ‘managing’ that little bit of nature we still have left in Belgium), who stated that as far as she was concerned, this was perfectly ok, since these older trees are past their prime in terms of their ability to absorb CO2, and so it was ‘ecologically responsible’ to cut them down and replace them by younger trees.
Is that all a tree is worth to some of the people who are paid to care about them? Really?? I could continue to rant about this, but I decided it would be better to step aside and allow one of those oak trees to have a chance to speak for themselves. And once again, my conclusion is that we as humankind still have a whole lot to learn from tree-kind…
This is oak father
I greet you, child of humanity. It has come to my attention that you wish to speak with me. I read a great many different questions in your heart and mind, and I will do my best to answer them for you.
Let me begin by talking about the relationship between tree-kind and mankind. How different are we? And how are we perhaps the same? The main difference between you and me is that I am not an individual in the sense that you understand individuality. I am many things at once, and it is that interplay that makes each tree a being that is as unique as you. But we do not ask to be acknowledged in that uniqueness, but rather it is something that we see as a gift given to us by the landscape that we live in. For every breath I take and every ray of sunlight was a gift that has made me into who I am today. The lay of the land and the animals residing here have seeped into my bones. Even every encounter with one like yourself will contribute in making me the wonder of nature that you witness today. And so in honouring me, I ask you to honour the web instead, remembering that the more diverse and interconnected that web is, the more rich the personalities of the creatures and beings that reside there.
I have a suggestion for you, if you would be willing to take it. When next you find yourself in one of the places you consider home, think about your connections, and how that place is a reflection of who you are. Think about the reciprocity in that process. Without being naive, do also acknowledge the ways you could become more than you are now, and how your environment might be hindering you in achieving that. Then realize that the symbiosis between you and your home means that you cannot possibly grow yourself without forcing the world around you to grow with you. You carry it as it carries you. Never forget that, and you will find that happiness is closer to hand than you might think it is in moments of despair.
The next question I read in your mind is whether I mind being cut down in order to be used as wood, and how I think humanity should relate to the resource of wood.
To this I could probably repeat the same answer as before. The key is being in relationship. The key is keeping up connection. For I do not die when you cut me down, not truly. For my spirit resides within every fiber of my being, and continues to do so for as long as my material existence continues, even if I no longer take the shape of a living tree. And so I can live with being used to serve your kind, on the condition that you still honour me as a person. In the spoon you use every day to feed yourself and your family, I will gladly poor my love, just like I do not mind being the support beam that keeps your families home from collapsing. But I will mind if you see me as a thing that has no value beyond an empty aesthetic, and that can be replaced without care at the first whim of changing fashions. If you cut me down and use me as a resource, you make me into a member of your tribe. Do treat me as such, and allow me to attain old age in this different shape. In return I offer to carry the spirits of your ancestors within me and help you to reconnect with them as well.
For whether I am a living tree standing in the forest or a part of your home, I am here for the long term. I am slow in growing, but have a large capacity of memory. Value me for all I am and we can grow together, and see beyond the superficiality of everyday chores.
How then, do you ask, do I feel about being used in a church building, at a place that will not even be visible to the human eye and may cause a large fraction of my kind to be cut down before the end of our lifespan?
And once again, I will give you the same answer. I do not want that to happen, because it does not bring me in relationship with you, and would mean my life is cut short without anyone benefiting from it in a meaningful way.
As for your final concern, do I believe it is my task to make way for a younger tree when I am past my prime, one that is more productive in terms of CO2- absorption?
I would ask your kind to reconsider the way they value each person, be they human or tree or animal. Is usefulness all you care about? I bring my connections, and I have the capacity to bring community together in ways a young tree is not able to do. Accept that as my gift, and allow me to give it to you, and remember well that I am not just speaking for myself but for the elders of your own kind as well. They are your memory. They are the ones that can offer you the perspective to look beyond the here and now.
If you need to concern yourself with CO2 in this day and age, remember that this problem came about precisely because you were insufficiently concerned about the health of the web of life as a whole. And know that you will only ever manage to heal if you heal in a holistic way, rather than seeing this as a problem that can be treated in a mechanical way, by trying to fix a statistic on a computer screen. Life is way more complex than that.
As a closing thought. I would urge you to find the hidden beauty in every living thing, and to cherish it. That is the way towards healing and completeness. That is the way towards becoming true human beings again. Let me know how I can help. I am most happy to be of service.
All my love.