Group attending Wild Walk in Botanical Gardens August 18, 2018
Whenever we lead a nature walk, such as we did last weekend in the New York Botanical Garden as part of our Nurture Nature Program, I invite people at some point to hug a tree. Some will hesitate, because "tree hugger" has been used a pejorative to shame humans into thinking that their connection to trees is superficial and that their actions to preserve nature is of little consequence.
For one, the phrase “tree hugger” first appeared in 1730, when 294 men and 69 women of the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, wrapped their arms around trees in their village in order to prevent them from being cut down and then used to build a palace. They died for their efforts, but this action led to a prohibition of tree cutting, and now this area is a wooded oasis. These Bishnois also inspired the Chipko movement (photo right) that began in the 1970s. Women in the Himalayan hills of India hugged trees to keep them from being cut down, forcing widespread forestry reforms and an end to tree felling in certain regions in the Himalayas.
Hugging trees is a act of defiance and resistance, and is good for the trees.
Hugging trees also benefits humans. Getting close to the tree we can take in more of the helpful terpene molecules that trees emit. Terpenes help us live longer, boost our immune system, and help fight off cancer.
Children in Miskito village of Mabita listening to a tree
Also, many who hug trees say they feel a calmness when they do so, and it is as if the tree is hugging them back. I listen to the trees and it seems to me that they know I am there. I feel like I am heard and that I belong, and that physically touching a tree touches my heart, and opens it to life around me.
So go out and hug a tree today. Do it for yourself. Do it for life.