Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forests: Nature at Your Service

You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to value trees, forests, and the life-systems that our green canopies sustain (http://www.treehugger.com ). With the approach of World Environment Day, the UNEP is eager to increase awareness of the importance of forests for all of earth's inhabitants. Embodying “Nature at your Service,” as the UNEP declares, forests are as varied, multi-populated, and multi-purposed as nature itself. I am neither scientist, nor naturalist, but, having lived near many forests around the world, I hope to share some of my experiences and love of the life forests sustain.

Anyone departing the impermeable surfaces of inter-city connectors for shaded suburban forests can immediately feel the refreshing fragrance of green-forested spaces. Oak woods in Maryland and Virginia offer welcome relief from the heat and hustle of Washington, DC. Running through the pine forests of the Carolinas, the aspen groves of the Rockies, or through the pine, birch and maple forests of the northern states (8 gallons of maple sap boil down to 1 gallon of syrup in sugar houses that smell like distilled summer in the snowy, leafless brilliance of a north-country winter’s day), seeing the passage of seasons in the flaming foliage of fall, people can glimpse the brilliance and simplicity of nature’s renewable forest systems. Old trees drop, decay, support animals and ground-life while the seeds or root systems of vibrant trees spread new life for the canopies of future years.

In the sequoia forests of the America’s west coast, trees hundreds of years old stretch towards skies so distant the tree tops are obscured. And the bases bear marks of burrowing creatures, forgotten humans who hollowed out tunnels, fires which raged in years long past. In Japan, too, stand ancient pines. Many temples are bounded by towering gates constructed of trunks of trees so immense it takes the arms of many people to ring their base. Seeing huge sakura (cherry trees), rainbow-colored azalea, and grape-scented wisteria cascading down the rugged mountains and hills is surpassed only by walking along the forest floors, hearing and seeing the birds and other wildlife living within and below the shaded branches.

In Thailand, forests vary in character from north to south-- fruit, palm, rubber, ancient species all mingling and supporting orchids, mosses, humans, occasional elephants, and other wildlife among trees new and old. On Goh Samui, there are wonderful trees with roots tall and thin as walls forming mystical houses for forest denizens, and adventurous hikers alike. The biodiversity of Malaysia, of Indonesia, of islands small and large, ancient, stable lands or evolving volcanic formations, from sea coast to mountains, living in tree canopy and in grasslands, is amazing as well.The bamboos stretching from China across many countries in hundreds of varieties, provide food, shelter, building and art materials for our world. And in Senegal, where the Sahel leads to the vast Sahara, massive baobab trees stand vigils in an arid land, forming mini-forests themselves when their leaves sprout and spread, and still giving shelter when their dry branches shade the earth below. And forests of prickly pear cactus form life-zones for smaller creatures, finding water, rich soil, and habitation where they can.

The argan groves, palm-oases, cork woods and grasslands of Morocco, are home to many prized aromatic and medicinal plants, flowering and food plants, and numerous animals.  It is interesting to view food-forests which have survived for hundreds, even thousands of years--aspen groves in Colorado, archa (juniper) groves in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, palm stands and bamboos... naturally-occurring seeming mono-cultures which are actually thriving food forests rich with biodiversity. Yet when, in the interests of  convenience, expansion, or commercial growth of one kind or another, actual mono-cultures are planted, they become, all too often, vulnerable to myriad parasites, and vast acres of trees or other plantings can be lost. And when, for example, in the guise of providing farmland or housing tracts, forests are destroyed, whole eco-systems can falter, interdependent species cascading, sometimes to the point of extinction, as levels of water, food, shelter, even soil health fall prey to the backhoes and bulldozers of "progress."

The medicines, the valued plants and animal species that inhabit the forests, rainforests and jungles of the world, even the sea-weed forests of the ocean floor, are unique and irreplaceable. Join with the UNEP in celebrating World Environment Day (http://www.unep.org/wed ). Find a way to partner with local communities, with a global effort; help preserve our Environment, so we can all share the benefits and beauties of our forests on our interdependent planet.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful article, Michele! You've covered the US, Japan, Thailand and Morocco and pointed out the spiritual connection many cultures have with trees. I hope you will also look at Malaysia and Indonesia for its biodiversity and Brazil too!