I love beech trees. A walk in a beech forest makes me happier, healthier, and more in touch with nature. Beech trees feature in my new book, Tree Beings, about people who love trees. Dr Jane Goodall writes (in the Foreword) about her favourite beech tree:
“Ever since I was a child I have loved trees. The trees in our garden all had names and personalities. I did not think of them as inanimate objects, but as living beings. I had a special tree in our garden, a beech tree up whom I used to spend hours. I named him – not very imaginatively – Beech! I read books up there, or I just sat, feeling somehow closer to the birds and nature. My special tree being.” (Tree Beings, 2020).
Jane would climb her tree and read Tarzan and Doctor Dolittle, and dream about living in the jungle. Her dream came true later when she lived in a rainforest for years and made far-reaching scientific discoveries.
Richard St Barbe Baker spent over 70 years traveling the world, encouraging people to love trees. Like Jane, he also got to know an ancient beech tree near his childhood home. He’d visit the tree if he’d had a difficult day:
“Standing by the friendly beech, I knew that in my heart that my troubles and my grief were but for a passing moment. I would imagine that I had roots digging down deep into Mother Earth and that all above I was sprouting branches. I would hold that in my thoughts for a few moments and then come back with the strength of the tree.” (My Life, My Trees, 1970).
Richard came to see trees as beings, and he inspired people around the world to plant trillions of trees. He showed what’s possible when one person acts out of love for the planet.
We don’t usually think of trees as beings, but they do have a presence that attracts us. Simply walking in a forest changes our body chemicals, making feel calmer and healthier. Trees also appeal to our imagination. Beech trees appear in Grimm’s fairy tales, where young characters travel through a dark forest and learn how to face challenges.
Trees have their own kind of intelligence too. In Tree Beings I tell the story of the scientist, Professor Suzanne Simard, who found a forest ‘internet’. Trees in forests are connected by an underground network of fungi. In beech forests, for example, trees can use the fungi to send food, water, and messages to each other. They can share food with trees that don’t have enough, and also send messages to warn of insect attack.
Trees are the oldest living things on the planet. They give homes and food to wildlife; protect and enrich the soil; recycle fresh water; clean the air; and fight climate change. If you befriend a tree (as Jane and Richard did) you might begin to feel that it’s a being too.
Raymond Huber is a children’s author and editor.