Consider Planting a Tree

treebeard & groot

Not only do trees cleanse the air we breathe, there’s more evidence they contribute to our mental health as well.

An article entitled “Greener Childhood Associated with Happier Adulthood,” describes research from Denmark’s Aarhus University discovering that “growing up near vegetations is associated with an up to 55 percent lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood.” An American researcher commented on the findings.

“The scale of this study is quite something,” says Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond who studies the psychological effects of natural spaces. Smaller studies have hinted that lack of green space increases the risk of mood disorders and schizophrenia and can even affect cognitive development.

In a rapidly urbanizing world, this data is particularly troubling. Most of us must live “where the work is,” and our children sometimes grow up in places where trees are few and far between (and I wouldn’t really count Joshua “trees” which are Monocotyledons, and not true trees).*

This research confirms my own, personal experience. I have always found lush greenery energizing. I used to attribute this association with family—while growing up in a USMC family, we would try to make an annual trip “home” to Puget Sound. The nearer we got to my grandparents, the greener the Puget Sound terrain grew.

In my affection for trees, I am akin to the Inklings. Much has been written about J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of the forests of Middle Earth. The terrible damage to the Fangorn forest done by the army of Saruman is one of the tragedies of The Lord of the Rings.

C.S. Lewis and his friends enjoyed walking trips. Much of the countryside they covered in these treks was adorned by healthy copses, but they do not appear to have ventured into any deep forests.

In a 1953 letter to a correspondent who was attempting to lure Lewis to visit America, he paints a clear picture of what he finds alluring.

How wrong you are when you think that streamlined planes and trains would attract me to America. What I want to see there is yourself and 3 or 4 other good friends, after New England, the Rip Van Winkle Mts., Nantucket, the Huckleberry Finn country, the Rockies, Yellowstone Park, and a sub-Arctic winter.

And I should never come if I couldn’t manage to come by sea instead of air: preferably on a cargo boat that took weeks on the voyage.

I’m a rustic animal and a maritime animal: no good at great cities, big hotels, or all that. But this is becoming egotistical. And here comes my first pupil of the morning.

All blessings, and love to all. Yours, C.S. Lewis

I’d love to see a bear, a snow-shoe, and a real forest.

Lewis wrote a fascinating poem about the spiritual price of deforestation.

The Future of Forestry

How will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?

When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac’s laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to [Cape] Wrath, have glazed us over?

Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”

Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight –
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.

So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.

Plant a Tree

In “The Arbor of God,” the physician who founded Blessed Earth poses a thoughtful question: “Trees are everywhere in Scripture. Why have they gone missing from Christian theology?”

I’ve always loved trees. I love their look, their shade, the sound of wind in their leaves, and the taste of every fruit they produce. As a grade-schooler, I first planted trees with my father and grandfather. I’ve been planning them ever since. . . .

But a dozen years ago, when I offered to plant trees at our church, one of the pastors told me I had the theology of a tree-hugger.

This was not meant as a compliment.

There is a possibly apocryphal statement credited to Martin Luther during the Reformation. In a spirit of faith and commendable actions for Christians, Luther said, “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.”

As I gaze out the window now, at the four blossoming apple trees we planted just three years ago, I’m inspired to plant some more trees. This year, I think, it will be some bushes and plants that provide year-round nectar for the hummingbirds that grace our woodlands. Even the anticipation of planting them brings me joy.

* Joshua trees, such as those which surrounded our home at Edwards AFB, are actually “flowering plants.” As such, they do have green growth and even fruit. So, in a generous spirit, I’ll credit them with 50% of the positive effect on mental health that a maple or fir might offer.

18 thoughts on “Consider Planting a Tree

  1. There is something about trees – climbing those supportive arms, not complaining of the shoes scrambling and slipping. It’s like the bark is rough on purpose: for traction, for poking attention awake in a overly smooth and unreal world. The leaves shaking and speaking around you. gently, silently offering fresh cleansed air. Every kids needs a good climbing tree – without one a child never knows roots and roosts. Never to have dreamed among trees – so deprived.
    Love this post ( and that poem which is new to me)

    1. A very poetic comment. On our property, 85-90 percent of the trees are evergreens (the vast majority are Douglas Fir). Great for lumber, not so great for climbing.

      But I agree. Most children have a natural desire to climb a friendly tree… and they gain a wonderful sense of accomplishment when they succeed.

  2. brookbabbles

    Hi Rob,

    Loved this post. I still have not been able to successfully log into Word Press and thought I had it licked just now so wrote a comment. No luck. Anyway I love the piece about the trees and I surely miss those big, tall trees around my former home in Olympia, WA. Nothing like that here. The citrus that is pretty common can’t compete. (: As a youngster in northern California, we were surrounded by oak. Wonderful to climb. Thanks for a lovely post and happy summertime up there in God’s country.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post… and that it brought back pleasant memories about Olympia. Like you, I lived in northern California too. Nice. Much nicer than soCal (because it actually has precipitation and can support more than palm trees). Not that I’m opposed to palm trees… we had coconut palms in our yard in Guam. Unfortunately one of them was right next to our parking space… but that’s another story.

  3. Hi Rob,

    I love it. Yes, I love seeing things grow and blossom. When the New Jerusalem comes to Earth, it has everything needed. No need to mine, cut down trees, or tear down anything for homes. God loves nature.


    1. No need for mining? Never actually thought about that. Working deep underground always seemed a little scary when I thought about it (like be a submariner in the Navy). Guess I wouldn’t make a very good dwarf if I lived in Middle Earth.

      Yes, nature is a beautiful gift from God.

      1. The New Jerusalem is made from all the precious metals and minerals, or at least ones we value now. It says there is not night there for God’s presence illuminates it.

      1. Some people apparently do experience seasonal affective disorder, but no one I know personally. (I’ve had acquaintances who mention it.) The climate in Western Washington is temperate though, not that cold, and the snow lasts only a handful of days (just enough for the kids to sled). And, even though winter skies are often cloudy, it’s not like it rains every day… and often the precipitation is better described as “drizzle.”

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