For the Love of Trees

I grew up in Errington, on Vancouver Island. For me and every other kid I knew, the forest was our playground. There were no adults and we could do what we wanted. We built tree forts, dug fox holes, and plotted hideouts. Pinecones and bracken spears were our ammunition in case of invasion. We knew every inch of our territory. 

But what I really loved were the trees. They allowed me to escape into their branches and daydream. I learned their magic – which ones oozed pitch, which ones had branches that would bend and not break (important when a fast exit was needed), which ones had bird nests, which ones could shelter you best from the rain. Each had its own smell, something I have never forgotten. Fir, cedar, hemlock – each with its own perfume. 

In Beacon Hill Park circa 1969, with my siblings. That’s me at the top.

When we moved to Central America I quickly adapted. I learned to climb differently. Coconut trees became my new sanctuary. I learned to master the “walk” up trees, and how to navigate the dead branches to climb to the very top. I climbed many other trees to reach their bounty. I learned how other creatures liked the protection of the branches – I was constantly on the lookout for snakes, scorpions, and ants. I realized that so many things I enjoyed from the trees were also enjoyed by other species. I felt connected. It was in the trees and forest where I learned how everything is interdependent, not solely motivated by self-interest. It has informed my approach to how I engage with people and issues.

Ben in Belize, 1976

Today, alas, I only climb trees in my mind. My family is glad because I took some major falls as I got older.  But I cherish the trees on our farm as old friends. I am dismayed as some old growth firs and maples are starting to die. If they all die, how will I be able to pass the magic of trees to my grandchildren? To be there with them as they explore the trees and be amazed by their secrets. Trees can only be sustained if they have clean water, nutrients and the right climate. I can look after the first two, but it will take all of us to tackle climate change. It can’t wait – the trees need us and we need them. 

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