Trees as People

Recently on facebook, one person made a post, where Trees were refered to as `People’.    That got me thinking, and I made a reply, and I thought it important that I posted that reply as a `status update’ in my own profile:

“Nearly all the pagans work with trees in a magical way, and I must say trees have helped me in more ways than one. And when trees I love and am connected to have been cut down or hacked by people unexpectedly, I have had serious physical injuries to my own self within days! One thing I must say , however is that I think we humanise too many things around us. Trees range from dwarves to such giant magnificent entities.. but to me, they are not people! For people are flawed humans.. and trees, they are perfect creatures of nature.”

To this, some of my friends (F1, F2, F3..) responded  as follows.

F1:   “It rather depends what you mean by people… But I agree about the perfection of tree beings.

F2:  Perhaps referring to trees as Standing People points to an aspiration that one would hope would be a part of homo sapiens type people….. But it is interesting to reflect on the perfection of trees. The Yew, the sycamore and, no doubt other trees excrete a toxic substance that kills off anything that might attempt to grow in its shade. The Ash populates an area with such speed and in such great quantities that it is sometimes considered a weed in its denial of other species the space to develop a diverse range of flora. I can think of parallels in human society which we would criticise for such an approach. Food for thought, perhaps. 🙂   Nature, red in tooth and claw, green in leaf.

F3: I agree. We are all part of the same web and we are as perfect or as flawed as we allow ourselves to be. Of course humans are flawed but that is part of our journey. A tree that has grown in the wrong place, without enough light or food, could be said to be flawed too. We are all striving to grow and to be the best that we can be. The difference for me is one of speed…flowers are here and gone in the blink of an eye, we last a little bit longer, trees longer still and rocks the longest of all. We all have our place, our perfections and our flaws. I prefer not to reflect on the ‘perfection’ of something else by thinking about how imperfect humans are. We are young and trees are old. We are learning.

So I got thinking further, my mind provoked by these responses.  And here were my replies.
“To define `flawed’ I look to our way of thinking of machines or systems. Something that does not fully and efficiently serve its purpose for coming into existence flawed. A faulty machine is either repaired or scraped. A weakling bird with health problems from birth, very quickly dies – by starvation, or by being thrown out of nest – by its own siblings sometimes! It is `flawed’ because somewhere n its genetic make-up, its programming became flawed ..resulting in a `weak’ fledgling. Come to think of it, am now thinking about humans …what’s the purpose of our programming? if we are serving it, we are fine.. if not, we are flawed? Hmm.. Quite frankly, survival drives me.. not poetry. Though am likely to use esoterica and poetry and anything else to ensure my survival, if need be. Harsh I know..but its part of human-nature, right? :-)”

“I guess we should define things – I’d call humans `people’ – the creature that has evolved out of apes. Esoterically and poetically we humans `humanise’ so many non-human living things and even non-living things (what would you say is the definition of `life’ by the way?) I agree that nature is harsh, hard, and utterly selfish and every creature fights for its own survival most of the time (exceptions are when one puts its offspring’s well-being first). Trees no exception (except trees don’t put their offspring’s needs above their own. An oak doe not keel over and ie just because its seed grows near it). No other living thing is flawed, but humans.. because we humans think humans are end all and be all.. and so we try to humanise everything. 🙂 (Of course we also have to define what we mean by flawed, for this to be a fully sensible pondering.. :-)”

So readers and pagans? what thoughts do you have?

I’ll leave you with this art work that I did a very long time ago..   as it seems rather relevant 🙂


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One thought on “Trees as People

  1. A lot of interesting things to debate and ponder here. Yes, I think I can agree that I see “people” as homo sapiens. “Humanising” trees – well because we are steeing things from our perspective and can therefore only describe things from that stance and also because we are using a language that we produced, it is inevitable, I imagine, that we tend to describe other life forms by resorting to human attributes.

    I would argue that the problem with “us” is that we assume that we have the whole picture. This is where there is a problem with describing things as perfect or flawed. “Perfect” – correct to the very last detail, compared to what? The word “flawed” makes me think that something has got an “F” grade, failed a law. But again, says who? and compared to what? As they say “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”

    Since being taught the Bible at a young age, where we are told (in a man made language) that we, “people” were granted dominion over various forms of life and that Adam was granted the right to “name” /label things, we have placed humans at the centre. Everything is perfect if it aligns with our desires. Things are flawed or inhuman if they do not. But we are not a species with a unilaterally goal/desire orientated mind anyway. In my own life anyway, what I thought was perfect or flawed at one time has been reassessed by my changing views or circumstances.

    I don’t know how it is to be a tree. Scientists etc have taught me that they have facilitated our emergence and survival as a species as they create Oxygen, clear soil etc, gave us tools and fire and shelter…that makes tree seem a good contender for being called perfect from a human point of view.

    Some species of trees colonise (see, it’s difficult to describe their behaviour without giving them human motivations (probably wrong word) or attributes) areas at a faster rate or protect their space with poison. True. But there may be other variables that we are not aware of that are at the root of these less than altruistic seeming qualities. We wouldn’t have minded a spread of ash trees in history as we used them to make weapons and we use the poison of Yew as an anti cancer growth agent.

    We have a lot of similarities with trees/plants. We all want to reproduce and survive as a species. We aren’t static as individuals. Trees are rooted. They have the problem of how to disperse their offspring so that they don’t grow up in their shadow. They’ve developed canny ways like allowing insects and birds to lodge on them and transport the seeds. A really canny way was being so beneficial to us over the centuries so that we walk in forests to see them and transport their offspring on our boots and clothes etc to find new places to sprout.

    You never know. We see trees as “Standing People”. They may call us “Scatter(brained) Seeds”

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