My Favorite Trees (Chris Searles)
In the most practical, modern sense a “tree of life” is an old growth tree. Old growth trees are of primary importance to life on Earth. They provide: shelter, food, temperate microclimates, hydrological maintenance, soil stability, water vapor, air filtration, water filtration, greenhouse gas sequestration, habitat for pollinators, and more. Old growth trees are probably the most benevolent and nurturing beings on Earth.
I grew up in Austin, TX, "a city within a park," thus i have no sense of the world that doesn’t begin with trees. Literally, just like in Malick’s dreamy film Tree of Life, my earliest memories are framed by oak limbs. We had sour apples and squirrels like monkeys where i grew up. Hundreds of partially eaten fruits littered our backyard every summer as if the squirrels could never remember not to eat those apples.
So “church” for me begins outdoors. During my preschool years we would walk from my home church in downtown Austin, across Congress Avenue during weekday lunch hours, to a public park next to the public library (see photo above). This was the 1970s. Austin was “Mayberry” and the city park five blocks from our church was a wonder.
Squawking birds, rolling hills, lush green grass, leaping squirrels, park benches and picnic tables, towering trees, paradise. We went to church and preschool at the same place and the people in both establishments were community-minded, kindhearted, and altruistic. To me, all of these things go together. Even as an adult this seems to be true.
My earliest years were spent on the church playground that overlooked the tree in this remarkable video:
That my home church, First Baptist Austin, would feel so deeply connected to and respectful of this old growth tree's sanctuary, magic and beauty that they would adopt this fragile, phenomenal, giant is just beyond my wildest dreams. . . akin to full circle fulfillment. I've been blessed by many full circles in my life, but First Baptist's choice to adopt this tree, move it on to their own property from across the street where i played as a child, and see it continue thrive, reminds me how lucky i am.
Reforestation and the preservation of old growth trees and forests is the core solution to our current environmental crisis. I won’t tarry on this too long, but the science is clear. 71.4% of humanity now lives in areas where biodiversity loss is so substantial humans are in jeopardy of losing life support services. Biodiversity loss can be most rapidly reversed via reforestation. Likewise, resilience to climate change is most rapidly, permanently, and holistically achieved via reforestation. Forests are also intrinsic to healthy freshwater ecosystems, global precipitation cycles, and the reduction of catastrophic storms and droughts.
Phenomenally--to me--the “tree of life” is an accurate metaphor for the origination of all terrestrial life. Without forests, particularly tropical forests, we would not have the climate or biodiversity we've relied on since the dawn of civilization. In fact, it's pretty clear the Garden of Eden was a tropical forest.
The first time Earth hit 1 Billion people was 1804. Today (212 years later) we have nearly 7.5 Billion people. The human species is roughly 200,000 years old. In the last 50 years we’ve destroyed about half the world’s tropical forests and reduced total wildlife on Earth by nearly 60%. It is commonly believed by conservation biologists that humanity's current expansion is sending more than 100 species to extinction everyday, mostly because of deforestation in the tropics where half of all biodiversity lives.
We are living in an era where biodiversity is disappearing faster than at any other time in all of human existence. Scientifically speaking, forests came first--not humans. We are late arrivers. Without biodiversity, and forests, Nature cannot provide for us. The biggest solution to today's extinction crisis, catastrophic biodiversity loss and global climate change is rapid biodiversity restoration, and that begins with reforestation and the preservation of old growth forests.
Chris Searles is founder of BioIntegrity and co-founder/editor of AllCreation.org.