This week I have spent a lot of time thinking about trees. When we started thinking about a month long nature noticing project, I needed an idea to base the month around. A few of us have been seduced by various books, such as The Lost Words and Thirty Two Words for Field that look at words about the natural world, and consider how they enrich our connection with nature. With a personal interest in (Irish) Gaelic I decided to learn a bit more about the trees that make up the Gaelic alphabet. When I looked closely at my bookshelves, I discovered I have a bit of a thing for books about trees. From the earliest one in my collection, in which I have written my name with very childlike handwriting, which focuses on tree identification and nothing else, although the introduction makes it clear in no uncertain terms that without plants, the human race would not exist. Written in the 1970s (and as I have just discovered described online as a "vintage antique guide" - I'm clearly very old) it seems very certain what the future holds: "Today all civilized nations are making a concentrated effort to protect and increase greenery in cities and countryside." (A Colour Guide to Familiar Trees - Jaromir Pokorny) It seems we haven't made concentrated effort enough. Vintage it may be, but it provides an excellent resource to discover what the bark, flowers and fruit look like and where each tree might be found, as well as what the wood is most often used for.
Picking up the next tree book on the shelf, I was amused to discover that although I thought this was much older, it too was published in the 1970s, although I think this is a relatively recent acquisition, marked in the front as costing 39 pence, a bargain, given that it's published price was a whole 45 pence. This book is about trees of the world and according to the summary on the back cover, it even includes information about the tree that provided wood for Noah's ark, apparently Cypress, in case you were wondering.
Other books are a little more esoteric, from tree medicine to the myths and folklore of trees. Perhaps medicine isn't what immediately comes to mind when you think about trees but if you have ever rubbed Vicks on your chest when you had a cold, then you were invoking the properties of eucalyptus to clear your sinuses, or perhaps you have used tea tree oil to fight a skin infection. At the beginning of the pandemic I stocked up on a supply of elderberry syrup to boost my immune system and I'm no stranger to some clove oil if I have toothache. A piece of advice: don't keep your clove oil next to your patchouli oil. No one needs to taste the 1970s.
Our Gaelic tree alphabet project is proving a great reason to dig into these books for stories from the practical to the fantastical. For instance the advice to use silver birch twigs to sweep away both the dust and the bad spirits.
Talking of stories, the most recent tree book to land on my shelves is the wonderful Dancing with Trees by Allison Galbraith. I was lucky enough to be gifted the book by Allison after a recent conversation I had with her where we talked about stories that link nature and health - of humans and of the land and how stories help us reach a place of (favourite word alert) reciprocity - giving back to the land even as we take from it. Oral storytelling is a key part of this, for centuries it has been a way for humans to connect with nature. I hope that we will be able to invite Allison to join us for some green health storytelling in the near future, but in the meantime you can listen to some trees stories (and some Lanarkshire folk tales too) via the magic of YouTube.
And finally, talking of publications that help connect us with nature, I can't not mention the wonderful new publication from the University of Derby - The Nature Connection Handbook. Available to download for free, it's a great resource for anyone who is working to help transform people's relationships with nature. It includes information about why nature connection is so important for both us and nature; how we can help people strengthen their nature connection (hint: it's not just about spending more time outside); and has a range of case studies profiling projects who have put some innovative ideas into action, including Scotland's own Paths for All Walking with Nature project. I highly recommend checking it out.