This is a tree I see from the window of my living room and bedroom.
It is an oak – a pedunculated oak, one of a few hundred oak species in Europe. My colleagues – foresters – would be able to say a lot of other interesting things about this species’ biology.
For me, in that respect, it is already enough. It is just a beautiful, majestic tree that I admire every day, in all seasons, since I moved to Bonn in 2018. It reaches out to the balcony so closely that it almost embraces it. Living here feels like living on a tree.
It was summer when I first saw it. The tree was luscious in green, giving off a fresh smell to the whole apartment. I loved it right away. A couple of months later, its golden yellow leaves made a beautiful autumn decoration. Then, throughout winter, the shape of the old contorted branches became more articulate, sometimes spooky over the gloomy sky. In Spring, it is one of the last tree species around here to put on leaves, but what a joy and hope it brings.
It has been through an awful lot – winter snows, hurricane Sabine which saw its strong branches bend, the heatwave last summer. And that is just to name a few recent events, as this oak has lived here much longer than I have lived on this planet.
Since the lockdown for the COVID-19, I have been looking at this tree a lot. The oak has become my pagan cathedral for reflection, my bar for a drink after work, my TV and my radio – I have been watching how it was putting on the leaves day by day and listening to the birds it is home for.
In the hasty days we had been living in until the epidemic, when did you last have a chance to simply gaze at a tree? To just stare out of the window doing nothing else? As much as it may seem a waste of time, it brings us back to ourselves, to think about who we are.
Herman Hesse wrote “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
We are nowhere near to coming back to our lives as we knew them before the pandemic. Now is a good time to learn from trees and to listen to them.
Stand firm and grounded. Bend before you break. Learn tranquility. Withstand adverse weather.
Perhaps the more we listen to trees, the more we appreciate what we actually are.
At EFI, we are trying to make forests resilient. We research how to help them adapt to changing climate and, at the same time, how to use them to meet our societal needs without abusing them. How to move to an economic model that respects the planetary boundaries.
These days, we need to be resilient as humans. Perhaps trees can teach us resilience?
If after reading this philosophic stuff you feel like reading some scientific articles about oaks, New Phytologist has just published a special issue on oaks. It describes 56 million years of oak evolution, among others