Trees touch our soul | Sunday Observer

Trees touch our soul

10 September, 2023

Whenever you read a book, magazine or newspaper, you should be grateful to trees. There are, of course, some people who never read anything. All of them have to remember that they are breathing because of trees. Therefore, do not take trees for granted as they enrich our lives in countless surprising ways.

During a drought some people set fire to forests forgetting the fact that trees prevent soil erosion, purify the air we breathe and retain the rain water.

While revisiting my childhood primary school in the backwoods of Wellawaya, I met an old friend. Both of us have grown up over the past few decades. He is standing erect in front of the school. He is tall and his branches have become the home for many pretty birds.

I remember the day we met. Our headmaster had launched a tree planting campaign. He asked me to plant the tree in front of the school. We have grown up in different environments, he in natural surroundings and I in the asphalt jungle in the city.

In the hamlet I grew up trees were so common that we paid them little attention. If someone asked you to name the biggest thing the earth had produced you would surely say it was the dinosaur or the blue whale.

The tall Australian eucalyptus trees tower over 300 feet high, three times the length of the biggest dinosaur or the blue whale. When it comes to longevity, no animal has lived more than some bristle corn pine trees in the American West which are more than 4,000 years old. They were there long before Egyptians built amazingly huge Pyramids.


Trees sustain our lives in a number of ways. You sleep in a wooden bed and have your breakfast at a wooden kitchen table. You might enjoy a glass of mango or apple juice forgetting the fact that they come from trees. You use cinnamon and nutmeg in your food.

The newspaper you are reading now has been printed on the processed wood pulp we call paper. Most of the beverages such as cocoa, almonds and various medicinal tonics are tree products. During the malaria epidemic, we were given the bitter quinine tablets produced from the cinchona tree.

The logging industry supplies the raw materials for an array of products from shipping crates to paper bags. Although the logging industry has created many employment opportunities, it has caused habitat loss, environment pollution and climate change.

The damage has spread to the rainforests of Central Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Logging has also adversely affected water resources, shelter for plants, animals and microorganisms. The forest cover is dwindling day by day and we are heading for disaster.

In addition to the direct uses, trees make our life on the planet pleasant. Even in countries full of deserts, they have felt the need for trees. Big trees get water through their roots and leaves. They also absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

Due to the chemical reaction, trees release oxygen for all living beings to survive. Photosynthesis produces glucose and the trees convert it to starch to save energy. The wood is made of thousands of glucose molecules.


Deforestation has affected rainfall patterns in many parts of the world. It is a major cause for floods as well as droughts and forest fires. According to scientists, deforestation is responsible for about one-fifth of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. It has led to global warming as well. Some logging companies burn large tracts of forest in order to facilitate access to certain areas. Man has been destroying such natural resources in the name of development.

Trees produce various substances that man has learned to use as medicine. The ancient Greeks treated pain with a tea made by boiling willow leaves and bark. It is the precursor to modern-day aspirin. The Chinese have derived medicine from the ginko tree. Today, the chemical ginkgolide is used for treating asthma. In fact almost all parts of certain trees are used to produce life-saving drugs.

Soil erosion

Modern scientists have unlocked certain secrets related to trees. David Rhoades, a chemical ecologist at the University of Washington discovered that trees send unseen signals to each other. For instance, when willows are attacked by webworms, they give off a chemical that alerts nearby willows. The neighbouring willows respond by pumping more tannin into their leaves making them more difficult for the insects to digest.

Although I lived in dry zones as a child, I did not feel the impact because there were many trees around me. Today, we have learned that trees enhance rainfall by cooling the land, slowing wind evaporation and soil erosion. Trees transpire water into the sky from their leaves. Without trees the world will be a massive desert. Although we see trees as separate entities, in a large forest they are linked together like a community. If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients, a third to sunlight, they can share the resources with one another.

When you look at a tree, you see only the trunk, branches and leaves. However, the roots beneath a tree can reach as deep and twice as wide as the tree we see above the ground. When the roots of two trees touch, a battle for dominance begins. Forest scientists have found that roots link different types of trees. It helps trees to draw nutrients from other trees through the linkage.

Man has lived in harmony with trees for millennia. Trees provide man with the much needed oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Therefore, if you are forced to cut down a tree, be ready to plant at least two trees in return for the many benefits trees have conferred on you. What is more, trees provide a link to the past and a bridge to the future. If you are a sensible person, you will feel that trees touch something deep in our soul. You may agree with naturalist John Muir when he wrote: “The clearest way to the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

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