This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
In this day and age of social distancing, I am inclined to think that the vast majority of us, either consciously or unconsciously, are suffering from a lack of physical contact with our fellow human beings. There is something healing that happens when two individuals connect with each other through a hug and it turns out that a similar feeling can also be obtained when we hug a tree.
Now, I know that some of you are probably thinking that I have finally lost it when it comes to our relationship with our plants, but there is evidence that supports the benefits of bonding with trees, and more generally, with nature.
I have written in the past about the practice of “forest bathing,” also known as the Japanese art and science of shinrin-yoku. If you would like to learn more, I recommend reading Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li. It could help open your mind to the benefits of this practice. But even if you can’t buy into the metaphysical aspect of this activity, just being in the forest (without your cell phone or any other connection to your everyday distractions) can have a calming effect on us that cannot be denied. You don’t have to understand it in your head to feel it in your heart.
This calming effect of being around nature brings me to the subject of tree hugging… To be clear, I am not talking about being a “tree hugger,” a term that sadly is often used in the pejorative sense to refer to someone that is an environmental extremist. I am talking about the physical act of a full-body-contact hugging of a tree and the positive vibes we can receive from that action.
According to Þór Þorfinnsson, an East Icelandic forest ranger, “When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head. It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”
He goes on the tell us that “If you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug [a tree], that’s definitely enough. You can also do it many times a day—that wouldn’t hurt. But once a day will definitely do the trick, even for just a few days.”
As for what kind of tree we should select, he offers this advice, “There are plenty of trees…it doesn’t have to be big and stout, it can be any size. If you don’t have access to a forest, any tree will do. Chances are that there are trees down the block that haven’t been hugged in a while either.”
Once you find that perfect tree, hold on tight and don’t let go. “It’s also really nice to close your eyes while you’re hugging a tree,” Þór Þorfinnsson says. “I lean my cheek up against the trunk and feel the warmth and the currents flowing from the tree and into me. You can really feel it.”
While I realize that some of you will dismiss this fellow as a total nut, I would say “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” I have never doubted that there is a spiritual connection to all living things that we encounter in life and there is no reason to exclude the plant kingdom from that list. In this time of social distancing, I ask you “what have you got to lose.”
Stay safe and keep on gardening!
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our gardening sponsor.