Thursday, 15 August 2013

Trees for Life

'The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.'
One of our favourite places to visit is Thorp Perrow Arboretum here in North Yorkshire, near the beautiful Georgian market town of Bedale. Trees have always been significant for me. My father was a forester in Ghana and then Wales and my earliest walks were through coniferous forests over soft layers of fallen pine needles and spagnam moss to the open mountainside where you could pick bilberries or lie in the heather, smelling the resin and listening to the nearby trees creaking and the curlews and sky larks rising. Trees are very significant in the biblical narratives too. You could say that the story of God's dealings with the world, the very story of salvation itself, is framed by trees. In Genesis we hear about the garden in which the Lord plants 'every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food' as well as the two trees which come to define Adam and Eve's relationship with God - the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The cross is often represented as a tree. The tree of life appears again in Revelation 22 where its leaves are 'for the healing of the nations' and its twelve fruits symbolise the passing of time. The tree straddles the river of the water of life. These are such powerful, life enhancing, sustaining images. Trees have been associated with food and refreshment, healing, wisdom, shade and fruitfulness, longevity and transformation in many cultures and none more so than the Judeo-Christian tradition. There is a hidden potency in a winter tree that gives way to vibrancy of colour and life in the spring which, in turn, bears the promise of fruitfulness to come. And the signs are that we going to have an abundance of fruit this autumn.

There is a charity called TREE AID here that works to bring life, through trees, to families in rural Africa. When trees disappear because of drought or exploitation, this is usually followed by soil erosion, crop failure and the ensuing displacement of communities. TREE AID helps villagers in mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia make the best use of trees to generate food, housing, fuel, medicine and income for health care and schooling. The wonderful thing about trees is that they are infinitely flexible in the uses to which it can be put. Since 1987 TREE AID has helped 300,000 people plant 6.5 million trees which provide an alternative to both poverty and environmental destruction. Take an example - the fruit of the Shea tree can be used to produce shea butter which is used as a cooking oils, for candle making and as a waterproof waxing on cloth or wood. It also has medicinal properties and can be used on burns, eczema and as a sun block. We might know it better as Yoruba which is used in a lot of cosmetics. One tree can bring nutrition, business and healing to a community.

An arboretum is a wonderful place in which to meditate on the wisdom, balance and healing power found in the natural world and there for the use of us all. In the Anglican communion, the fifth mark of mission is commitment 'to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.' Supporting the planting of trees is one way to make this more than wishful thinking.

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