My name is Gail and I sniff bark.
Where this began, I can’t begin to know. Being a literal, as well as figurative, tree-hugger, it likely started while getting up close and personal. Regardless, one day I discovered the warm, syrupy, cozy fragrance of cottonwood bark.This led to me to check out the aroma of an ash tree–lighter and (not surprisingly) woody. Willow–astringent. Elm–lightly astringent, woody, cool. And so forth. Then I sniffed a dying elm–it carried the sour sad smell of illness.
Trees are corporately and individually precious, and not only within the context of their value to humans. In primary school, we learned that trees are important for shade, oxygen production, lumber, nuts, etc. Nowhere was it suggested that we can have a relationship with trees, or that they have a good of their own. Generally, they are viewed as utilitarian, inanimate objects.
Researchers are now discovering that trees communicate with each other in various ways. Healthy trees benefit ailing neighbors. They do better in forests, surrounded by other trees, plants, and fungal communities. Back when I studied forestry at the University of Minnesota, these relationships were little understood, if at all. The focus was on the management of forests for timber production and in some cases, wildlife production, meaning species that humans like to hunt and kill. Being a pacifist vegetarian, some of this didn’t sit too well with me, and eventually I switched career paths.
What is my point? Pick a tree. Sniff the bark, observe it through the seasons, get a sense of its energy, note the birds, mammals and insects that visit or inhabit your tree. Become friends. Your life will be enriched.