Our relationship with forests goes back to the dawn of humanity. The Tree of Life features in stories, creation myths and religious literature of every continent. Every landmass! You can explore this through the website of Laural Virtues Wauters. In every human culture across the planet, this global shared human narrative speaks to what trees are and their relationship with us. It also helps us to remember who we are.
With so much changing in the world, finding your way back to a relationship with forests can mean opening yourself to some painful information. Remember, you are not alone. The “resourcing yourself in this work" section at the end of this blog includes some TreeSisters offerings. While some information about deforestation and extraction may be overwhelming, connecting to the Global Forest at this time on Earth is also clarifying, personally empowering and beautiful beyond words.
Familiarise yourself with the Global Intact Forests.
The World Conservation Society map is a good guide to the five main intact forest regions. TreeSisters funds reforestation across the Tropics for various reasons, one of which is because trees absorb the greatest levels of CO2 here, and this equatorial belt helps stabilise our global weather systems. We invite you to look at our Tree Strategy to learn more. We celebrate all the numerous individuals, communities, groups and international organisations working together across these forests in their extraordinary passion, strength and resilience.
Forests are described by their environmental conditions (biomes). The UN Food and Agriculture Organisations' Youth Guide to Global Forests is a great place to get a broad picture.
The main biomes are:
Tropical Rainforests and Tropical Dry Forests in the band around the Equator in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Temperate forests are both between the Tropics and the North Pole and the Tropics and the South Pole. The Boreal Forests are Temperate forests forming a crown around the northern latitudes of Alaska, Canada, North America, Scandinavia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Japan.
TreeSisters planting partners plant in all tropical forest biomes, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests, Tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, as well as Mangroves. Our current portfolio of planting or assisting trees in regenerating degraded forest landscapes, including trees to regreen farms or rural settlements in tropical humid and semi-arid biomes.
Forest types include mangroves, tropical mountain forests (Mt Kenya and Mt Bamboutos), lowland humid forests (Brazil and Borneo), and tropical dry forests (Madagascar). Some trees are not species found in the forests but are chosen to support livelihoods. Find out more on our Grow Forests page.
What You Can Do: Get Your Bearings
A good way to evolve your relationship with the world's forests is to orient yourself in your position on the Earth and then locate the direction of each forest. You can use the Sun or stars, a compass or a map to locate north, east, south and west. At night the North Star (Polaris) in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere can help you get your bearings. When you're ready, find a place outside, feel your feet rooted on the Earth and face the direction of where each of these great forests stands relative to where you are. Become aware of the direction of the wind on your face and the weather systems above you, and feel the relationship of the clouds and skies to the forests and the air you breathe.
Trees in a Landscape Near You
Research by Crowther Labs in 2015 showed the number of trees globally at around 3 trillion. You could call the global forest all those trees and bushes dotted over your landscape and mine. One way of seeing this bigger picture is to explore the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch satellite maps. There are 60,000 species of trees globally identified by the Global Tree Campaign; they mainly break down into deciduous trees, which drop their leaves in winter and evergreen trees, which keep their leaves all year. It's good to get a tree guide (another human, a book or an app) so you can identify different tree species and get to know their gifts and properties. There are recommendations for good books at the end of this blog. The old model of classifying and labelling trees and thinking that you know them because you've named them may not enhance your direct relationship with individual trees.
All trees give you direct access to a relationship with the Global Forest. Their presence in your landscape gives you a doorway into the huge contribution that trees make in an observable and tangible way. Many women in the TreeSisters online network, the Nest, speak of their direct experience of consciousness in their relationship with trees, which maybe speaks to why Native Americans refer to trees as Standing People.
What You Can Do: Connecting with a Tree
Take the time to be with a chosen tree. We invite you to spend time using all your senses, an open mind and heart in getting to know trees.
Look at everything you can learn from observing the tree, its canopy, health, soil, access to water and surrounding plants and wildlife.
Listen to the wind through the leaves and the birdsong, and let yourself receive the soundscape.
Touch the bark and the textures and feel your animal self.
Smell any flowers, the air, and the forest floor. Trees communicate a lot through aerosols to surrounding trees, attract insects, and signal to animals and humans.
Taste a tiny bit of a leaf or fruit to give you a sense of the gifts, medicine and chemical compounds used by the tree. Some trees are poisonous, so it's good to check first.
Once you have done this, take the time to sit and be with the tree. If you are looking to deepen your connection to the tree's consciousness, traditionally, it is good practice to internally ask if you have permission to be with the tree and honour the answer you receive. Trees can't walk away, and it might be busy. If you feel a yes, offer it a gift as a reciprocal sign of honouring the trees' wisdom. Gifts traditionally include tobacco in the US and barley in the UK, and you may need to do some research into your landscape traditions. If in doubt, a song or spring water can be good. Then let yourself receive and trust what comes.
I find it helps to make notes of what I feel and the thoughts I have around specific tree species. This can then inform any follow-up research you want to do or personal actions you feel to take. You think you'll remember, but when you leave the space of connecting with the tree often you also leave the space of openness and clarity that the tree holds. You are always welcome to ask questions or share experiences like this within the Nest. At the end of the article, we have included more resources from TreeSisters for meditations to connect with the moon, Earth and trees.
Learn From the People Who Live in the Forests
Forest peoples famously protect 80% of the world's biodiversity, knowing what it is to live in and alongside the great forests sustainably. To get to know these forests, hearing from the people who live in them is vital. Cultures that respect plants, animals, and the natural world as teachers have an understanding and relationship with "biodiversity” beyond the Western educational systems mindset. This connection to the Earth community is innate in all humans and our birthright. It is important to understand the manners and mode of conduct that is respectful in relationships with Nature. If this feels unfamiliar, Robin Wall Kimmer Braiding Sweetgrass is a good place to start.
What You Can Do: Listen and Learn
I recommend the films made by forest communities themselves. You can find some great short films at ‘If Not Us Then Who?’ One of the best articulations of the indigenous relationship with the forest comes in the form of Sarayaku's Living Forest Declaration. This video of Tribes of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest also describes the practical, cultural traditions that embed their relationship with trees into the everyday.
TreeSisters values learning from a number of networks, including the Mother Earth Delegation of the United Indigenous Nations and grassroots networks in Asia and South America. Our wonderful team member Terra Canova holds a regular space and platform for indigenous voices through the monthly Indigenous Wisdom for the Earth Series. The incredibly high calibre of previous calls can be seen and listened to here.
Sônia Bone Guajajara outside of the United Nations in New York City. As part of a WECAN International delegation to advocate for Indigenous rights and protection of the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Teena Pugliese/WECAN International
Getting Real About What's Going on in Forests
Right now, it is also critical to be aware of what is being experienced in the daily lives of these communities as a direct impact of industrial logging, mining, infrastructure projects, agricultural expansion and biopiracy. Many groups are doing important local and international work; I invite you to explore them.
If you have banking, pensions or relationships with companies or agriculture that have investments or working practices that contribute towards deforestation and poor tree health, you can have a powerful impact by demanding they address deforestation in their supply chains and work. Speaking up for ethics, you would like to see support groups to see the need. Examples of websites that help you to know the impacts of different companies on forests include Switchit, Global Canopy's project Forest 500 and Greenpeace.
What You Can Do: TreeSisters Think Global Act Local
What can you do in your local area to support wildlife, local tree planting, food growing networks and your local community's wellbeing? If you are already doing all these things, love and appreciate yourself. This grassroots action to strengthen resilient communities and support through bonds of love is core work. Do you feel that you can listen to the Earth's needs and stories in your landscape and your community's language? What underlying patterns block the open expression of the needs of the living soil, running waters, the wisdom of the bird and insect tribes, brother wind and our allies, the trees? Can you use the fabulous language and tools of science, practical projects or the creative arts to explore this? Where are you still feeling controlled by the old systems of colonial rule or that what is in you is not good enough? Where are you uniquely placed to speak up for the needs of the Earth?
It would be great if you become a monthly donor to support TreeSisters reforestation and communities across the Tropics and give reciprocally for all the forests have given us.
If I was only to ask one thing, though, it would be that you know that you are extraordinarily beautiful and important as part of this planetary being.
The gifts in you are medicine for humanity because you're a human. That's what it is to be a human at this critical phase of Earth's evolution. You can let go of anything that ever said you were anything less, that there are too many of us, or that there is not enough to go around. Breathe into and love that gold deep within you. There is a lot to be done, we are all needed now, and it's all hands on deck.
We are the ones with the unique power to ensure this next decade is the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and that the global momentum around supporting the global forest is fully realised. Our relationship with trees helps us to evolve the ethics and practical care in seeing the world. We can hold leaders, industry and local communities to account by supporting great collaborations and being Guardians of the Earth. We can realise who we are as an integral part of Nature and let go of what we are not. Humans, at their very core, are aligned with the well-being of Nature. Getting to know this connection in your own body is pivotal to the shift we need to make to becoming a Restorer Species. Trees can help us with that.
Image credits: N. NGUYEN/SCIENCE, Customs and Religious Beliefs” by Credo Mutwa,
World Conservation Society, Eden Reforestation Projects