I’ve ventured into tree-hugging lately. I’m not sure it helps me, as such, but I like to think that it makes the tree feel better.
Permit me to explain the background to this: every day I wake-up in a brick house, walk down a paved road, get on a train, arrive at Euston station, ride on the underground, walk down another paved road and then enter a concrete building where I sit at a desk and work on a computer, surfing occasionally in the synthesised world of the internet. I then go and eat a processed lunch before performing largely the same process again in reverse.
The thing that struck me about this, one recent morning, is that none of it is real. I mean, sure, it all physically exists but not one aspect of it wasn’t built or manufactured. Everything in our lives is a construct. We wear fabricated clothes over our skin (which is fair enough – I already see far too much of some people as it is) but we also cocoon ourselves in so much built-environment that we hardly ever actually encounter the raw world upon which we live. We dwell in boxes built from bricks and mortar, sleep in assembled beds and, even as pedestrians, we travel insulated from the world – shod and quilted from the elements.
It is only when we touch another human being’s skin, stroke an animal or place our hands upon a plant or a tree that we are actually in contact with anything that isn’t merely product. As a race, we have removed ourselves almost entirely from the reality of existence: humanity has become an insular species very nearly completely divorced from nature or creation. We occupy the planet but we aren’t really a part of it.
Having realised the enormity (in its actual, literal sense) of this, I walked out of the office, strolled to a nearby park and held a tree – just to feel as though I was a part of something real, to connect with something beyond the inward-turning, self-absorbed and navel-gazing travesty that humanity has become. I only held it, mind – I didn’t want to get over-familiar or people might think I was barking. Then I returned to the office and continued to work, with the wood and moss stains still on my fingertips and palms.
I don’t even know if I’m even saying anything here: I just wanted to try to communicate my sense of isolation, of separation from the world, and I think that trees may be a part of the answer to that apartness. I’m not sure that we’ve lost anything – more, perhaps, that we are lost – but there certainly seems to be something missing from this condition that we call life.
So this is my resolution, as it were: to try to experience more of the not-built world, to take moments away from the constant production and consumption that we have enfolded ourselves in. People talk about finding themselves but I think it’s more important to find how one fits into everything else – a place in the universe as a part of a greater whole. Can hugging trees actually help to root me in reality? I don’t know: it’s a knotty question. Perhaps you’d care to take a leaf out of my book and give it a try yourself.