Study Shows: Restoring Forests Can Slow Climate Change

Hope is restored…

According to this article, just printed by the New York Times, a new study shows that a significant impact on climate change can be made by restoring forest lands.

Planting, and tending to the well-being of trees is part of what we do as Druids. And so, I wonder: is there a way that we can organize to do more of it, in necessary places, and support one another whilst attempting to make inroads, locally?

Druids in the Redwoods

A year ago, at Midsummer, I went on a personal, spiritual retreat in the ancient redwood forests of Humboldt County, California. I went for silence, for prayer, for healing. I went to take from the forest — as so many humans regularly do. Loggers take lumber. Tourists take photos. Fishermen take salmon. Spiritual seekers take their ease.  Many of them leave trash in their wake. Few leave evidence of gratitude for the many gifts they receive from the redwood forest.

The Humboldt County Redwoods at Summer Solstice

While hiking through forest, near the Founders Grove, I passed this spot…

The Humboldt County Redwoods — A Splintered, Fallen Giant

…and was struck by a sudden vision, vivid and clear: I was to organize a gathering of Druids in the redwoods, to sing to the trees, to study the ecology, and draw attention to the beauty and power and importance of that place through various works of artistic expression. As Druids, it was our role to begin giving back. To build, and role-model an appropriate reciprocal relationship to that ancient forest, a forest that had been there, giving of itself, for more than 50 million years.

The trees even gave me a song, while I walked among them, which I transcribed upon my return: “Gifts of Awen

And so, I organized. I located a lovely little grouping of cottages at the edge of the redwood forest in which to stay, to enjoy meals, and to host a few workshops. I scouted the area for good places for ecological studies and performing rituals. And I invited Druids from far and wide to attend. I have just returned from our first official Redwoods Gathering, delighted with the entire experience, and wanting to share a bit of our journey.

Six druids (and one young druid in training) attended our inaugural Redwoods Gathering, which began on Friday morning with a guided nature walk through Founders Grove.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Francisco’s Guided Nature Walk

As we roamed the forest after Francisco’s talk, our group happened upon the spot where I had originally received my summoning vision. And if anyone was still wondering whether we were truly welcome to celebrate in that forest, or if anyone had a question regarding the most appropriate spot for a Midsummer ritual, the trees themselves offered up the answer — an answer discovered by Thea, as she rounded the very next bend in the path…

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Discovering the Giant Awen
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Druids receive an invitation from the Giants.

The question remained: now that we knew where we would be celebrating, what would a wildcrafted Midsummer ritual look like? Seasons in the redwood forest are not at all like seasons in other places  on Earth. A lot happens there in autumn and winter and spring, but come summertime, not much happens except for the influx of summer visitors — both humans on summer holiday, and birds chasing the insects that come to escape the dry summer heat. So, our focus became the visitors, and how we might re-enchant the forest for those visitors, on behalf of the forest. We thought about how we might work to change the energy of a popular hiking trail, to encourage people to have more mindful connections with the forest, rather than the disrespectful, flitting, consumption-oriented attitudes typically found among modern tourists, bent on Instagramming themselves with the largest/oldest/tallest trees.

Also, since North, South, East and West have so little meaning in the middle of the redwood forest (which runs along meandering river valleys, and whose landscape varies by distance from the river’s waters and distance from the very rare canopy gaps, sliced open by falling giants), we decided to use a Land/Sea/Sky approach, with liberal application of nature connection meditations, offerings of gratitude, and songs of praise. The energetic nature of rituals is really difficult to convey in mere words, so I will simply share a few images (taken by our Dragon), while we worked our Druid magic.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Requesting Permission & Growing Our Roots
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Procession to Re-enchant the Trail
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Greeting & Thanking the Spirits of Place
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Singing to the Trees
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Cleaning the Forest
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Closing Tree Meditation

Rounding out the weekend were a delightful series of shared meals, BBQs, and marshmallow roasts, games of horseshoes, swimming in the Eel River, workshops on plant communication, and ritual wildcrafting, as well as plenty of time to work on arts and crafts, and simply shoot the breeze with other Druids. Everyone had so much fun, that we decided to do it again, next year! I am already counting the days.

Oak Tree Masting Year

We are always observing the activities of the flora and fauna in our yard (native CA ecosystem restoration area), and this past fall, we became quite concerned when we noticed that most of the native Oak trees on our property (which are normally evergreen), were dropping the majority of their leaves, over winter. Were they overly drought-distressed? Succumbing to a disease? We had no idea, but were worried.

Then, as I was reading the amazing book, “Hidden Life of Trees,” I stumbled upon Peter Wohlleben’s description of how nut-bearing trees such as oaks will (in unison) drop a very high proportion of the leaves in their crowns, to make room for the ridiculous number of flowers (and later, the acorns) which they plan to make in the following year, which they have decided (in unison) will be a masting year. Masting years are the years in which the oaks bear a bumper-crop of nuts. They do this only once every several, unpredictable number of years – so as to produce more food than the regular population of nut-predators can possibly consume in a year, thus increasing the likelihood of successful procreation. They risk death by starvation in order to do this, but once masting year is over, they work hard to replace all the leaves they had jettisoned for the masting season.

So, I wrote the question in my diary, last autumn: does the leaflessness of oaks portend a masting year, where we live? Now, in the first warm sunshine after a long, rainy winter, we have the answer…

A masting year, it is! Achoooo!

So now, I know, when the oak leaves drop from a healthy-looking, California Coast Live Oak tree:

  • It is a good omen;
  • Plan to spend time in the autumn, harvesting and processing acorns;
  • Recognize that Nature will provide well for your family in the coming year.

 

Nature’s Temples

“Nature’s Temples: The Complex World of Old-Growth Forests,” by Joan Maloof (with illustrations by Andrew Joslin), is a profoundly inspirational work of science writing that describes the structure and ecology of old-growth forests.

The book begins with an awe-inspiring overview of the history of forests on Earth, the earliest known from fossil-records dating from 383 million years ago! Maloof discusses the role of forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere, and the surprising discovery that the largest, oldest trees are far more effective at this task than a multitude of younger, smaller, fast-growing trees. She presents a convincing case for the preservation of old-growth forests, on the grounds that they are essential for the survival and well-being of all other life on Earth.

Maloof then goes on to make the reader fall in love with all the living beings found in old-growth forests, one short chapter at a time. She introduces us, first, to the trees themselves, then one at a time to the birds, amphibians, snails, insects, herb plants, mosses, fungi, lichens, worms and mammals that are resident in old-growth forests. And it is truly a book of wonders.

One of the things I had always wondered was how deer and elk could find sufficient food in an old-growth redwood forest, in which the browsable branch tips are hundreds of feet high. The answer: Although the herbaceous understory might be shaded out, a rain of lichen from the lofty canopy provides ample nitrogen-rich food for them. But what is a lichen? It is a magical symbiotic alliance between photosynthesizing algae and mineral-harvesting fungi! Mushroom salad. And I had no idea how amazingly diverse was the world population of lichens, especially within the remaining old-growth forests.

The most surprising thing I learned from this book was that the (mostly non-native) worms found in North American forests north of the ice-age moraines – areas that had once been covered in glacial ice – are in fact doing more harm than good to the forests in which they are found. In order to develop the rich biodiversity that enables a forest to thrive into grand old age, a thick layer of forest-floor duff must be allowed to accumulate. The moist, decaying duff at the surface of the forest floor supports diverse fungi, which in turn support diverse plant life, and allow for the germination of tree seeds, which might otherwise lie dormant. If too many worms begin churning under the duff, too quickly, that mechanism for growing diversity in the forest is disrupted, impeding the growth and healthy development of the forest! And I had always assumed that worms were good for the trees!

Live and learn.

In fact, there are so many new things to learn, in the pages of “Nature’s Temples,” that the book bears repeated readings. It is a definite must-have volume for the shelves of a Druid library.