Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
You don’t have to be a tree hugger to understand Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s message: We had better take care of the trees, because the trees take care of us. The Canadian botanist and author is a tireless student and champion of the forest, yet even she blanches at being called a tree hugger, saying instead that she’s a “tree respecter.”
Beresford-Kroeger’s book The Global Forest, which comes out in paperback in late November, lays out the many ways she respects the trees: as oxygenators, purifiers, healers, habitat providers, even spiritual guides. The book is written in a deliberately spare, mellifluous style—a mantra based on lullaby rhythms, she told me—that combines her Gaelic storytelling heritage and her deep scientific knowledge.
We chose Beresford-Kroeger as a 2011 Utne Reader visionary in part for this rare ability to blend the scientific with the artistic—even occasionally the mystical. Here is some of the tree wisdom she shared with me in a recent interview.
On being called a tree hugger:
“Am I a tree hugger? No. In some senses I understand trees have to be used for civilization. I am a tree respecter. I respect trees. I respect what they’re doing. But personally, I have hugged a tree. Yes. (laughs) I have hugged a tree, and I love trees.”
On science and art:
“All good scientists who have decent, functioning, thinking brains always have art on the side. … In science, you run with a hunch and you think, ah, maybe this will work. And you know, you do the same thing in art.”
On the heart of a redwood:
Image by Christian Kroeger, courtesy of Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
“If you go into the redwood forest and stand breast to breast to those redwoods, there’s something there. My God. There’s something there. And I’m reminded of the ancient Irish thinking that a tree can listen to speech, and of course that’s the legend of the heart—that the speech of the king went into the heart—so I’m surrounded by legends when I go into the forest.”