Whispering beneath our feet

Whispering Beneath Our Feet

Much of my childhood was spent in worlds of innocent wonder and imagination, playing in woods and my tree house. Adult arboreal pleasure can be found at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park from artist Giuseppe Penone’s exhibition A Tree in the Wood, which explores our relationship with the natural world. Trees are symbols of protection. The third most common pub name in England is the Royal Oak, celebrating King Charles II escape from the Roundheads by hiding in a tree following the battle of Worcester in 1651. Nellie’s Tree on the Parlington Estate has become a symbol of resistance to housing development. The romantic quick thinking Vic Stead grafted two saplings together forming the letter N to woo his sweetheart, Nellie. One hundred years later the tree was voted England’s Tree of the Year. Trees are planted in memory of others. The Coronation Tree in Scholes was planted in celebration of the Coronation of King Edward VII. Inauspiciously the Coronation was delayed due to Edward’s need for surgery. He survived but the tree did not. Its replacement now stands proudly at the eastern entrance to the village. The avenue of trees in Scholes was planted as a memorial to the fallen of the Great War, a tree for each man. Later, the other side of the road was planted in memory of those lost in the Second World War.

Trees have their own hidden life. The environmental block-buster film Avatar depicted plant life mysteriously communicating through their roots. This depiction of their hidden life is surprisingly accurate. Trees can exchange chemicals and nutrients with each other through their root system using the ‘fungal internet’. It seems seedlings starved of light and nutrients in the shade thrive on carbon through the roots of donor trees. Trees even warn others of blight attack by sharing chemicals through mycelia. Other plants, including tomatoes have been shown to listen in on these chemical responses and increase their own disease resistance. Mycelium themselves are thought to be the biggest single organisms in the world, single fungus colonies that can cover some 970,000 m2. Trees act as a “carbon sink”, lungs which, with other vegetation absorb up to of a quarter of human created CO2. Critically, trees are also giant stores of carbon. Human deforestation releases about 23% of all human created CO2, negating their positive effects. Worse, the darkened deforested soil absorbs sunlight and adds to the warming effect with less radiation reflected back into space.

Whether it is the human stories trees tell us and the memories they hold; their hidden secret of cooperation beneath the soil or their effect on climate, the earth’s lungs that help keep us alive – trees are symbols of life. Jesus was nailed to a tree. His cross the symbol of human suffering and God’s sharing in our full humanity. New growth came. The roots of God’s kingdom are everywhere, whispering hidden stories of hope beneath our feet.   Bob