To the Giving Trees: “Thank-you.”

This blog post is my entry for the “Nature’s Forest Services” blog competition being hosted by UNEP and TreeHugger in honour of World Environment Day on June 5th. The post goes along with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, that provide some extra background material for those interested in learning more about forest ecosystem services.  

Cariboo Lake, British Columbia

“We are living on an incredibly beautiful little planet, but our human existence is threatened. If we are to survive we have to learn to think differently. The thinking for the future has to be loyal to nature. It must encompass all humans and all living creatures, because everything alive, in itself, has a value.”

Arne Naess

A Peculiar Dichotomy

What can I say? I’m a sucker for trees. You don’t have to convince me of forest services. I’m already there.

How did this happen? I don’t look like a forest nut. Many of my schoolmates grew up to love money and fancy cars more than trees. My parents were the opposite of hippies.  I can be as much of a workaholic, gadget loving, inside person as the next typical city dweller.

So what’s my story? Why did I choose to study environmental science in university? Why have I devoted my career to ecosystem services? Why am I the kind of zealot who would voluntarily write a lengthy three part backgrounder to preface this simple blog contest entry?

The answer lies in the fundamental power of forest ecosystem services to transform a person. I should know. They transformed me.

My Forest Story

“And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.”

– Dylan Thomas, Fernhill

When I was nine, my parents up and moved to the wilds of British Columbia on the shores of Cariboo Lake. Did I want to go? Nuh un! I wanted to stay in Vancouver with my friends. I didn’t want to go live in the middle of nowhere. What would I do all day? No TV, phone, power. No neighbours. But there were grizzlies. It sounded scary!

But like most things we fear, it wasn’t so bad when we arrived, but yes, boring. I first read all the decent books in the house, then did the puzzles. I dressed my cat in doll clothes until he lost patience and started scratching me. Finally, I got up the nerve to face my grizzly fears, and started hanging around outside.

I spent my time between the daisies in our yard to the trees around it.  I would lie for hours on the soft mossy rocks by the stream behind our house, our source of water. There I learned the music of wind through the trees, punctuated by the melody of birds. So many birds.

Eventually, I had encounters with the other forest inhabitants. Porcupines, moose, black bears, deer. Once, I found a baby bat with a broken wing and nursed it back to health. Another time I was chased by a wounded moose. I used to pretend my dog, Duke, was a wolf who would keep away the grizzlies. And maybe he was–I never encountered one.

After a while, in this way, I forgot about notions of boredom. I never felt alone. I learned a kind of contentment that I had not known before. As this happened, the woods became a part of me, like dear, old friends. Time stretched out, and the ancient forest claimed me as one of its own.

Then it happened. Barely a year in and my parents said we had to move back to Vancouver. I was devastated. In a hollow, wordless way. Leaving the Cariboo left a gap in my heart, that is only filled when I feel I am doing some justice to what I learned in those woods.

And so I can vouch for the profound value of forest cultural ecosystem services, for I’ve felt their direct benefit, and also their loss. Hence, I am who I am, do the work that I do, and finally, write this blog. It’s my small way to say, “Thank-you,” to the giving trees.


About Maria Lavis
Exploring questions on how well (or not) humans and nature are getting along.

10 Responses to To the Giving Trees: “Thank-you.”

  1. George says:

    Hi Maria,

    I like that you quoted Arne Naess. I studied him a bit in college. I think that as well as being in nature itself, writing can help to share the love for nature with others, because I think I picked up some of my own from the writings of Naess. At the least, what it did is plant in me the seed of curiosity to get out into nature and experience it more for myself. And it certainly didn’t let me down. I mean there are those dog days in the woods when it seems that there are more mosquitos and black flies than birds singing, but at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.


  2. melissa says:

    Thank you for reminding co-city dwellers to take a breather and walk into the woods occasionally! The city can trap you without you even realizing it! I also love your writing style. You should consider going into children’s (and parent’s!) outdoor education. The witty, relatable anecdotes combined with the clear message is very apparent. And as a musician, I appreciate that you also hear the song of the woods! thanks for sharing!

  3. David says:

    This is a great three part series that gave me a good appreciation for what ecosystem services are and how they can help save our forests. I definitely feel like going for a hike in the woods! Thank you for the nicely written and inspired blog posts.

  4. achyari says:

    Hi, Maria! Thank you for your comment on my blog post. You have a very interesting story about your experiences. I have friends who was visited Canada last year. I learned more about nature from their stories. Another similar story is I spent my weekend time frequently with my senior high school friends to visit the city park that I mentioned on my blog post. The other spot is the hills around my city. We hiked the hills several times and took some pictures together. We were in the top of the hills which can see all of the city. We discovered that our lovely city has been caught by pollution.

    We realize that from our activities like this has remind us how important nature for our daily life. That is why I posted about my city park for the competition. We will never realize how important nature, mostly forest for us, until we experienced it before. So, keep the spirit on Maria! It is good to know you. We may keep in touch in the future through facebook if you don’t mind. You can search my Facebook with the name “Achmad Achyari”. I would like to invite you to my country.

    Greet warm from Indonesia,
    Achmad Achyari

    • Thanks for the reply Achyari. That is great that you get out and about your city and observe the state of things (like how you saw the pollution). It is very important for citizens to be educated and aware about the environments around them. We often get busy and rely on our politicians to take care of this for us, forgetting that it is key that citizens stay vigilant about how things work regarding making and enforcing important environmental policies, as well as providing obvious support for certain causes, which politicians often need to take action.

      Thanks for the invite. If you ever come out to Vancouver you’ll also have to give me a shout. 🙂

  5. George: Glad you like Arne Naess. Yes, I have to agree, certain insects can certainly dampen one’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors! I remember an interesting story I saw on the shamanistic culture of northern Finland once, where the shamans were saying they like their mosquitoes because they are used to them, but it is one of the factors that allows them to keep some privacy as it drives other people away! 🙂

    Melissa: Thanks for your comment and the complement. Do you have any forest songs?

    David: Thank-you for taking the time to read the background material as well! I am also overdue for a hike.

  6. John Lechner says:

    What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing! My own childhood encounters with nature were not nearly so exciting (I was never chased by a grizzly) but we had a big backyard where I played with my six brothers and sisters, in the days before computers and cell phones. Our yard had plenty of songbirds, rabbits, groundhogs, chipmunks, toads, grasshoppers, honeybees, and other small creatures.

    The young children I see today are still fascinated by nature when they encounter it, but they rarely do. The virtual world of computers distances us from the natural world, which is sad. Reading a Wikipedia article about frogs is nothing compared to holding one in your hand.

    • Thanks for sharing your story of encounters with nature John. Backyard and local park experiences are also so important to help foster a connection with nature. Have you read Last Child in the Woods, by R. Louv, John? It goes into some of the things you are touching on. As a parent, and as someone interested in nature and children’s books, I really appreciated it.

      • John Lechner says:

        I haven’t read that book, but I’ve heard about it, and I completely agree with the premise. Unfortunately we seem to be in a minority, and most people still think nature is something to be avoided and protected from.

  7. Megan Evans says:

    Beautiful – short and sweet, but really drives home the perhaps understated value of cultural ecosystem services.

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