I suspect no other relationship is more complex and fraught than that between humans and trees. I’ve been wanting for a long time to write something about it, but every time I try, I get overwhelmed. Where to begin?
For us humans, it indeed goes back to the beginning: Adam and Eve learned of their own humanity from a tree. Or if you prefer more scientific stories, our ancestors took a crucial step in speciating from other apes by descending from the trees. Since then we haven’t gone far from the tree, so to speak. We have eaten from trees, climbed trees, lived in trees, worshipped trees, studied trees, planted trees, bred trees, hugged trees, and saved trees. We have also, at various times, cut trees down for fuel, for lumber, to make paper, to make weapons, to clear farmland, to create subdivisions, because they threatened our infrastructure, because we didn’t like where they were growing, and for no reason whatsoever.
After hundreds of thousands of years of shared history, have we and trees come to understand each other better? Three stories I have come across recently suggest the answer is, it’s still complicated.