When I’m not climbing trees I work in a sustainability think tank on questions of urbanization and the environment. I recently considered the hypothesis that tree climbing could make us more environmentally conscious.
What we do know is that trees are extremely nutritious movement environments.
As primates we evolved to move in trees. Grasping hands, binocular vision and a mobile shoulder joint speak to this. It still proofs extremly beneficial for overall movment capacity in particual grip strength, mobility and upper body strength. No tree is like the other. They vary greatly in shape and texture and require a high degree of adaptibilty. It will strengthen everything from your biceps to the arches of your foot. The varied texture will manipulate all sorts of trigger points in your feet and will turn your hands into invincible claws. As someone who likes physical training and development trees provide a much better training ground than a gym.
„You became a guest of a being that is strongly rooted in the ground, but rising above the bustling about that happens beneath its leaves. The tree becomes refuge from the two dimensional. A place where big things become small again.“
Trees are not only extremly nourishing movement environments but have benefital mental health effects. Shinrin Yoku is a japanese term for bathing in the forests. Backed by decades of science and centuries of experience it says that trees are extremly beneficial to mental health too. There seems to be an innate ability of humans to recognize a nourishing environment. Cities tend to have highly polluted air, while forests not only transform CO2 into oxygen but also give out essential oils that we inhale and absorb through our skin while we walk or climb through them. People also tend to heal and recover faster only when they look at natural environments, let alone spend time in them.
If you climb a tree it is most likely to be older than you and outlive you as well. Not only that but you are entering the world of the vast superorganism of the forst. New research has found that trees form huge networks and that trees communicate with each other through fungal webs (mycorrhiza). The implications of the apptly named ‚wood wide web‘ go beyond symbiosis. It shows that evolution has not been favoring the strong but those who cooperate well. Ist not the biggest trees that steal other plants sun but the ability to share ressources between each other.
We might be need to reconsider forests as interconnected beings, that can warn each other of attacks and even have some sort of collecitve memory or consoiusness. I feel great awe when I move throught this organism, of which the tree is only a tiny aspect.
Treeclimbing is rekindling a connection that we used to have, but lose because we don’t interact with trees anymore. Things become more relevant to us when we use them. In Parkour you develop a new vision for the city. With climbing trees the forest turns from a big green something into a myriad of routes and possibilites. Apprecitation grows with use too as does responsibilty. The same goes for foraging or even hunting. If we want to protect nature, then we need to feel this appreciation and responsibilty. It’s not enough to know on a cognitive level that nature is important. When your wellbeing depends on it, living sustainably becomes more of a default mode of being.
The international panel on climate change (IPCC) has one of the most rigorous scientific processes and releases reports on the state of the climate. With the new IPCC climate change report it becomes inevitable to do as much as we can to protect our planet. We have to think in terms of survival of human society. Indvidual responsibilty only goes so far. Climate change, environmental degridation and habitat destruction are immensly complex issues that no person alone will change through their lifestyle. It takes huge efforts from companies and governments too, as their responsibility is probably greater than that of the individual.
But without an embodied connection to the natural environment every global attempt at sustainability will not be integrated. This is about a practical, embodied knowledge of how nature nourishes us instead of an abstract knowing that we should make sustainable choices. Most of us know climate change is an unfolding disaster, but we still don’t change. Why? We know the facts and figures in our heads, but don’t – or can’t – engage on an embodied, gut level. Treeclimbing will not save the planet. But maybe we can be a little bit more connected to our ancestral habitat, to ourselves and our role in all of this.