I went into White Clay Creek feeling quite lost and somber. Losing a loved one is never easy. Coping with loss is never easy. I went and sat underneath a pine tree and thought to myself: “Do trees comfort each other like they comfort me?”. If you think about it, trees are just like you and I. They live and grow in communities, some thrive, while others die off. There are all different kinds of trees, just like there are all different kinds of people. Why do some trees grow taller and stronger than their neighbors? Is it a food source problem? Is it an invasive species problem? Can some trees help out neighboring trees? These are all questions I thought to myself while in the woods on Sunday. For some reason, comparing trees to humans really inspired me to do some research when I got home.
I reached out to my friend Haley who studies mycology and biology at Slippery Rock University. She told me to listen to one of her favorite podcasts titled From Tree to Shining Tree. The thirty minute podcast dives deep into exactly how trees operate below the surface, and my comparisons of trees to humans grew stronger. The podcast discussed the relations within tree communities. They feed off of the same soil, sharing nutrients and water via their roots. Just like humans live off of the same land. New research has shown that tree roots alone do not absorb the nutrients from the soil, but it is in fact very thin strands of fungi connecting tree roots to the soil, where the nutrients are transferred. A scientist found this web of fungi beneath the surface to be some hundreds of miles long, while being thinner than a strand of hair. This new research is fascinating, but what really got my attention was the portion of the podcast that focused on how trees support each other via these intimate connections. It was explained to me that as the older trees begin to die off, they funnel their nutrients into the newer trees in the forest, basically sacrificing themselves. The older trees recognize that they are not fit to adapt to the changing and warming climate like the younger trees, so they are better off giving their nutrients to the new trees in the forest, for the betterment of the rest of the community. The intelligence of these trees really blows my mind.
Not only are trees similar to humans, they’re smarter than humans. Their ability to set aside their own well-being for the sake of the rest of the community is amazing. If only humans in their communities were as generous as trees, the world might be a better place. Humans, Americans especially, need to learn how to distribute their affluence and dismiss their status to help those in need. If humans were more empathetic to those in their community who need help or guidance, there might not be as much hatred in the world.