7 min read

Making Friends with Trees

Daegan Miller’s Meditative Essay on Trees // Startup Terraformation Raises $30 Million // African Americans Cultural Ties to National Parks // Can Trees Talk? // Invocation for Hope

We are still in the middle of a heat wave in Minnesota and I am starting to think this just maybe how the entire summer is doing to play out, and that’s terrifying. On my walks, I have been making stops to get some shade under the trees and it has made me realize that this little gesture can be incredibly calming. Simply standing next to a tree creates an interesting connection that is tough to explain, but journalist Elizabeth Bernstein makes a compelling case as to why we need tree friends, and I am on board!

If you have any tips on articles, books or art, please drop me a line: treetrailpark@bryanformhals.com


Daegan Miller’s Meditative Essay on Trees and Art About Trees

Perhaps we turn to trees because we are insecure, because we envy them their solidity (the biggest among them are the largest living things on earth), their resilience (the planet is home to more than sixty thousand species), their tenacious immortality—for even though they must, like all things, die, trees live more or less forever. An oak can thrive for hundreds of years (there’s one in England thought to have sheltered Robin Hood); a sequoia for ten times longer. Prometheus, a bristlecone pine, lived in the White Mountains of eastern Nevada for nearly five thousand years, the oldest known non-clonal tree in the world, until a researcher named Donald Currey cut it down in the name of science. The clonal trees, whose stems sprout from a single ancient root system, are all but permanent: there’s a Norway spruce in Sweden—Old Tjikko, it’s called—nearly ten thousand years old, a eucalyptus in Australia that might be three thousand years older, and a quaking aspen system of 47,000 genetically identical trees in Utah, known as Pando, that had already seen 65,000 years when the first humans arrived in North America. You can go visit it today.

There’s something reassuring about a tree, aged fifty years or fifty thousand, especially when times are uncertain. And ours are. Human-driven global warming, deforestation, desertification, a plague of plastics and the decimation of everything, from insects to polar bears, that many are calling the sixth great extinction: this is an era—the Anthropocene, the so-called age of humans—when nothing, not the weather, not the ocean, not the air, not the soil, is what it was. “Where are we?” we ask the trees, straining our ears, hoping for an answer.

This is a beautiful essay from a few years ago that popped into my Twitter feed this week. Interesting how that happens! It’s dense with references to some great books on trees, most of which I have not read but will have to add to my list now (I’ll probably never get to most of them!)

I ended up reading it twice and many aspects are still over my head. Near the end though, he talks about the artist Katie Holton and her book About Trees which looks absolutely fantastic. I have to find the space to share more of her work in a future issue.


Startup Terraformation Aims to Combat Climate Change Through Rapid Reforestation

Reforestation could be that solution, Wong imagined. The engineer-turned-entrepreneur calculated how many trees would be needed to offset the world’s emissions. And then, the early employee of PayPal and Facebook who built Reddit into an internet powerhouse during his two and a half year reign as CEO, did nothing. “Because I was not an environmental scientist, I didn't trust my math. So I just actually just sat on it,” Wong tells Forbes. “I talked to a lot of people about it, but I just really didn't trust myself—I'm just this computer scientist.”

Four years later, Wong is founder and CEO of Terraformation, a startup which aims to help companies and countries meet the net zero carbon goals of the future through rapid reforestation. The Hawaii-based company just closed a $30 million funding round which will go towards its goal of helping restore 3 billion acres of native ecosystems using technology such as solar panel-powered desalination, which efficiently and affordably hydrates areas grown arid due to climate change or soil degradation from human activities.

There are a lot of people that are hoping that we’ll develop new technologies to combat climate change. That maybe the case, but it’s also possible that technology will help us better deploy simple solutions, like planting trees. While the idea is simple, the execution and logistics required are very complicated, and that’s where technology and the corporate world can leverage their knowledge and strategic chops to make it happen. Read more about Terraformation on Forbes, and check out their site here.


Exploring African Americans Cultural Ties to National Parks

They call it the land of giants; towering trees and massive canyons make Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks a natural standout but this popular landmark also carries some overlooked Black history. In 1889, Charles Young was the third African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1903, while he was serving as captain for an all-Black regiment at San Francisco’s Presidio, he was asked to take his troops to the mostly undeveloped Sequoia National Park and General Grant Grove (what is now Sequoia and a portion of Kings Canyon National Park) He became the first and only African American superintendent for the park and his distinguished troops of the 9th cavalry were known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Park management was allocated to the U.S. Army and for three summers, Captain Young and his Buffalo soldiers patrolled the parks and oversaw construction of roads that would allow mass tourism in the parks.

The nearby town of Visalia wanted to honor Young’s work by naming a sequoia tree after him but he demurred.

The National Parks are already receiving record crowds, with many closing early. Naturally the top destinations are going to be crowded so it’s important that people seeking to make a visit spend time to dig a bit deeper and explore the full diversity of the parks.

Along those lines, The Root has highlighted four National Parks that have deep ties to African American history and culture, that not only offer natural beauty but illuminate these important historical stories. The article also highlights two organizations, Outdoor Afro and Diversify Outdoors that are helping BIPOC connect to nature and national parks.


Making Friends With Trees

Trees have a lot to teach us. They know one or two things about overcoming a tough year and prospering during a good year. They can show us the importance of seeing in the long run. They are masters of resilience, endure winter fallow periods each year, and bloom new every spring. They are generous — they share nutrients with other trees and plants, providing clean air and shade for the rest of us. They certainly know how to age well.

And the tree provokes Awe— Its emotional reaction to something vast that expands and challenges the way we see the world. It’s the perfect antidote to the way we’re feeling right now, and the path to healing.



A little awe is very helpful. Dr. Keltner recommends 8-10 minutes a day, but says that even once a week, awe is enough to make a profit. And research shows that awe-inspiring abilities build up over time. As we experience it, we are more likely to find that we have more opportunities to be in awe around us.

This is why you need a tree friend. You rarely bathe in the forest (although these are all) as you don’t always find mountains, beaches and sunsets nearby. Create awe). But in most cases, you can find at least one tree nearby. And trees offer multiple ways to experience awe. You can appreciate their leaves, bark or branches against the sky. Look at the creatures they hold. Contemplate their existence. When you are friends with trees, you go over and over again — build your abilities for awe and increase profits.

I joked a few weeks ago on Twitter that I haven’t made any tree friends since I moved to Saint Cloud from NYC in March. But I am happy to report that I have started and now have a few that visit on a regular basis. Most recently I have taken a few minutes during my walks to stand under them to cool down during the current heat wave. It’s a calming experience. Highly recommended.


VIDEO: Can Trees Talk?

This video offers a nice overview about how trees communicate through their extensive root systems. It reminds me of the article that ran in the New York Times in December on the ‘Social Life of Forests.’


Art: Invocation for Hope

To build the installation, Superflux worked with forest and fire departments in Austria to source and transport hundreds of trees into the space inside the museum. The burnt trees were already lost to a wildfire—one that occurred in part because the trees were part of a human-planted monoculture. (When forests lack natural biodiversity, they are more susceptible to all sorts of issues, including burning.)

This looks super cool! I wish I could see it in person but alas I don’t think I’ll be making it to Austria this year.


Further Reading


I’m a photographer and digital strategist from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter