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HALEY HOWLE From Pop-Up Magazine, this is Field Guide, an audio experience made for the world around us. I’m Haley Howle.
[Tranquil and optimistic music slowly starts to fade in]
When I was about 5, I had this magic...tree. I mean, I guess I didn’t have it. It was just there. This big, beautiful oak tree, that had all these little nooks and crannies, where you could hide things. And every few days, my mom and I would walk down to the magic tree and hidden there in a nook would be a little note and gift from my friend Clyde. Like, jellybeans or a sticker or, if I was really lucky, a Hot Wheels car. For a period of time, Clyde and I, and our moms, left each other presents in the magic tree. And it felt…magical. [Music continues]
So, before we start, I want to encourage you to go find your own version of a magic tree. Press pause, grab some headphones, and head outside. Maybe you can find a tree to sit under while you listen. Or you could sit in it. Or take a walk and notice all the different kinds of trees you encounter.
And after today’s episode, don’t forget to check out our visual Field Guide, which includes beautiful photographs and illustrations of trees. Along with water, night skies, and walks. You can find it at popupmagazine.com. [Music ends]
All right. Let’s go.
MOLLY WEBSTER I'm Molly Webster and I'm the senior correspondent at Radiolab. [Curious music fades in]
Sometimes I'll see a tree like next to a sidewalk or at the edge of a park and like, I feel some sort of connection or I just think, oh, that's a good tree.
[Sound of a car passing by]
And I walk up to it and I put my hand out and I just stand there and I take five breaths.
[Molly breathes in, sound of tree leaves in the wind]
And I just, um, [Breathes out] it just reminds me to, like, slow down, stop, [Music stops, sound of birds and tree leaves] and that there's something that's like bigger than all of us and all these places.
But that there's just this massive connectivity in the universe.
[String ensemble begins to slowly fade in]
You know, I think there's this thing where we, like, move through the world so fast and and then it's like, oh, wait, this part of the world is like, just take a second, it's like really quiet.
[Kids playing and birds chirping]
And you can hear so many different sounds. And there's this, like lifeforce. I just want to hug it, which often, I do. There's many pictures of me hugging trees.
[String ensemble continues]
This probably has happened more during covid where I'm like, I just want to wrap my arms around something. ‘Cause I’m a singleton in an apartment. And, and like man, I'll tell you what, if you ever need to wrap your arms around something, there is a tree out there with your name on it and it will hold you up.
[Magical vibraphone note]
And it feels amazing. You just like, let all your weight go and just wrap around this tree and it has got you.
[Strings fade out]
[Gong chiming, wind]
HARIPRIYA RANGAN In some sense, every time you use the word treehugger, you’re actually invoking the Chipko movement.
[Background percussion beat fades in]
The Chipko movement was a radically important environmental movement that emerged in the Indian Himalayas in the early 1970s.
[Tibetan singing bowls]
It started as a protest against the way the Forest Department managed the areas for commercial timber harvesting and how they restricted access to local communities to those forests.
My name is Haripriya Rangan, or Priya for short. I'm at the University of Melbourne at the School of Geography, and I grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas.
[Machinery being unloaded]
So one day when the forest contractor came to start work on timber harvesting in a forest near one of the villages up in the Himalayas, a group of people went to the forest and the women actually decided to hug the trees. And they said, “If you're going to cut these trees down, then you're going to have to cut these trees along with us.”
Chipko means “to hug” or “to get stuck to.” And, so that had a very powerful impact because it was a big standoff. You know, the forest laborers didn't want to go in and start hacking the trees. And then the Forest Department people tried to move them and get the police to arrest them. But more people came out and they started doing this as a way of getting the message across.
[Wind and chimes]
It's not about reducing the environment into tradable commodity. It is about recognizing the environment as something that is embodied in you. And I think that’s what Chipko reminds you about.
DAVID HASKELL My name is David George Haskell. I have written a couple of books, The Songs Of Trees and The Forest Unseen, and a lot of my work focuses on the human senses and how they relate to trees.
[Trees blowing in the wind and birds chirping]
There's all sorts of things we can learn by listening to trees, which on the face of it sounds a little crazy. Like a tree doesn't speak, doesn't have a mouth. Why would you listen to trees? Well, consider just one simple example: A maple tree in the winter and the spring and the summer sounds completely different because the wind moving through twigs [Wind picks up and leaves rustle] or fresh, soft little leaves in the spring or the tougher leaves of of midsummer and the dry leaves of the autumn sounds very different.
[Leaves blowing in the wind that sound like a rushing river]
So by tuning our ears into those trees, we can pick up on the nuances of the changing seasons.
We also learn the character of individual trees. Cottonwood leaves and aspen leaves have a beautiful little patter. It sounds almost like rain as the leaves tap against each other.
[Leaves blowing in the wind that sound like the pitter patter of a light rain or the rapid wings of a hummingbird]
Whereas oak trees in the summertime have a much higher hiss.
[Leaves blowing in the wind that sound like a waterfall]
And so every tree has its own character. And just as you can tell different species of bird apart by listening to them, you can also tell different types of trees apart.
And so now when I travel, go from one place to another, I tune my ears into the trees and try and understand something about the character in the same way that I tune into different languages and accents as I travel and listen to the marvelous diversity of human voices around the planet.
[Wind blows and insects chirp]
EDDIE HERENA Forget walls, if trees could talk, [Drum beat played with brushes] if trees could talk, man, they would say some shit and like we would have to listen. Full of wisdom trees, full of wisdom for sure.
[Sparse, thoughtful chords on a keyboard]
My name is Eddie Herena and I am a photographer. I was formerly incarcerated for about 14 years. I had this longing to just be in nature and, you know, the sounds, the smells of, not only the trees, even the birds, everything, you know.
When I went to San Quentin, I became the San Quentin News photographer.
[Keyboard music picks up pace but remains lowkey]
Most of my photography is like nature and trees. By the chapel area, they call it like the Garden Chapel Plaza, it was really nice, small trees, bushes, flowers. The landscapers were inmates, so like it like that, that gives you hope, man, that gave me hope, like that's what I realized, like the absence of like, trees and flowers and plants, like, is the absence of life. Right?
To me, trees are like life-giving. They give me oxygen, trees like. they breathe just like me. You know, I always like, loved nature, but definitely, definitely like, grew since I've been out.
[Climbing rope being pulled]
WENDA LI Climbing trees is just a form of an arborist walking to work.
My name is Wenda Li. I'm from Toronto. I've been a climbing arborist for 30 years.
In the first years of my career, I had a really hard time. I was ostracized.
[Ethereal music fades in]
I didn't fit into their stereotype of, you know, this husky, bearded, chainsaw-wielding guy. I’m a petite Asian woman. And the only thing that saved me was my deep desire and passion to work in the trees.
My supervisor encouraged me to participate in these tree climbing competitions, [Climbing gear being used] and that was sort of like a way for me to, I thought, gain some respect as a professional, and in 2002, I won the Women's World Championship, which is a great honor because it's sort of like winning the Olympics.
Being among arborists, especially at these competitions, we're all driven by the same thing, this passion to be connected with trees. It's not just where we're arborists and we go to work, like we embrace the energy of the trees.
[Deep breath in]
It’s a breathing, living organism, but just on a massive scale. And I have no qualms to saying it's a being. It's a living, breathing being.
[Deep breath in and out]
FREEMAN VINES Just cause you killed the tree and dry it out and everything, the spiritual part in it ain’t gone. The wood is saying something. I'm Freeman Vines and, uh 78 years old. I live in Fountain, North Carolina.
[Blues guitar fades in]
I’ve been making guitars for 51 years.
The guitars that I make, those guitars are — the wood is trapped. So I take and rescue the wood and do something with it. I do what the wood tells me to do. All the trees is all right with me. We got an understanding. They know if I run into some wood that’s reluctant to be made into an instrument I don’t mess with it. The looks don’t mean nothing to me. It’s the sound.
[Blues guitar continues]
I don't care how many pine trees growing in an area, how many oaks in an area, you don't never see a pine oak or an oak pine. Each one is individual, has its own characteristic, has its own way of grow.
A oak don’t want to be a pine and a pine don’t want to be an oak. But people should be that same way. If they ugly, stay ugly. If they can cook, just cook. If they walking, don’t buy no car. I mean, that's the way I feel about life.
[Blues guitar fades out]
[Crickets fade in]
RICK O’ROURKE Hi, my name is Rick O'Rourke. I'm a Yurok tribal member. I've been doing prescribed burns on the Yurok reservation in order to reclaim our right to use fire as a land management tool for the last nine years.
[Fire rustling with a sustained musical tone in the background]
We're one of the few tribes who's never been displaced. So we've been in our place since the very beginning of time. Right now, there are so many trees that the mountains are just covered in trees when it used to be almost all prairie, you know, and all those trees that are under a hundred years old are encroachment trees. It's like not cleaning your house for one hundred years and then, where do you start? [Chuckles]
[Fire gets louder]
So we're trying to reclaim our prairies, and we're not trying to eradicate the trees, we're trying to get them back into their proper places to keep our balance. It’s just, they have a right to exist, but they don't have a right to take everything over. You know, we all have our place in this world, and we can't take too much of it.
[Fire gets louder]
Watching the trees and how they react to the fire, you could just, like see the branches start to shiver. Sometimes when we're burning, you know, they'll see trees start to go. But that's kind of a natural selection because that tree had a flaw that could potentially fall down and kill somebody. But the ones that are still there are strong and healthy with deep roots, and they're going to be there forever. Just like us.
[Fire fades out]
GRAYSON ARMOUR My name is Grayson Armour. I am a junior at Stanford and I’m the currently-reigning Stanford tree, the forty-third Stanford tree.
We are the unofficial mascot of Stanford. We are not the official mascot, because we don't have an official mascot.
[Stanford marching band plays “All Right Now” by Free]
The process of getting selected is by a thing we call Tree Week, where, you know, anyone who wants to become the tree, who are called Sprouts at that point, do a bunch of things to win the favor of the current tree/prove that they have the mojo and the personality type to take over the helm once the current tree is done.
When I don't have the tree on, I'm just, you know, Grayson. When I put the tree on, like, I am the tree. And the level of energy that I get when I put that tree on, just, like, goes through the roof. And, you know, the tree is a pure source of energy for everyone else. If you see a tree thrashing around in front of you, like, are you going to get a little excited? Or are you going to get bored?
[Marching band finishes and crowd cheers]
MONTY My name is Monty, I am 9 years old, and I like to climb this big tree in my front yard.
[Playful children’s music that sounds like a nursery rhyme]
So the first time, like a , long, long time ago, me and my friends, like one of them, tied like a rope around the high tree branch and she tied around the tree very tight and it will never come undone.
And then that's how we climbed up.
It was a nice summer day, and I had my friends over, and one, like, one person goes to the top of the tree as high as they can go and gets a big bucket full of water and then dumps it on the other people's heads, [Water dumps out of bucket] below on the ground. We took turns. I don't think I ever dumped the water though...wait! Yes, I did dump the water one time.
[Quick splash of water]
We all took turns.
Sometimes when I climb really high, I get to look down and see and I get to, like, be proud of myself that I got that high. I just climb trees and sit up there and brag to my friends and that’s basically it.
KATINA GRAYS New York City [Car horn honks] has some of the best city parks that you could dream of.
My name is Katina Grays. I live in Harlem. I'm an outdoor Afro leader. I always like to say I get to be a catalyst for black joy in nature.
[Kids and saxophone playing in a city park]
I do a lot of curating the city as an outdoor experience for people, so we spend a lot of time in our city parks. So a great example of this is Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. [Subway train passing by] It's fantastic. I mean, it's thousands of acres. I feel like it gets sort of, like, not enough play because of, like, Central Park, [Bicycle passing by] but our communities are very rich, a lot of times in spaces that, you know, unless somebody points them out to you, how do you know that they're there?
[Lo-fi hip-hop beat begins]
I want people to be able to access nature whenever they want it and whenever they need it. Because, you know, the last year in particular has been an odd time with people having to be so separated and so isolated from other people. But also, you know, with all of the tragic killings of black people that have happened, people need a place to be where they can put their burdens down, where they can be like, you know, I can just sit here under this tree. And I can breathe and I can think and I can not have to engage in anything other than my own mental well-being in a space. And so being able to show people where those things are, I think is a really important thing.
[Lo-fi beat fades up and then fades out]
[Trees rustling in the wind]
KATHERINE MAY I've always loved trees in winter. I think it's for me, it's my favorite phase of theirs. I just love the way that the leaves fall off and it reveals their shapes. And I think for me, when their shapes are revealed, I feel like they've each got a personality, [A gust of wind blows through a tree] and you get this real sense of trees that have lived a long life sometimes. You know, the ones with the twisted branches and the really thick bark.
[A big gust of wind that sounds like the transition from fall to winter]
I'm Katherine May and I'm the author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.
I knew I wanted to write about how trees are at their most beautiful in the winter. What trees do is that they cut back to the bare essentials in difficult times, you know, they don't try and stride into winter with all their leaves on.
[A gust of wind blows through a tree]
They don't try and carry on as if nothing's happening. And in that time, they're the life and soul of the wood. You know, they're holding the soil together with their roots.
[Birds and insects chirping]
They're providing places for insects to hibernate. Their dropped seeds and acorns and things like that are feeding the woodland animals all through the winter. And I, for me, like, that's really inspiring about trees. They go through hard times every year, and they do it with huge grace and by being everything to the rest of the woodland.
We don't get to define our winters. We don't get to control them. And I think, what we can learn to do is accept that winter will always come, that it is part of our cycle, that it rolls round to us again and again. We can't avoid it. We can't delay it, but we can live through it as richly as we can.
[Ethereal music swells and then begins to slowly fade out]
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HALEY This story was brought to you by Pop-Up Magazine Productions. Written and produced by me, Haley Howle, along with Joy Shan, Alyssa Edes, Ariel Mejia, and Elise Craig. Our editors are Derek Fagerstrom and Doug McGray. Our music and sound design is by Alex Overington. Our Creative Director is Leo Jung, Rebecca Chew is our art director, and Jackie Bates is our Photography Director. Lauren Smith is our Director of Operations. And we had production help from Al Schatz and Andy Spillman. Thanks so much for listening and don’t forget to check out our visual Field Guide at popupmagazine.com.