Modern day tree hugging began in India in 1973 with Chipko Andolan (Movement to hug trees), when a group of villagers made a peaceful human chain around a grove of trees that were being threatened with destruction.
The first tree huggers lived some 200 years earlier and were some village women, also in India who actually did hug trees that were about to be cut down.
There have been tree lovers and tree worshippers since the beginning of time, perhaps because trees are nature’s gift that never stops giving. Trees give us food and drink. They give us shelter and medicine to cure our ailments. And if the Bible and other religious writings are correct, they furnish us with knowledge. And they do no harm.
I have loved trees since I was a child: to climb, to make doll houses among the roots, and in the Fall to make “walls” for the layout of a house and then set fire (with adult supervision) and watch the fire travel along the walls.
When I lived in Florida, I learned to truly appreciate trees since there wasn’t that much to dwell upon visually, except trees. When I first came to Costa Rica, I was traveling from Tamarindo to San José, and the bus stopped in Santa Cruz, where I first saw a guanacaste tree. I was in awe of its size and expanse and delighted when I learned it is the national tree of Costa Rica.
Since I first discovered the ficus tree, I have been a great admirer. It seems to grow to all sizes and in all altitudes, including indoors, even my indoors.
My friend Alexis, who has flourishing plants and flowers everywhere, and is the doctor of last resort for one or another of my plants that seems to have chosen suicide, has labelled me Jo, the plant killer. Perhaps my tree survives because the ficus has special powers. A member of the fig tree family, it is called ficus religiosa by some Eastern religions because Buddha found enlightenment meditating under the bodhi or ficus tree.
Even in San Jose there are some wonderful trees and two of them are my favorites. One just happens to be a higuerón or fig tree a/k/a ficus in the Parque Morazán. It is a giant tree, soaring into the city sky. Every time I go downtown, I try to visit it, touch it and say a few words of greeting. Part of the year it turns grey and leafless, and I fear it is going to die. But it always revives. One day when I stopped by to say hello, an old man sitting on a nearby bench told me that the higuerón had medicinal powers and animals knew this so when they were sick would chew the leaf of the tree. I didn’t find out what was ailing animals or if they swallowed the leaf, so I don’t think I will try it for any passing complaint.
My other favorite tree is in Rohrmoser. I don’t think it is a ficus, or if it is, it is a ficus tortuoso. I am sure it didn’t grow that way. Its branches were twisted to fit some preconceived idea of beauty, perhaps, but it has survived and is rather marvelous to look at, although it probably was also stunted to fit its environment. It reminds me of civilization, and what it has done to shape us humans. Yet we, too, survive.
It is easier to survive in a country that values even a few orphan trees on a contested border and does not involve its people in wars. At least it is for me.