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Special Trees Inspire Hope that World Peace Is Possible

When Jane Goodall thinks of hope, she thinks about three trees that suffered terribly but survived near impossible odds.

 

Goodall is best known for her study of the social and family life of chimpanzees. At first, she thought they were kinder than humans until she discovered that they can be aggressive and violent. She saw some females kill the young of other females in their group to maintain their dominance.

 

In spite of all the violence, prejudice, greed and racism in the world, Goodall has never given up on hope. She and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson wrote about hope in The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. An article about the book appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Reader's Digest.

 

Goodall calls hope a crucial survival trait. When she thinks about hope, she remembers meeting two trees that survived impossible odds.

 

She was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists killed so many people. Ten years later, she met a Callery pear tree that was at the site of the twin towers when they collapsed on 9/11. It was discovered one month after the event. The tree had been crushed between two blocks of cement.

 

Only half of the trunk remained, and it was charred black. Its roots were broken, and there was only one living branch. Rebecca Clough, the woman who found it, pleaded for the tree to be given a chance. It found a home in a Bronx nursery, where, over time and with much effort, it was nourished back to health. Once it was strong enough, the tree was transplanted in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, where every spring its bright blossoms move people to tears.

 

Goodall met another amazing tree in Nagasaki, Japan. It is one of two 500-year-old camphor trees that survived after the second atomic bomb was dropped at the end of World War II. In the temperature as hot as the sun produced by the nuclear explosion, nothing was expected to survive. But somehow these two trees clung to life.

 

They were mutilated. Only the lower halves of the trunks were there. Most of the branches were gone, and no leaves remained. People took Goodall to see one of those trees. It's now quite large. Through many cracks in the trunk, visitors can see that it's all black inside. Even so, every spring the tree sprouts new leaves.

 

If those trees could survive such brutality, then there is hope for all of us, Goodall believes. That's one reason why she participated in the 2021 United Nations International Day of Peace in New York City.

 

Each year the UN International Day of Peace is observed around the world on Sept. 21. The United Nations calls on everyone to lay down their weapons on that day and reaffirm their commitment to live in harmony. Theme for the 2022 UN International Day of Peace is "End Racism. Build Peace."

 

For Goodall, the Survivor Tree and the two camphor trees represent the hope that world peace is possible.

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Keeping Hope Alive

Cottonwood tree shelters a tent
Tent under a cottonwood tree in Simon Canyon, northwest New Mexico

As we venture into 2021, coming out of 2020 full of grief, worry, frustration and a boatload of other emotions, it can be hard to feel hopeful.

 

Even so, there are reasons to keep our hope alive and to look forward to positive change. When I worry that more people I know could get very sick with Covid-19 and its emerging virus strains, I think about trees.

 

What could trees teach us? They have weathered all kinds of challenges, from invasive beetles to the possibility of being cut down, and they've faced a whole host of other threats from many different sources. What keeps them going?

 

They are rooted to one spot. They can't run away from danger. But they can draw on strengths. They change their behavior as needed to stay healthy.

 

In the winter, trees go dormant. As some animals hibernate during the winter, trees slow down their metabolism. That helps them to conserve the food they have stored. They want it to last since they don't make food in the winter. That's the season when they slow down their energy consumption and growth. Many trees shed their leaves in the winter because they don't need the leaves to help them form simple sugar, their kind of food, in the presence of sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. That sugar helps to give them energy, but in winter they take a rest.

 

Just as trees go into a dormant state during the winter, in this time of Covid-19, we need to slow down our activities by staying indoors more, not gathering in large groups, and shopping in stores only for essentials. If we wear masks, keep at least six feet from other people, and wash our hands frequently, we also reduce the chance of getting the virus. Those are all activities that slow us down and make us practice different behavior than we normally would. It can be frustrating and downright maddening to have to change our behaviors. But it gives us and others a better chance to remain healthy.

 

Trees know how to be dormant. They do it naturally. They slow their activity level to stay healthy during the winter. If trees can adjust their behavior during winter to keep themselves safe, perhaps it doesn't seem quite so limiting to adjust our behavior too.

 

Trees also do something called respiration. In this process, they convert energy stored in the form of glucose, the sugar that leaves and sunlight produce during photosynthesis. That energy is needed to carry out the tree's metabolic reactions, which occur even in winter. During respiration, carbon dioxide oozes through the trees' pores. Carbon dioxide is essential to create the energy trees need to keep themselves healthy. They get a lot of that carbon dioxide from animals, including humans, when we breathe out that gas. In return, trees give off oxygen, which is toxic to them, but we would die without enough of it.

 

No matter how challenging life may be for them at times, trees continue to create the carbon

dioxide they need and to get rid of the oxygen that we need. If they didn't keep doing what they need to do to survive, we wouldn't be able to survive ourselves.

 

When I look at trees, I don't often think about the chemical reactions that happen within them. I just enjoy their beauty, the shade their provide, and the habitat they offer for birds and other critters.

 

I'm glad trees remain committed to doing what comes naturally to survive. It helps me think that, even though it's not easy to wear a mask, social distance, and wash my hands often, it is helping to give me and others a better chance to stay healthy. That gives me hope.

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