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Meg Lowman, Champion of Forests

Looking high up into the cottonwood helps you see its lofty reach into the sky.
Looking high up into a cottonwood tree.

Thanks to the work of biologist and author Meg Lowman, it is possible to walk on canopies high up in trees. She has pioneered forest canopy research and has built canopy walkways to help raise the awareness of the vital role forests play. Those canopies also help developing nations create jobs through tree canopy tourism.

 

Forest canopy research involves studying flora and fauna in the treetops of tropical forests. Those forest canopies provide homes and food sources for many species of life, including insects and plants. Lowman learned that half of our terrestrial biodiversity lives in the canopy. Biodiversity refers to the variety of life in the world or in a certain area.

 

Born in Elmira, New York on Dec. 23, 1953, Lowman gained an international reputation for helping people understand the importance of forests. The Wall Street Journal once called her the Einstein of treetops.

 

She has used slingshot-fired ropes, hot air balloons with sleds, canopy cranes and canopy walkways to build canopies in the trees. Those canopies help people see forests from a different point of view. In so doing, she pioneered the science of canopy ecology. In more than 30 years of building walkways in treetops, she has come to understand that changes or damage to any species in the canopy or elsewhere can cause an imbalance in the entire ecosystem. The result of that change or damage can have long-term ecological implications.

 

She calls herself an arbornaut, a treetop explorer. She is a National Geographic explorer, and the National Geographic Society has funded her work since 1998. She has authored several books and more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed scientific publications. Among her books is Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology. In the book, she describes the mysteries of the treetops, including their animal and plant inhabitants. She also talks about the challenges of juggling her field biologist life with marriage, motherhood, and being a single parent.

 

She is the director of global initiatives and senior scientist for plant conservation at the California Academy of Sciences. She co-founded the Tree Foundation and is still its executive director. It promotes education about forests. You can find out more about the organization at https://treefoundation.org.

 

She has developed an international network, and with her passion for science she is a role model for women and minorities in science. You can learn more about this amazing woman at https://canopymeg.com.

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When Forest Fires Blaze, How Can We Help?

Devastating forest fires are sweeping parts of New Mexico where I live, and I've wondered what I can do to help. Other states are impacted too.

 

I'm not a fire fighter. The smoke would make it hard for me to breathe, and I can't carry heavy equipment or dig fire lines. Yet, I am in awe of fire fighters who put their lives on the line to save everything threatened by wildfires. Those fires are often harder to fight because of gusty spring winds and drought conditions.

 

Firefighters have been fighting huge fires for many weeks that continue to gobble up trees and everything in their wake, including people's homes and businesses. Several national forests in my state are barring visitors because of extreme fire danger.

 

National news has made the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire east of Santa Fe a familiar name. As of this morning, the fire had burned over 303,000 acres and was 34 percent contained. But hot, dry, windy conditions today made the fire even more difficult to battle.

 

More than 2,100 fire personnel are engaged in battling the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon flames. To date, it is the largest fire in New Mexico's history.

 

Many of us watch the news, read the newspapers, and wonder what we can do to help. As I think about what I can do, I realize I can't fight the fire myself. But I can be very aware of fire danger, especially in drought conditions. That means not starting campfires anywhere. If one is absolutely needed, completely extinguish it so it has no chance of flaring up later.

 

If I see enterprising children and adults having lemonade stands or other events to raise money for fire fighters, I can buy their lemonade and donate money to help them meet their goal. I can adopt a local fire station or volunteer fire department, find out what the firefighters need, and contribute in my small way to help meet that need. I may be able to do only one of those things, but every effort helps.

 

So many trees are destroyed in a fire. I can donate money to help organizations that promote planting trees. I may only be able to donate $10 or $15, but every donation helps. And it lets that organization know its efforts are valued.

 

There are so many ways we can assist fire fighters without fighting the fire ourselves. And there are so many ways we can help in the effort to plant more trees to replace some of the ones destroyed by fires. As you look around to see what else you might do to help, you will come up with other ways of making a positive difference.

 

Thank goodness for our brave firefighters. And thank goodness for all the caring citizens, like you, who do their best to help out. Together we can make a positive difference.

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The Gift of Trees

Huge, tall and rounded pine tree stands by entrance to Animas Valley Mall in Farmington, NM
Pine tree at Animas Valley Mall in Farmington, NM.

The next time you're driving along a busy street through town, notice the nearby trees. They line sidewalks, provide shade in parking lots, and add beauty to people's yards.

 

It can be hard to notice them when you're creeping through heavy traffic, worried about getting to work on time, picking up your child from piano lessons, or making it to a doctor's appointment. Those frustrating, irritating, stressful moments are sometimes the best time to notice trees.

 

The shopping mall in my town has a lot of trees. They provide boundaries between roadways and business parking lots. They make certain parking spots look inviting because they protect vehicles from the hot sun. Their decorative leaves lace the air with intricate designs. Blossoming trees perfume the air and splash color with artistic flair.

 

You may only have a second to notice a tall, majestic pine tree spreading its branches before the traffic light turns green. You press the gas pedal as your vehicle springs forward, never noticing pine cones that decorate grass around the tree.

 

Your eyes may barely catch the small stately tree with leaves that grace the sky like a finely embroidered shawl. In your quest to get to your destination on time, you will pass dozens, even hundreds of trees, all filling the sky line with their own unique beauty.

 

What would we do without trees? We hardly think about them or about the care it takes to keep them healthy. Once in a long while we might catch a glimpse of lovely trees along the sidewalk as we park our car and hurry into the grocery store.

 

Trees are a constant gift to us. When we notice them, our lives feel a little richer and a bit less stressed.

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Let Nature Tune Up Your Body and Brain

Different kinds of trees grow near each other in this rural setting.
Trees flourish in a rural area.

Nature can help your brain and your body stay healthier. You can take a hike into the mountains or anywhere else in nature to give your brain and body a tune-up.

 

Or you can do something a little less time consuming and, basically, cost free. Find a tree near where you live. It might be a tree in your yard, in your neighborhood, or in a community park.

 

Spend a little time walking near the tree, sitting under its branches, or admiring it as you stroll through the park or neighborhood. When you do that, notice what begins to happen to your body and your brain. Does your body start to relax? Does your brain quit going a hundred miles an hour and begin to slow down?

 

Do you feel less stressed? Are your worries starting to fade? You might feel more alert. Maybe you sense a surge of creativity flooding your mind and body. As you start to relax, you may discover you can let go of those angry, upset, or irritated thoughts about a person or situation.

 

By the time you've spent 15 or 20 minutes around those trees, you may feel like you have a lot more energy. It's amazing how good we can feel when we let go of unhealthy thoughts that weigh us down. It takes a lot of energy to carry around so much weight!

 

There are many places where you can learn more about the benefits of being in nature and about getting into a meditative state. One of those places is in Mindful Magazine, which is packed full of ideas for getting healthier by learning to mindfully meditate in different ways. You can get it on-line or as a colorful  magazine postal mailed to your home.

 

Have fun spending a little time among trees in the next few days. You may be surprised how much better you feel afterwards.

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Celebrate the Light

Juniper tree drinks in the light on a bright sunshiny day
Juniper tree welcomes the light

As the days get longer and the weather starts to warm up, it's more comfortable to be outside. One of the first things I saw when I spent more time outside was the weeds. They were popping up all over! They like the longer days and warmer weather too!

 

Plants other than weeds also like the increased light. Trees drink in that extra sunshine. Fruit trees gauge when it's time to sprout blossoms based on how much light they sense.

 

We're no different. Light revitalizes us. After the shorter days of winter, we drink in that light just as do the trees, the weeds and the rest of the plants. Light gives me more energy. I enjoy being outside when I feel the sun's warmth enveloping me. In spring that warmth is not too hot, so it feels really good.

 

Sometimes I like to lean on my hoe for just a moment and watch the sun filter through the juniper tree in my front yard. The light sparkles as it touches different parts of the tree. It tunnels through denser branches. It finds its way through every twig, needle and juniper berry on the tree, and it finds its way to me.

 

When I stand propped up against the hoe as I take a rest from weeding, I remember something my mother-in-law told me one spring day. She and my son, then about eight years old, were joking around as they chopped weeds near the house. When she took a break by using the hoe as a resting prop, my son looked at her with a smile aid said, "Someone's standing up on the job." She thought it was funny enough that it became one of her standard stories about her grandson.

 

Getting together outside in the sunlight brings families together in heartfelt, fun-loving ways. Yay for increased sunshine. Celebrate the light!

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Make Up a Name for Your Favorite Tree

This spruce tree in my back yard has a new name: Meleeka
Spruce tree in my back yard

Five years ago, when I moved to the house where I live now, I went into the back yard and looked at a tall spruce tree. It seemed quite beautiful. In the evening, it looked a little sparkly. It seemed to be catching a hint of light from somewhere. I called it Sparkly Spruce.

 

Every time I went into the back yard, I would say, "Hello, Sparkly Spruce." It made the tree seem like a friend.

 

But I always thought there was a better name for the tree. For a long time, I couldn't figure out what that name might be.

 

Then one day this month when it was cold outside, I stayed inside and looked through the living room glass sliding door at Sparkly Spruce. There was something elegant about the tree, something almost regal.

 

I thought about calling it Mellik, a name that means king in Arabic. But that didn't seem to suit it. There was something feminine about the tree. I didn't know what the female version of Mellik was, but Meleeka sounded like it would work. The name seemed to fit the tree. Now every time I'm in the back yard, I say, "Hi, Meleeka." It's fun to think about having royalty living in my yard.

 

Do you have a favorite tree in your yard or somewhere in your neighborhood? It might be fun to figure out a name for the tree you like so much.

 

Stand near the tree. Study it. Notice everything about it. You may feel a sense of calmness as you focus on the tree.

 

What name do you think fits the tree? If no name comes, just keep noticing how comfortable you feel being around the tree. A name might pop into your head. If it seems to fit the tree, it will be a good name for it.

 

Every time you go by the tree, you can say hi to the tree and call it by the name you gave it. The tree might seem a little more special to you because you have given it a name.

 

The next time you are bored and wonder what to do, find another tree and go through the same process to give it a name. It's a fun way to be creative.

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How to Break a Bad Habit

Huge cottonwood tree with leaves draped in front of it.
Huge cottonwood tree

Breaking a bad habit can be hard. That's why I was glad to learn a different way to do it.

 

The different way is simple. Don't try to break the bad habit at all. Instead of focusing on it, think of a new habit you want to replace it with.

 

That sounds too simple, but I tried it, and it worked for me! It doesn't cost you any money, just a little bit of time, and not much of that.

 

If you've ever been around people who drive you crazy, it's easy to see their flaws. It's hard not to say something negative to them. The bad habit I wanted to replace was feeling upset every time I had to be around a certain person. Things the person did and said had a way of setting me off. Before I knew it, I could feel myself boiling over with frustration. That person really bugged me!

 

I had tried before to change the way I reacted to this person, but it didn't work. I was doing what a lot of us do when we try to get rid of a habit. We try to fight it, break it, get rid of it. The problem is that when we do that, we're thinking about the bad habit.

 

When I learned a different method to try, I was ready! Instead of focusing on the habit I wanted to break, I focused on a new habit I wanted instead. For me that focus was to see this person through eyes that saw only goodness. I named the person in my mind and said, "I see ____ through eyes that see only goodness."

 

There is a second part to the method, and this part is the most important. After you make that statement, take a deep breath and say, "I have the new habit."

 

If that's still a little challenging, try meditating on it for a few minutes. Meditating can sometimes be easier if you stand or sit near a tree. Say the new habit you want to form. Then look at the tree. Notice all its beautiful details. Feel calmness settle over. Then take a deep breath and say, "I have the new habit."

 

You may need to say this to yourself a few times for the next few days. You don't have to be near a tree to say it. You can think it in your mind if you're at work or in a public place.

 

If the old habit tries to creep back, don't focus on it. Don't try to fight it. Just state the new habit. Then take a deep breath and say, "I have the new habit."

 

Give it a try. It worked for me. I think it could work for you too.

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Pine Cone and other Tree Art

This little basket full of tiny pine cones can be used as a Christmas tree ornament or other decoration..
Pine cone art

Now is a good time to search on the ground around trees in your yard or on public pathways through your town to find pine cones and other things that have dropped from trees. They make wonderful art work for anyone who has the patience and skill to create original pieces.

 

Many years ago, a friend of mine gathered some small pine cones she found and crafted them into a Christmas tree ornament. She gave it to me, and I have hung it on my tree every year since then. It reminds me of our friendship and of her ability to create lovely things.

 

Start close to home by walking around your yard to see what you can find on the ground. Twigs, pine cones, pine needles, dried autumn leaves, and little stones are among the many things you might find. If you want, you can invite family members or friends to join the fun.

 

Drop the items you collect into a paper or plastic bag. When you have enough, take them inside. If necessary, clean them off in whatever way seems most appropriate. If you choose a way that damages the item, don't worry. Just go out and find something else.

 

Once the items you collected are clean and dry, spread them out on a table or on the floor. Give them a discerning look. What item could you create with some of those pieces? If you think of something, move those pieces to one part of the table or floor and begin putting them together.

 

If what you create doesn't look like you hoped it would, set it aside and look at the remaining pieces. What could you build from them? Use your imagination. You can use anything to help you build your idea, such as a glue gun, cloth material, string, or colorful paper.

 

Keep working until you run out of time or want to take a break. There's no need to use up all the pieces. Anything left over you can deposit outside in your yard. Set the pieces you have completed aside.

 

Look at all the items you have created. Are there a few that you really like? Keep as many of them as you want. The others would make good gifts for friends. If you don't like some of the things you created, throw them away or give them to your cat or a neighbor's cat for a toy.

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How Many Trees Are in Your Neighborhood?

This tree grows in a yard in the country near the road.
 
A tree in the neighborhood

If you're looking for an interesting activity to do with your kids, here's a suggestion. Find out how many trees grow in your neighborhood.

 

Make a game out of it. Have your children don their tree detective hat, take their clue recording notebook, and grab their evidence collecting pencil or pen.

 

Then walk with them through your neighborhood. Decide how many blocks this activity should cover. Choose a number that will let everyone complete the activity without getting tired.

 

It's best to walk instead of drive, if it's not too cold, because you can spot trees more easily when you're walking. If you live in the country, you may need to drive for safety if there are no sidewalks.

 

Encourage your kids to spot every tree and record the number in their notebook. An easy way to do this is to make one mark for every tree sighted. Make the marks in groups of five. Then it will be easier to count them when you get back home.

 

Before you start, have everyone, including adults, make a guess about how many trees you will find. Write down each person's name and beside each name put the number of trees that person guessed. When you get home, see who came closest to the correct number. Give the winner a standing ovation!

 

Were you surprised by the number of trees you counted? Have a conversation with your kids about why people might decide to plant trees in their yard. If you have trees in your yard, talk about some of the good things about having them there.

 

This activity will give you several benefits. Not only will you discover how many trees are in one area of your neighborhood, but you will get some exercise. And you will spend time doing something fun and interesting with your family.

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The Lady Who Saves Rare Trees

This is the cover of the book, To Speak for the Trees
To Speak for the Trees book cover

An incredibly intelligent woman has created a haven for rare trees that would otherwise be lost to the world. She has done this on 60 acres of land she and her husband own outside of Ottawa, Canada. They purchased the land in the early 1970s. Since then, Diana Beresford-Kroeger has saved trees, many of which have medicinal qualities with significant benefits.

 

She wrote a book about her experiences called To Speak for the Trees. It was published in 2019 by Random House, Canada. It is one of the most interesting and readable books I have come across in a long time.

 

One of the trees she saved was a hop tree known as Ptelea trifoliata. "That tree," she wrote, "has a synergistic biochemical that revs up your major organs and causes them to metabolize things faster. It allows your body to make efficient use of medicines, magnifying their potency, and reduces the amount that you need to take."

 

If people need chemotherapy, a combination of a medicine made with Ptelea and a chemo drug would reduce the amount of chemo they need. Then they could cope with side effects better because they didn't have as much of the drug in their body.

 

Diana has an impressive background. She earned both her undergraduate and master's degrees in medical biochemistry and botany from University College Cork in Ireland. She focused on "the hormones that regulate plants and the frost resistance of all species." She wanted to know what the margins of life were.

 

To start her PhD, she accepted an American Federal Fellowship to the University of Connecticut at Storrs Campus. There, she focused on nuclear chemistry. She studied the effects of nuclear radiation on biological systems in both plants and animals.

 

At the end of that fellowship, she went to Carleton University in Ottawa, to pursue her PhD research. She focused on serotonin and the tryptophan-tryptamine pathways. She "compared the function of hormones in plants and human beings." In it, she proved that such pathways exist in plants and, most of all, in trees. Her study showed that "trees possess all the same chemicals we have in our brains," she wrote. "Trees have the neural ability to listen and think. They have all the component parts necessary to have a mind or consciousness. That's what I proved: that forests can think and perhaps even dream."

 

When she and her husband bought their 60 acres of land, it included a huge field and quite a few trees. Concerned that rare trees were dying out, she decided to save as many as she could. Some, like Ptelea trifoliata, had important medicinal qualities.

 

She diligently searched for many of those trees and planted them on her property. People who learned what she was doing sometimes donated rare species to her. Saving rare trees has become her life's work. Read more about it in her remarkable book, To Speak for the Trees.

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