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A Tu B’Shevat Reflection: Learning from Trees to Become Super Cooperators

01/22/2021 09:05:50 AM


Over the last year, even during these cold winter months, I have been doing a lot more local hiking than ever before.  Afterall, there is not much else to do if one wants to escape the confines of home and work routines! During these walks, I often am carrying my son Ezra on my shoulders and/or playing “I spy” with my other kids, but on occasion I have a few moments to drift off into thought about my surroundings and to feel the joyful smallness of being lost in a dazzling maze of tree trunks and interwoven limbs. 

On one of our recent expeditions to Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton, MA we had some time in the car to listen to a “Wow in the World” childrens podcast about the interconnectivity of trees. Forever, scientists thought that trees compete with each other for resources like water, sun, nutrients etc. The tallests trees, so they thought, were the strongest who beat the smaller ones. It turns out that they don’t compete at all but collaborate and cooperate through a mysterious underground highway. 

Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered, by injecting a radioactive element into the roots of a few trees, that two plants in the same dirt were connected and sharing resources, almost like a social network system. Trees were sending messages to shift the spread of water and nutrients to keep one another alive. If one tree is sick, a neighboring tree shuttles over more resources. The trees are connected by microscopic fungi that look like white and yellow sewing threads. They work together to create a complex web of sharing. 

This podcast enhanced the experience of hiking for me. Walking through the forest and hearing the twigs and leaves rustle, I now wonder what kind of gracious chattering is happening underneath my feet. I now look at trees as kind creatures that take care of one another and assist the weak and vulnerable. I now think about the comparison that the Torah makes between the human person and the tree of the field in a radically different way. I now look at trees and wonder how I, as a social being with free will, am doing sharing my resources with those in need in my local area.

This Tu’Bishevat (upcoming Thursday), as we mark the very technical legal cutoff point of produce from fruit trees being considered for one year of tithes or another, I invite you to contemplate the quiet kindness and care that exists beneath the surface of the natural world around us and to be inspired to become part of it in small but significant ways. 

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784