Close observations of a woodland offer us a model for living a rich and purposeful life.
Nature is full of patterns, from the fractal patterns of dividing branches and roots that can be found on different scales throughout the tree itself, to the underground tunnel network of woodland creatures, the circulatory and respiratory systems of animals, dendrites - the branched extensions of a nerve cell ……
There are many patterns in life which we rely on to help us recognise repeated behaviours and occurrences; sometimes it is our unconscious self that recognises these patterns, to keep us out of harm’s way, whilst other times we purposefully construct patterns into our days to maintain a sense of routine and balance in our busy lives. We talk about spirals when we suffer with anxiety and depression. Spirals are often found in nature, their formation linked to the Fibonacci sequence, which enables a plant to grow in the most efficient way possible, catching the optimum rainfall and enabling the sun to access leaves which lay exposed to the light rather than being covered by the shade of another.
Trees have a purpose – although they have a ‘memory’ and they can sense the future, they live very much in the moment; not dwelling or procrastinating, nor worrying or living in fear. They deal with problems and look after their offspring and neighbours, through electrical and chemical messages sent through their roots and the mycorrhizal network (Wood Wide Web) or pumped from their leaves as Phytoncides – which we too benefit from when we spend time in the woods. Their purpose is to grow strong and reproduce, to maintain good health and to survive through extremes of weather. It is essential for our health and longevity that we too have a purpose and while for many of us, we are fortunate to have our basic needs met and therefore look for other more selective purposes in life, there are a huge number of people living in poverty and despair, whose main purpose is to survive, from one day to the next.
Woodlands have edges, the zone where one ecosystem meets another. These areas have the most diverse habitat and biodiversity within them; places where exciting things happen. We too experience edges in our lives - when we push ourselves outside our comfort zone. It is healthy and exciting for us to push our boundaries, to go that little bit further, to try something new and to feel the buzz that this can bring. We can feel exhilarated and on a high for days, when we live life on the edge.
Niches are everywhere within a woodland. The gnarly bark of an ancient oak tree, a hole in a fence post, a cubby hole under a root…. They are all unique places that create opportunities for things to happen. Each and everyone of us can find our niche – the thing that we love to do. Find that niche and follow your dream.
Community and collaboration are at the heart of every woodland. As we mentioned before, the Wood Wide Web of mycorrhizal fungi connects the woodland via an underground network of fine fibres. Nutrients and C02 are traded between fungi and trees, it is even thought that trading goes on with ‘exchange rates’ differing according to supply and demand. Mother trees look after their children, prioritizing them over other trees, in an effort to ensure that their species survives for years to come.
There is so much to learn from a woodland, when we take the time to observe. Sarah Spencer, author of Think Like a Tree , has used these natural principals and many more, which she talks about in her book, to rebalance her own life after living with ill health for many years.