Category Archives: Anthropology and culture

“Oldest Buddhist shrine” shows evidence of tree-worship

From the National Geographic, “Oldest Buddhist Shrine Uncovered In Nepal May Push Back the Buddha’s Birth Date“:

Digging beneath a central shrine, the researchers uncovered postholes pointing to a wooden railing surrounding a tree shrine and dating to around 550 B.C., says Coningham. They also found an older brick structure.

The center of the shrine was unroofed, the team found, and contained mineralized tree roots, surrounded by clay floors worn smooth by visitors. It was likely an ancient bodhigara, or tree shrine.

The tree roots appear to have been fertilized, and although bodhigara are found in older Indian traditions, the shrine lacked the signs of sacrifices or offerings found at such sites.

“It was very clean, in fact, which points to the Buddhist tradition of nonviolence and nonofferings,” says Coningham.

[...]

Julia Shaw, a lecturer in South Asian archaeology at University College London, called the claims for a wooden railing surrounding a possible tree shrine convincing but speculative.

She was cautious about the oldest Buddhist shrine claim.

“The worship of trees, often at simple altars, was a ubiquitous feature of ancient Indian religions, and given the degree of overlap between Buddhist ritual and pre-existing traditions, it is also possible that what is being described represents an older tree shrine quite disconnected from the worship of the historical Buddha,” Shaw says.

“Still, it does indeed present some new insights into the archaeology of Indian ritual in general,” she adds.

Memorializing through reforestation: the Flight 93 National Memorial

Readers from outside the U.S. may or may not remember, but Flight 93 was the one hijacked commercial flight on September 11, 2001 that failed to reach its target (presumably Congress or the White House) due to a passenger revolt, crashing in a field in southwest Pennsylvania. The crash site was subsequently turned over to the National Park Service as an official National Memorial. Though dedicated last year, the tree-planting is not yet complete. I’m struck by the scale of it: not just one tree per passenger, but one grove per passenger, as an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us.

This is the second year of the reforestation effort. The goal is to have 150,900 new trees at the location. The Flight 93 memorial includes 40 groves of trees, one grove for each passenger or crew member who died on Sept. 11, 2001 when the plane crashed as the passengers and crew battled terrorists. The memorial is operated by the National Parks Service.

The seedlings were planted by volunteers—more than 500 of them. The website says only that they are “a mixture of several native species.” (The nursery is a little over 100 miles away, so perhaps the genotypes were fairly local in origin.) The memorial groves themselves have already been planted; this subsequent, three-year effort is to provide a windbreak for the groves.

The impulse to memorialize through afforestation seems especially appropriate given the location in Pennsylvania, the only one of the states named for its forests. However, Pennsylvania also has a long history of industrial exploitation, and the Flight 93 site was no exception. As the website points out:

Part of the architect’s vision for the memorial is that it will be a place of renewal. Reclaiming the land after decades of surface mining has left much of it in open grassland.

“Reclaiming” is of course a far cry from true restoration or healing, whence the need for tree-planting. It’s interesting to me that the national trauma of 9/11 has pointed to another trauma, one we ourselves have inflicted upon the land. By tying them together like this, the memorial gains a meta dimension — a woods re-created in part to memorialize itself.

The Polish Soldier Beech

sevenacres:

The exiled Polish government succeeded in negotiating training and recruitment efforts in North America. In Canada, over 200 men were recruited and here’s the local connection: they received basic and mechanized infantry training at a camp that ran in Owen Sound from May 1941 to May 1942. This wood, or rather the one that existed before it but was logged after the war, formed part of their training ground. And this beech, part of that earlier forest, bears an inscription carved over 70 years ago by one of those soldiers. Though distorted by weathering and the expansion of the tree’s trunk, the words, “Polska” and the year “1942″ can be seen clearly. The rest of the wording is less clear, but has been deciphered and translated to reveal the soldier’s name and the words, “Poland shall not perish” (the first words of the Polish national anthem).

A tree called Zoom

Portland Tree Tour:

I don’t know the story of how this tree acquired the name “Zoom.” It had been named before my children were enrolled. Zoom is a large, multi-trunk western red-cedar, Thuja plicata, located outside the Children’s Museum. It is perfect for climbing. My son fully explored the spreading lower limbs from the age of 3 onward. Older children climb to the very top.

Climbing trees aren’t hard to find, but this tree offers more than that. The lowest hanging foliage makes a curtain and ducking underneath one enters a new place — the shade is cooling, sounds are filtered out, outside views are screened — you’re not standing at the base of Zoom, you are within Zoom.

Rajasthani village plants 111 trees every time a girl is born

From The Hindu:

For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving girl children and increasing the green cover in and around it at the same time.

Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up.

Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons— including neem, sheesham, mango, Amla among others.

[...]

But this village of 8,000 did not just stop at planting trees and greening their commons. To prevent these trees from being infested with termite, the residents planted over two and a half million Aloevera plants around them. Now these trees, especially the Aloevera, are a source of livelihood for several residents.


Read the whole article
. (Hat-tip: C’mon, Let’s Plant a Tree)

Managing old-growth forests for “Stradivarius trees”

John Laurenson (BBC News) writes about “Stradivarius trees: Searching for perfect musical wood” — such a great story, it prompted me to bring this blog out of retirement.

Pellegrini is a tree picker. He will find you the spruce in 10,000 that is just right. He will find you the “Stradivarius tree”.

“Lentement, lentement, lentement,” he says. “Slowly, slowly, slowly”.

That’s how violin trees should grow.

“Up in these mountains, they grow so slowly sometimes they stop growing altogether. They just gather strength. There are trees up here that are a thousand years old,” he says.

[...]

Pellegrini “gardens” the forest, as he puts it. But he gardens for people who will not be born for hundreds of years. So that there will be fine resonance spruce in the 24th Century.

Read the rest.

Making a living from ancient olive trees

In more traditional American forestry circles, one can still hear “old growth” being used as a synonym for “over-mature,” the stage in the life of a tree or stand at which it begins to lose value as saw-timber. It’s worth remembering, however, that trees have many other economic values (to say nothing of cultural and ecological values) besides wood production — and sometimes these values actually increase with age. Examples include carbon sequestration, water storage and purification services, and the size of fruit or nut crops for certain species. Both sugar maples and rubber trees give more sap the older they get, so maple sugar and natural rubber production can take place within virtually unaltered old-growth landscapes. And many species of prized mushrooms do best in old-growth forests.

A less wild but still impressive example of the economic usefulness of ancient trees is exemplified by a new post at Spicelines blog, “Spain: From the Time of the Romans, an Ancient Olive Tree Bears Fruit.” The author visits a small-scale olive grower in Andalucia.

At least one of these ancient trees, which he calls “the millenary olive,” is estimated to be 1,800 years old, and may been planted in the time of the Romans. It’s an Hojiblanco and from a distance, it is an ungainly creature with branches, some broken or split, jutting at awkward angles. Only as we get closer do I see how massive the trunk is and how it spreads over the ground. It’s pockmarked with holes and deep crevasses, and on one side, where the wood has rotted away, there is a child-size hollow. “This is where I would hide myself when I was little,” Fermin says, laughing at the memory. “I would stay here for hours.”

This handsome relic still produces olives which lend their peppery, almond-like flavor to Vizcantar oils.

I’d heard that olive trees of great age were still producing oil all around the Mediterranean, so I was pleased to get this virtual tour of one such grove. Read the rest.

Myrrh: the many uses of a hostile tree

Hadzabe near Lake Eyasi use Commiphora to light firesAt Safari Ecology blog, Colin has followed up a fascinating post on why so many trees and shrubs in the African savanna are so thorny with one on a particularly useful thorny tree, myrrh (Commiphora). A bunch of recent studies have borne out the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties of its sap, which has been used to treat infections at least since the ancient Sumerians. Myrrh trees also make good habitat, their berries are an important food source for a number of species, and — well, just read Colin’s post.

The march of the mother trees

Pip at European Trees paints a compelling picture of the slow eastward drift of traditionally managed woodlands in France.

If we had access to satellite imagery from the last two centuries would we be able to create time lapse aerial photos of a woodland canopy showing the Mother trees as a front, semi circular waves marching eastwards similar to the pattern seen at the front of lapping waves on a shallow beach?

Read the rest of the post to learn just what the heck he’s talking about here.

Trees and cultural landscapes

It’s not a blog post, but we like this photo exhibition at Garden Design website: “Landslide: Every Tree Tells a Story.”

In 2010, The Cultural Landscape Foundation and American Photo magazine, with support from The Davey Tree Expert Company and American Forests, created an original traveling exhibition about the irreplaceable trees and tree groupings—often associated with historically important people and events—that have shaped the development of communities and cultures, many of which are at risk.

As a media sponsor of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Garden Design is proud to share the beautiful photographs and accompanying stories that are on display in the 2010 Landslide: Every Tree Tells a Story exhibition.

Check it out. Then visit The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

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