Trees – what do they mean to you? Do you even notice them? Maybe you’re so used to trees as part of the scenery you don’t ever think about them.
But I bet you noticed trees when you were a child! They’re so enchanting to young minds.
I loved Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree where Moonface and friends lived. Their adventures in foreign lands above the treetop cloud called out to me. I longed to experience these places with the tree folk and spend the night in a circular tree trunk house.
And then there was Narnia. Who wouldn’t want to befriend Mr Tumnus and other forest dwellers then go whooshing through winter woodlands sledging after the white witch?
Yes. Exciting adventures can always be found in the forest.
I urge you this autumn to get in touch with your childhood again (with or without kids) and get into the woods. You’ll feel amazing.
So why are trees so great?
For lots of reasons. Firstly trees are good for you. But they’re also great fun, good educators and rather tasty…
1. Trees are fun
One of my favourite things as a child was tree climbing. Heck, when I had to draw a tree for my art homework I was the only one to provide a view through the branches from the top! There was something about the challenge; twisting my body to fit through gaps, stretching to reach the next branch all while balancing precariously on a maybe-not-so-sturdy twig! But the sense of achievement on reaching the top (or at least being higher than anyone else – ha!) meant the bruised knees and grazed elbows were well worth it. Whoop whoop, I’m the king of the jungle!
But it doesn’t have to stop after childhood…
More and more people today, from all walks of life, enjoy recreational tree climbing. Exploring some of the country’s biggest, oldest trees using methods devised by tree surgeons and seeing the woods from a different angle is certainly an experience. Just think of David Attenborough camping overnight among the branches in the Amazonian jungle. (I wonder if he read The Magic Faraway Tree…)
And then, there’s getting down.
Sure, you could climb, but why not whizz instead? Good outdoor adventure centres often have a whole host of treetop experiences including zip wires. Zooming through the treetops you’ll experience pure, exhilarating adrenalin. What a way to feel alive and free. Whoosh!
Tree climbing is a great family activity too – a real leveller and definitely one for the memory book. But importantly you’ll be helping your kids thrive. Children need challenges to develop into healthy adults. Tree climbing encourages many skills problem solving, creative thinking, social skills, physical development, concentration, patience, self-esteem and confidence.
There are so many other woodland adventures you can have too. You could camp and cook outdoors like the Swallows and Amazons, create your own fantasy worlds where trees come alive, fairies flit about and only you have the power to save the world. And can you actually walk past a tree without seeing a monster in it?
You can get creative with leaves, branches and other woodland delights. Why not make some leaf art on the forest floor, crush up fruits and leaves to make dyes then paint pictures with twig brushes, collect leaves and press them to make greeting cards or turn foliage into seasonal wreaths and decorations? The Imagination Tree has some great autumn leaf ideas.
And there are plenty of woodland games to choose from. It’s the perfect time of year for conkers, the seeds of Horse Chestnut trees. I can’t resist picking up these smooth, shiny balls of loveliness, but watch they don’t smack you on the head as they drop off the branches.
Maybe you’d prefer to whack the heck out of conkers instead! Yes, it’s the season for that most traditional of children’s games. If you’re really into it you could even enter the world conker championships, October 14th this year in the Northamptonshire village of Southwick.
Some woodland games and activities I’ve enjoyed at Forest School were making musical instruments out of natural objects, playing hide and seek (being outside is so much better than hiding in a cupboard!), going on bug hunts, playing tracking games and racing twig rafts down a woodland stream For lots of ideas have a look at the Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives.
2. You can learn lots from trees
It’s astounding to see how nature changes with the seasons. And deciduous woodlands (i.e. those with trees that shed their leaves annually) are one of the easiest places to watch it.
Things change rapidly through autumn. As the days shorten green leaves turn red, brown, orange, ultimately crowning the woods in a glorious golden canopy. But make the most of this because as high winds lash at the branches, the leaves fall leaving a naked framework of branches and a mushy, decaying mulch below.
What a dead, dreary, scene you might think. What a barren landscape. How will spring ever come again? How can life come from death?
But in autumn the trees are actually getting ready to survive the harsh, dark, cold winter by becoming dormant. Everything within each tree slows down: metabolism, energy consumption, growth. They shed their leaves as they are no longer needed to make food and would use energy to maintain. In effect the trees are resting and preparing themselves for new growth in spring.
The unwanted leaves left rotting below decay and enrich the soil around the trees. And when spring arrives, these dead parts help the woodland come to life again as the roots draw up nutrients to feed the trees.
After its winter slumber the wood awakens and there is an explosion of life! Flowers grow, birdsong crescendos and trees burst with fresh green leaves in spring. Then summer warmth and rain produce a bounteous crop ripe for harvesting before, once again, we welcome back the vibrant hues of autumn.
You won’t be able to see everything that is going on within the woods though. Beneath the forest floor is a huge mat of fine fungal threads (mycelia) which links trees together via their roots. These connections mean trees can even ‘talk’ to one another! It’s an amazing communication system and trees can register one another’s pain, learn things about other trees in the wood and protect and care for one another through this wood wide web.
So next time you’re in a wood, yes, look around at nature’s activity and marvel at her creativity. But don’t forget, the trees are talking. If you stand quietly perhaps you’ll hear their murmurs coming from below.
3. Trees taste good!
Who loves food?
Me, me, me! Especially if it’s free…
And autumn is particularly tasty. There’s a glut of juicy fruit and nuts, fabulous fungi and even the bark of some trees can be eaten. Did you know that the cinnamon in your Danish pastry actually comes from tree bark? And a type of fungus is used in making chocolate?
But the iconic fruit of autumn has to be apples. And Apple Day is celebrated every year in the UK – 21st October 2018.
Apple Day started in 1990 as an attempt to remind us how important orchards, fields and nature are to humans and it’s become quite a celebration. Organisations like the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and the Women’s Institute organise events where you can take part in juicing, baking and grafting. There’s even poetry reading and singing about apples!
But apples can be even tastier mixed with other seasonal delights. Blackberries anyone? I can’t be the only one drooling at the thought of apple and blackberry crumble…
Just the other week I was out walking and foraging hadn’t crossed my mind. But how could I not release those luscious blackberries from their thorny boughs as they screamed ‘pick me, pick me!’ These are one of the easiest berries to harvest and it’s a great activity to do with kids. Just make sure you have plenty of containers or bags, unlike me who had nothing and ended up with a purple rucksack!
You could also go fungi foraging. But please make sure you know what you are doing or go with someone who does if you want edible mushrooms. If in doubt just look, don’t eat. That’s what I do. It’s great fun searching among rotten wood or leaf litter to find what lurks beneath. Go for damp spots as this is where fungi thrive and don’t to forget to look up – I’ve seen some amazing brackets attached to tree trunks. You could record all you find with photographs and take an identification book to learn as you go.
So, if you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise! (Excuse me while I burst into song…)
And it’ll be a nice surprise.
I’d love to hear about your forest adventures and what you’ve found in the woods. Have you discovered anything new? What have you cooked with nature’s harvest?
Perhaps you run a forest/ woodland business and need to promote it? Contact me for copywriting help.
[All images from pixabay.com unless otherwise stated]