Mind Matters — The Human Need for Nature

On our way to Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving, my spouse and I did a quick stopover in Chester County to visit friends. While he got a chance to work with his colleagues directly (not by telecommuting from Massachusetts), I relished being back in nature. Living in a community where houses do not share walls, but where they do seem to almost touch, I long for spaces where tall trees grow unhindered by sidewalks and powerlines.

Even while taking a shower in my friends’ home, I was able to birdwatch! Doves, cardinals, perhaps a hawk, flitted from bushes to bird feeder. What a joyful sight.

Longwood is even more beautiful than I remember it, new with its new and refurbished fountains. And the Brandywine River still flows past Miss Gratz, the sculpture of the peacefully gazing cow resting on the grounds of the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Water, trees, birds, deer, fox, horses, cows, meadows, woods—I miss it all. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our psychological well-being is deeply connected to nature. We have an interdependent relationship with our environment. If we take care of it, it will take care of us.

It was obvious to me that my new environs wouldn’t be paying much attention to this interdependence. I looked around the neighborhood wondering what’s missing. What is wrong? It is the dearth of, not only trees, but of happy trees. Peter Wolleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, gives some insight into what occurs in cities and in forests when the lives of trees are misunderstood.

In urban landscapes, trees have been plunked down in isolation, roots smothered in sidewalks and branches amputated for power lines. The result is unhappy, unhealthy trees that eke out existence without the support of a family of trees such as they would have in the woods. When city planners are cognizant of the importance of trees for the mental and physical needs of the populace, they also learn that trees have needs too. Trees communicate through their roots to other trees so they do need their family around. Their roots and branches need space.

Coming back to my old haunts in Pennsylvania and Delaware, I see the happy trees of places like Longwood and Winterthur—or just about everywhere! I miss these stately trees and am on the lookout for them where I live now. In my new milieu I plan to support the perspective that trees and people are interdependent and need each other’s care for our own well-being. Meanwhile, Chadds Ford and its surrounding can be grateful for the beauty that is all around.