PAT NEAL: The hidden dangers of tree hugging

THERE ARE MANY good reasons for tree-hugging and I must have heard them all.

In a recently published book, Matthew Silverstone reveals scientific data showing trees improve many health issues such as mental illness, ADHD, depression, headaches, reaction time and concentration levels.

He lists countless studies of children who showed significant psychological and physiological improvements in their health and well-being when they interacted with plants and trees.

He explains that the reasons are simply that everything vibrates and different vibrations affect biological behaviors.

When we touch a tree, its different vibrational pattern will affect the various biological behaviors within the human body, bringing it into a healing alignment.

How does hugging trees do all these good things for us?

Plants and trees facilitate the cleansing and revitalizing of all of the stored-up negativity and stress humans experience and give it a place to be absorbed.

Touching trees reinforces the idea that we are at one with nature.

That connection in turn has been linked to things like greater life expectancy, a higher sense of meaningfulness, lower cognitive anxiety and better body image.

Tree-hugging is obviously good for humans but what does it do to the tree?

Ecologist Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients through an elaborate, symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of fungi buried in the soil that she compared to neural networks in human brains.

Trees talk to each other sending warning signals about environmental change and death, however the research has not revealed the trees’ emotional response to an invasion of tree huggers.

To the trees, the human race most probably represents a bunch of road-building, carbon-spewing apes with fire and chainsaws whose daily activities push the earth closer to midnight on the doomsday clock.

That’s not something trees want to hug.

Psychologists tell us that modern humans are typically a festering mass of stress, fear and anxiety that work themselves to death advancing a material myth in a consumer culture.

This could be why some folks would want to hug a tree in the first place.

The trees don’t ever talk back.

The trees are used as a psychic dumping ground which is a bummer for any sensitive woodland organism.

I know because as a fishing guide I have to listen to all my clients’ problems, everything from, “My wife ran off with my bird dog and I sure miss that dog,” to, especially these days: “I pay more taxes than the president!”

Isn’t it enough that we rely on trees for our houses, furniture and toilet paper?

Do we have to burden them with our problems?

Then there is the actual physical harm excessive tree-hugging can cause.

People are not only stressed out these days, they weigh a whole lot more than they used to.

A tree subjected to an ill-advised “group hug” around the victim can be devastated.

Remember the fungi?

While you’re hugging the tree, you’re stomping the filigree of fungi mycelium beneath the soil that not only feeds the tree, but also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.

Abusive tree-hugging can remove the rich tapestry of moss, lichen and lungworts covering the bark, preserving moisture and providing a home to bacteria that take nitrogen from the air and supply it to the tree so it can grow still larger.

It is hoped that in these enlightened days people will see the error of their ways and stop putting our forest friends at risk with this barbaric practice of tree-hugging.

Hug a human, not a tree.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal

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