More Trees, Please
Just after I thought I’d covered everything I had to say about the sacredness of trees in my last column, I found myself in Costa Rica, which I affectionately call “The Land of Trees.” There are endless canopies of majestic trees everywhere, from the lush jungles on the coast, to the mountainous rain and cloud forests at the upper elevations. So much green it practically hurts the eyes.
I was there for the transformational yoga, art and music festival called Envision, in the southwestern Puntarenas Province. It’s a three-hour drive from the capital of San Jose, on a remote, pristine coastline devoid of development. I’ve written extensively about festival culture, particularly Burning Man and Bhakti Fest, as facilitators of higher consciousness and human potential. But Envision was different, if for no other reason than the huge, luscious trees that provided shade, cooling, and visual splendor. And while other festivals emphasize personal development through mindfulness, spirituality, and sacred song, Envision had an emphasis on permaculture, environmental activism, and biophilia. That’s the theory that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. It was manifested with workshops on herbalism, seed sovereignty, ethnobotanicals, ethnogenic medicines, and other concepts I had never heard of but implied living closer to nature. It was dramatically illustrated in the amazing stages and pavilions that were constructed entirely of native tropical hardwoods and building grade bamboo. And from serving native fruits and indigenous elixirs like cacao. But nothing could compete with those miraculous trees, so enveloping and magically lit at night with stage gels they evoked a fairyland that could best be described as Pandora.
And yet, rather than basking in the glow of beauty, music, and dance, there was an urgent call for activism. Of making a difference on the planet and, simply put, waking up. For as environmentally aware as Costa Rica is, they have nonetheless experienced debilitating deforestation from cattle farming as well as beach erosion from climate change. And the most moving ceremony I participated in was the simple act of planting a tree with a humble group of local volunteers called Costas Verdes. This non-profit group was founded in 2009 by a group of young, surfing professionals with a mission to “catalyze a coastal development scheme of zero biodiversity losses.” Since then they have planted 36,000 trees along the beaches of Playa Hermosa and Playa Guiones, restoring habitat, bringing turtles back to lay eggs, native birds, monkeys, and engaging hundreds of school children in the process.
We got to plant another hundred trees at the festival as the founders strive to leave the farm better than they found it, and it was a moving experience for me to plant something I knew would be there for generations.
Meanwhile, in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, efforts are afoot to plant as many as 5 million trees, courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation. Which brings us back to Laguna, where we commemorated our first Arbor Day this past Wednesday at Jahraus Park. This is the first step in getting us the official designation as a tree city, which we richly deserve, and need to foster with, yes, more trees. I learned from Costas Verde it just takes the will of a few determined people to find the seeds, start a nursery, and then recruit volunteers to plant the starters in and around a region. Besides their beauty, shade, and oxygen production, imagine orchards of fruit trees on our public lands that can be a vital food source for us in any supply interruption. Planting milkweed will bring our monarch butterflies back (Transition Laguna is giving away free seeds). Trees will help with soil erosion, serve as fire barriers, and prevent mudslides, and can provide medicine, herbal remedies, and yes, even emergency shelter and building materials.
Commemorating trees with an annual Arbor Day is a wonderful first step. Planting them citywide as a path towards sustainability and a healthy ecosystem for generations to come is getting us up and running.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on radio station KX 93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]