I have to admit that sometimes in the dead of winter on cold, cold days, I get a bit claustrophobic. I feel cramped. Inside, it feels dark. It's almost like I can't breathe.
So I put on my thickest coat over some layers and step outside. The first few moments are pretty cold - I curl in on myself, nearly tempted to run back inside to the waiting warmth. But, usually once I start walking, my blood starts flowing and I start to warm up a bit. So I keep going.
The air seems cleaner out here. Things don't seem like they are closing in all around me. I can breathe. I can stretch out and discover. I can listen. I can think.
Even in the winter, it's amazing the life that exists in the woods just beyond my back door. Birds flitter from tree to tree, and squirrels scurry about. For them, trees and plants are both food and shelter. If I'm quiet enough, I can even spot deer walking gingerly through the trees, almost blending into their surroundings.
It's usually about this time that I realize how much of this moment - the breathing, the fresh air, the clear head, the life peeking from every nook and cranny - I owe to the plants and trees around me. Davey expert and plant pathologist Bal Rao says it best: "Plants are necessary for all life, so their care is the most critical thing we can do as a civilization."
And this is almost an understatement when you consider all the facts. Trees cleanse the air, providing oxygen for us to breathe. They help the soil retain water - a dwindling natural resource. Trees shield us, animals and other plants from the harsh effects of sun and wind, and they provide habitats for birds, critters and plants. They enable us, animals and other plants to live comfortably.
In his Ecology.com article, "The Quiet Evolution of Trees," Eric McLamb explains this further. "Trees are vitally important to world health on all levels. Forests are essential to the health of ecosystems and their functions, biodiversity and economics. Some of the many key functions of forests include climate regulation, the cycling and distribution of nutrients and the provision of raw materials and resources. They help regulate the climate, cycle and distribute nutrients and provide raw materials and other resources. And don't forget the awesome beauty they give us throughout each year."
The United Nations General Assembly recently declared 2011 the International Year of Forests, and it's important to note that, economically, forests provide approximately $4 trillion in goods and services worldwide each year, according to a report by Mark Baird, Indonesia Country Director for World Bank.
Trees do an awful lot for us, when you think about it.
There have been some pretty strong snow and ice storms recently. During my walk, I noticed some trees I'll have to tend to soon, meticulously pruning broken branches and helping them recover from the effects of harsh weather.
It's the least I can do - take care of these trees because they take care of me.