Summary ꙳ Objectives
▹ We pass by them every day, and yet many of us barely notice them. When you think about it, it is quite puzzling that we often ignore those beautiful giants and great providers of Life.
Here is a set of activities to remind us of the wonders of trees, to explore how they interact with one another, how they provide for us, how they shelter Life...
Go alone and make it a habit to observe your local trees. Initiate an EwA Nature Circle bringing friends along and enjoy getting closer to our most faithful Life companions! ツ
Type » Lesson
Level » Naturalist + Sketching
When? » Anytime
Where? » Part Outdoors
Time » 2 hr+ total & 1hr regularly journaling.
Themes & Skills
Focus ⋆ Recording ⋆ Sketching ⋆ Phenology ⋆ Systems Thinking ⋆ Natural processes/cycles
"Trees are poems that the Earth writes upon the sky." — Kahlil Gibran
This set of activities is an 'ode' to trees, their families and the habitats they inhabit. It reminds us of their importance both ecologically and culturally. Happy trees stalking to all! ツ
"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn" ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Take some time and do some research to learn about the importance of trees and forest ecosystems, how they have been and are celebrated by humans. Read about their status and about what is or can be done to protect our forests.
For instance, do you know that:
- One large tree can provide a day's supply of oxygen for 4 people. They clean our air by absorbing carbon dioxide and potentially harmful gases from the air, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and release oxygen.
- Trees help fight climate change and cool down our cities. Deforestation accounts for 11 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Trees cool the city by up to 10°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves.
- Trees save and filter water. They slow down evaporation and create water moisture. They act as a sponge and brake down rainfalls and storm surges.
- Trees prevent soil erosion, by fixing the soil through with their roots. They create productive soil when they are let to die naturally and decomposed by fungi and a myriad of animals.
- Trees provide habitat for wildlife, material for all including heat.
- Trees heal us. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue and stress (e.g., read about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku).
- Trees are critical for our health on so many levels and also provide medicine. An estimated 50,000 plant species are used medicinally, with global trade exceeding $60 billion per year. Within the plant kingdom, trees make a substantial contribution to this figure, and many species are used in traditional and modern medicine.
- Trees provide inspiration and education. They inspire artists and writers. They are a source of spirituality for many of us. Trees are fantastic teachers, leading by example, showing us unity, resilience and strength.
“In this forest, there is a tree that has been waiting to meet you since before you were born.”
This activity offers a direct experience while promoting trust, and improving empathy. It connects us with a tree in a memorable and intimate way.
"Imagine you're walking through a forest. I'm guessing you're thinking of a collection of trees, what we foresters call a stand, with their rugged stems and their beautiful crowns. Yes, trees are the foundation of forests, but a forest is much more than what you see..." ― Susanne Simard
Do you know that trees talk –that they communicate to their offspring, siblings, strangers, and do so over large distances with the help of fungi? Do you know that there is a sense of sharing resources, protecting and helping their own kin but also other species of trees in their community? Sure they operate at a different level than ours, but with the fantastic work of scientists like Dr. Susanne Simard, we now start to understand that trees and forests are much more than what we ever imagined.
Spend the next 20 minutes peeping into the hidden life of trees, listening to Dr. Simard's fascinating story of her work and discoveries. And learn about what we can do to help our forests and prepare them and us for climate change...
About Suzanne Simard: Dr. Simard is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia's Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, and has conducted and published hundreds of experiments in forests. Her groundbreaking research has uncovered complex underground communication networks of trees. These dense webs are nurtured by mother trees, better known as hub trees, that send messages and carbon through nodes and links to younger trees. These interlinking fungal highways connect hundreds of plant species and increase the resiliency of the whole community. One remarkable discovery made by Simard is that mother trees recognize their kin. They even send them additional carbon and information. Deforestation and logging practices threaten these remarkable ecosystems. Despite replanting efforts, forests require a complexity of species to survive.
"Take me to the Trees!"...
Everywhere, trees are prime signs that there's wildlife around you. They provide food, shelter, and building material, clean our air, and cool down our cities. They provide so much for us but also to all the insects and animals that live around us. We invite you to discover your wildlife community through the lenses of the trees living right next door to you.
This Nature journaling activity is about learning and perfecting our observation skills. It is also a wonderful medium to be in the moment, enjoying it. The best is to stalk those trees over the course of an entire year, so as to grasp how they go through a year cycle. Even better you can make it a longer project, and dedicate a journal just for your tree community, for which you will record observations regularly, and maybe even share with experts (therefore helping them) through citizen science platforms such as iNaturalist.
Of the tasks below, go only as far and as often as you want to or can. Invite a neighbor, a friend, and learn together about your community of trees.
▹ Map the trees that live in your neighborhood. Print a Google map of your street or of a park close by that you like. Then go out and make an inventory of trees and wildlife.
Annotate your map with all the trees that live there. Can you name them? If not, it's okay: call them the way you want for now. You can also snap a pic, upload it on iNaturalist, and see if an ID pops up. Record it anyway and let the community finds its name for you.
▹ For each tree on your map, note its general characteristics. Differentiate the deciduous trees from the evergreen. Observe the shape: is it full? or just a silhouette? Is it round, oval, spreading, pyramidal, canonical, weeping?... Look at the trunk, check the pattern of the bark. The bark of a tree is an ID key. Make a bark rubbing.
▹ Note the trees in bad shape. Investigate what could be the cause: Is it suffering due to human activity? Is an isolated tree? Is there an insect pest, or a harmful fungus that is attacking that tree? Note your thoughts, take pics that you could show to a forester or a garden expert.
▹ List all the animals and insects that you see in and around the tree. They are all part of our community.
Moving to leaves, buds, cones, and fruits... In Spring, the deciduous trees up north start flowering. In the Summer, many deciduous broadleaved trees see their leaves changing from a tender green, to a deep dark green. In Fall, those same trees change color again. It is a feast of hues and intensity. They also shed their leaves. If they did not shed, with the cold they would essentially die of thirst unable to get to the water that freezes in the winter... And in the winter, deciduous trees are barren yet filled with energy packed in their buds, ready to come full circle and explode in Spring again.
▹ Leaves are another identification element of a tree. Pick a few differently colored & shaped leaves, draw and color them.
Here are a few keys to deciphering and drawing deciduous leaves:
- What's the leaf arrangement? Whorl, alternate or opposite.
- What's the type of leaf? Is it a compound or a simple leaf?
- What's the leaf shape? There are so many!... And we plan to draw and simplify those shapes into fewer categories for those of us who can't remember them all.
- What's the configuration of the leaf or leaflets' veins?
- What does the leaf's edge or margin look like?
- Note also the colors, color the colors. What are the dominant colors that you are using?
We're not forgetting Evergreens. These beautiful trees have their own characteristics. Some have broadleaves such as hollies, rhododendrons, and azaleas. Others like many pins have leaves that can be needle-like, single or in cluster or bundle, or they can be scale-like (e.g., red cedar).
- Needles have a thick, waxy coating that retains more water than a regular leaf.
- Since needles don’t shed each fall they can capture sunlight for nearly the entire year.
- Needles can survive ice and snow.
- Needles have lower wind resistance than big, flat leaves, so they’re less likely to make the tree fall over during a big storm.
- Needles are tough for insects to eat...
Yes, trees can be overwhelming to sketch at times, this is why simplification is important. Draw a general outline, don't draw all the leaves, buds, flowers, cones, or needles. Make a separate drawing of one of those.
▹ Buds. Many think that seeing buds is a sign of Spring. But really most buds come in late summer for deciduous trees while they have abundant sunlight and energy at their disposal. It's rather a preparation for next year's Spring so that they are ready to bud out and get into the next cycle of blooming, attracting pollinators, getting leaves out for feeding its tree, and producing sugar... Late Summer, Fall, and Winter are perfect times to hunt for buds to sketch and detail.
For each tree on your map, look at its buds: what color are they? Does the bud have a cover? And is that cover smooth, has scales, or is fuzzy? Think about how the cover might help during the winter months. Is it just one bud at a time, or are they rather clustered? What do you think will come out of that bud: a leaf or a flower? Note all that and enjoy bud sketching...
▹ Flowers, Cones & Fruits. If the tree is flowering or fruiting, draw a few of them. Count the petals up to 8 as they might help to identify the tree. Are they in a cluster? However, if there are more than 8 petals, then chances are that that won't help.
As for the cones, draw their shape, note width, and length. Give a sense of the cone if you're not up to drawing all its scales. Note if the cone is open, close, or in between.
Again, Nature journaling is not about Art if you don't want it to be. It's not about extreme precision if you don't want to either. It's about finding your time, finding your way of rendering what you see. If you can't draw (yet), you can always write words instead. Remember that Nature journaling is about enjoying both learning and being in the moment.
We never miss an opportunity to get outside as often as we can throughout the seasons. Life is busy for all, but we make sure we set an hour aside every week to get outside with our journal. Every time that we go out for doing chores and such, we collect leaves, acorns, and other 'Fall'en objects. Once home, we check our identifications by looking through our guides and browsing websites that list local species. Doing so, we solidify our learning and knowledge, we get more familiar with our surroundings each time, and we grow our appreciation of what we have right here at home.
» Ecology & Conservation
We Need to Safeguard Our Forests (WWF) » These green giants are essential for people and wildlife, and alleviate climate change.
Global Forest Watch –Forest monitoring designed for action. Global Forest Watch offers the latest data, technology & tools that empower people everywhere to better protect forests.
Tree Values (Global Tree Campaign)
How Trees Talk to Each Other – TED Talk (2016)
» Art & Reflection
Sharing Nature » A movement to help people deepen their relationship with nature.
Nature & Naturalist Journaling » Why, How to… » With references & examples of wonderful nature sketchers and observers to reassure and inspire us.
The EwA Naturalist Daybag » Preparation is key, our Nature bag is always ready to go, so don't have to think about and risk forgetting important items!
Drawing Trees and Leaves: Observing and Sketching the Natural World – A true little gem by Kuo, J. & Wojtech, M. (2016).