by Wendy Bouis
This guest post is by the extraordinary freelance graphic designer, Wendy Bouis, who designed this website. As nature helps her understand the world, she continues to seek inspiration in all things and encourages others to seek personal and professional growth outside of their usual classroom as well. Wendy’s clients include agencies, in-house creative departments, and direct-to-business services across unlimited verticals. She’s a strategic creative who considers the entire consumer journey in all media channels, whether working on an integrated campaign or a single deliverable. As a curious study of humans and nature alike, Wendy brings a special sensibility when it comes to connecting brands and audiences in meaningful ways. View Wendy’s portfolio at wendybouis.com. You can also follow Wendy Bouis Creative on Facebook and Instagram or connect on LinkedIn for more information.
I am in no way qualified to write this post. I am not a naturalist nor an arborist nor an “ist” of any kind. I required three apps, a spreadsheet, and hours of Google to grow the most expensive cabbage in America, and it still might die. But if we’re keeping score, you should know that I read nature books, love parks, and most importantly, I have a favorite tree.
But if you are going to claim, as humans do, to be superior to all life forms, past and present, then you must gain an understanding of the oldest living organisms on Earth who were here long before you arrived and will still be here after you have gone.1
She is a bald cypress at McKinney Falls State Park, very old and anchored stubbornly between land and water near the Upper Falls. She does what she wants to be happy and what she must to survive. At precisely the spot where Onion Creek transitions from the boisterous splashing of its limestone falls to the quiet refuge of softer, narrower passages, she sits without choosing past or present, land or water, peace or chaos. Here, in the shelter of nature’s perfect architecture, I rest in awe of her tree-ness. Most impressive, is her enormous root structure, an exposed network that curls across the land to provide what the drowned roots cannot. Their purpose is simply to breathe.
Because that is what nature did to death, it transformed abrupt endings into a thousand new beginnings.2
I moved to Austin amid personal crisis, just before the global pandemic, followed by increasingly bleak headlines. This trifecta left me unsettled, and I needed to take a breath. Breathing was illegal everywhere except outdoors, but as luck would have it, my coping skills include “add to cart” and “go outside.” So I bought all the nature books on earth, and my fiancé and I set off on a healing tour of parks that would outlast the pandemic.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.3
Nature has helped me understand the world throughout my life. Forests in particular help me understand in a way that people cannot teach about themselves. The knowledge of trees is pure, and they ask nothing of us in return. They build empathy, teach leadership, celebrate joy, process grief and even reckon the most unsavory parts of our history. Trees are beautiful, so they have our attention. They are approachable, so we listen. They are patient, so we don’t turn away.
A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful, while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless beside being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with, he who knows nothing about a subject, and what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, — or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?4
Trees help with our professional development, as well. Rather than binging interviews with CEOs and devouring pages written by topical gurus, I make the case for including a naturalist of some kind. Maybe a poet or park ranger. At best, you’ll enjoy new ideas and fresh context to strengthen yourself and your teams. At worst, you’ll get an awesome bear attack story. Which, to be fair, is a whole other kind of development. There are many ways of learning.
Humans teach their children to paint the earth in one colour alone. They imagine the sky in blue, the grass in green, the sun in yellow and the earth entirely in brown. If they only knew they have rainbows under their feet.5
Trees gracefully demonstrate some of the most abstract humanitarian concepts about compassion and distributing resources equitably. Trees also breathe life into some of the most tired corporate concepts. For example, embracing healthy competition and being a team player.
When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft….But together, many trees create an ecosystem.…To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age….Every tree would suffer.6
And if all else fails, personally or professionally, trees remind us not to give up.
Every five years, a beech tree produces at least thirty thousand beechnuts….Assuming it grows to be 400 years old, it can fruit at least sixty times and produce a total of about 1.8 million beechnuts. From these, exactly one will develop into a full-grown tree.7
Thoughts and prayers for my cabbage.
• 1-2, 5: Elif Shafak, The Island of Missing Trees (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021)
• 3: John Muir, Wilderness Essays (London: Martino Fine Books, 2018)
• 4: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, A Life in the Woods (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1854)
• 6-7: Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2015)