I’m definitely a tree hugger, although I don’t know if I’ve ever actually hugged a tree. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I have not. Maybe it’s the stigma that’s held me back, or maybe it’s something else. In any case, I do share with tree huggers a belief that trees are, in some sense sentient. Walking among the coastal redwoods, it’s not hard to believe that these tall, wise old trees are sentient.
I was hiking among the redwoods few days ago, and I couldn’t help but ask a simple question of the trees: what’s it’s like to be around for so long? These are trees with a life span of over a thousand years, sometimes two thousand years. In fact, there are trees within the redwood family that are older than Jesus.
General Sherman, in Sequoia National Park, is one of those older-than-Jesus redwoods. I had the privilege of visiting General Serman (an unfortunate name, to say the least) a few years back. It was a sort of prehistoric experience, General Sherman being huge on a Jurassic Park scale.
As I hiked I also wondered what it would be like to be connected to both earth and sky, at the same time, to be nourished by the sun and at the same time to support the soil and land by your extensive root system.
The very most basic definition of “sentient” is that a being is able to perceive or feel things. I don’t think that trees can perceive or feel in the same way that humans can, but does this mean that they can’t have their own form of perception or feeling?
I’m not meaning to over-romanticize things here, either. I start with basic biology. Trees do not have neurological equipment, not like humans and other species, so whatever perception they may have will not be an experience of the world in the same way that we experience it. The experience of being a tree would be something that we couldn’t grasp, but does that mean that trees don’t have experiences, in their own tree sort of way?
I can’t understand how a Chihuahua experiences the world because I’m not a Chihuahua, but I can’t deny that a Chihuahua doesn’t experience the world. A Chihuahua is, in fact, a sentient being.
On the other hand, maybe I’m getting too philosophical, too theoretical. Maybe there is something to learn about being a tree, and perhaps if I spent a little time tree-hugging, I’d learn a thing or too.