Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And
few destroyers of trees ever plant any; nor can planting avail much toward
restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand
years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still
standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty
forests of the Sierra.
- John Muir, naturalist, explorer, and writer (1838-1914)
Everyone agrees that trees are living things, but are trees really life as we like to believe we know it?
Let's begin with ourselves. Our bodies are composed of billions of cells, each of which contains a DNA blueprint of who we are as living things. Trees are each composed of billions of cells, each of which contains a DNA blueprint of who they are.
We breathe in oxygen (a minor component of air, at 21 percent), use a small portion of it, then give off a tiny amount of carbon dioxide as waste. Trees take in carbon dioxide through a process called respiration (our process has the same name) and give off a large amount of oxygen as waste. Through a different process, trees also consume oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, which may be involved with their reproductive system.
We eat plant matter and animals that have consumed plant matter to obtain the nutrition by which we exist. Trees acquire their nutrition through their root system, which often brings them the bodies of small animals that have died (the small animals being microscopic, or close to it, but which usually contain the decayed and consumed matter from the bodies of larger animals that have died).
Our circulatory system uses blood as a vehicle, blood being the name for a version of water that transports oxygen and nutrition to our cells. The circulatory system of trees isn't usually red, mostly because the water doesn't contain red blood cells that are part of the immune systems of animals, but it too contains the nutrients the tree needs for each cell to survive. Including components of its immune system.
Each cell of a human is composed of multitudes of atoms and molecules, which is also true of trees and other plants. However, composition of atoms is also true of minerals, the third "kingdom" in the animals-plants-minerals triumvirate we usually think of as comprising "stuff" in our world.
We don't consider rocks to be alive because they don't reproduce, don't strive for survival, don't consume nutrition or give off waste materials. Or, maybe they do, but they don't do it in a timeframe that we recognize. Watch a film about plate tectonics and volcanism before deciding on that question.
Each molecule of oxygen that we breathe, mathematicians have calculated, has likely also been breathed in the past by Leonardo da Vinci, Genghis Khan, the prophet Mohammed, Jesus of Nazareth, Confucius, even the biblical Abraham. Given that trees also consume oxygen, it's also highly likely that the oxygen atoms they take in have been through similar historical human bodies.
We look with varying degrees of interest on the search for extra-terrestrial life in other solar systems and galaxies, which we assume we will identify first by some form of communication that transfers over vast distances of space. Yet we cannot communicate effectively with any other form of life on our own planet, despite the sophisticated communications systems we now know many have.
The closest we can come to communicating with another species of animal is to teach a baby chimp to understand English and to speak back to us using a keyboard. Though this has been done, it's not that we have learned the language or system of communication of another species, but that we have removed a baby chimpanzee from its native forest and brought it up as a human child. That's anthropomorphism in a supremely arrogant form.
In short, we are a destructive, arrogant species of animal whose success has depended largely on our ability to survive the worst possible natural catastrophes while defeating any other species of plant or animal that stands in our way.
We consider ourselves apart from the whole of "what is" rather than one component of it. Some of us don't believe in God because we have defined our existence in such a way that we believe we are as close to gods as any living thing can get.
Trees and people are different forms of the same thing. We are trees, trees are us. So, for that matter, are rocks that we explode, crush and transform for our use.
As movies have taught us to fear life from any place other than earth while we believe we have the power to dominate any form of existence on our own planet, we should hope that if any form of life not originating on earth has the ability to travel through space, it does not have the misfortune to come in contact with us.
If it does come in contact with us, it almost certainly will have characteristics that we will recognize as similar to our own.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children the true position that people have in the system of existence we know as "what is." We can teach them respect, not fear, not violence.
Learn more at http://billallin.com