Need a fresh dose of wonder? You may find it simply by visiting a forest. Trees that tower over us and exceed our lifespans illustrate an awesome truth: We are each part of something much bigger than ourselves. Our personal stories are all connected to a greater story of what’s happening on Earth — the history of all us, traveling through time together. The Creator we all have in common has designed us to be closely connected to each other in relationships of love and respect. When we forget that, trees remind us.
Naturalist John Muir, who helped start the U.S. national park system (the world’s first), once said that “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” A multi-university research study published by the American Psychological Association found that people who looked up at tall trees for only 60 seconds experienced a sense of awe as a result. The awe that trees inspire has been associated with lowering disease-causing inflammation in the body, promoting peace of mind by fighting anxiety and depression, and motivating spiritually enriching actions such as prayer and meditation. Wake Up to Wonder includes a section about how to encounter wonder through trees.
One of my favorite national parks – Redwood National Park – is home to the tallest trees on Earth: coast redwoods. Many of those majestic trees tower more than 300 feet above the forest floor. The redwoods are also ancient, living for hundreds of years or more; some survive to be more than 2,000 years old. People who visit the redwoods from all over the world are often overcome with emotion in their presence. I saw people cry at the sight of them, and tears welled up in my own eyes when I entered the forest.
Although trees are silent, they speak to us loud and clear about wonder. Many people throughout history have walked in the woods for inspiration. One of the most famous was author Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in his book Walden that he “went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” In that same book, he urged: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake” to our life’s purposes by regularly visiting forests and letting trees remind us of who we are.