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  • Kevin Hara

Trees - Godʻs Gift

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

“Trees give peace to the souls of men.”

Nora Waln

Trees are critical for the health of our planet. They are guardians of our ecosystem. They provide basic maintenance for the land and mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. We need our trees. We need to protect them … so they may protect us ... so they may provide us peace.

The State of Hawaiʻi passed the Exceptional Tree Act in 1975. The Act states “the legislature finds that, beyond their esthetic worth and cultural significance, trees perform an important role in maintaining ecological balance, in increasing soil conservation and natural oxygen production, as wind breaks for necessary plant species, and in retarding flooding, erosion, siltation, lateral distribution of air pollutants, and noise.”

The Eastern White Pine is native to the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. The Iroquois refer to them as the “Tree of Peace.” The legend is that The Great Peacemaker uprooted a white pine and into its hole had the chiefdoms cast their weapons of war. The tree was then replanted. This is where the term “bury the hatchet" comes from. “The Tree of Peace is a metaphor for how peace can grow if it is nurtured. Like a tall tree, peace can provide protection and comfort. Like a pine tree, peace spreads its protective branches to create a place of peace where we can gather and renew ourselves. Like the White Pine, peace also creates large white roots (tsyoktehækęætaˀkona) that rise out of the ground so people can trace their journey to the source.” Indigenous Values Initiative.

The oldest bonsai tree at the United States National Arboretum is a 400 year old Japanese White Pine known as the “Yamaki Pine.” It has resided with generations of the Yamaki family since 1625 until it was gifted from Japan to the United States in 1976 for its Bicentennial. It has also become known as the “Peace Tree” because it was meant to represent a symbol of peace between the two countries. Its renowned survival is not only due to its age. It has since been revealed that the Peace Tree, despite being only two miles away at the time, survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

I had a patient who was one of the old bonsai pioneers of Hawaiʻi. He was a true master. His specialty was the Ironwood Tree. One of his trees is on display at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. The Tahitian legend is that slain warriors were reborn as Ironwood trees; its red sap represents their blood and its pine needle-like leaf twigs represents their hair. The Japanese celebrate “Kanreki.” Kanreki is literally translated as return calendar. It takes 60 years to cycle through the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac for each of the 5 elemental signs. They therefore celebrate it on the 60th birthday, or technically, their 61st, since the Japanese consider a baby to be one year old when born. They view Kanreki as an opportunity for rebirth, a chance to start over again. On this bonsai master’s Kanreki, he created a bonsai platter of 61 Ironwood trees. Practitioners of bonsai believe that “ Bonsai is an opportunity to separate from the anxieties of the world – a chance for bonsai artists or admirers to collect their thoughts, practice mindfulness and find inner peace which they can then focus outward.” (National Bonsai Foundation.) My bonsai master patient used to tell me. “When I am sick, I come to you. When your trees are sick, you bring them to me. I am your tree doctor.” By healing the trees, he healed the Earth.

Trees can help us find our own inner beauty and peace. To do so, we need to see their inner beauty and peace. We need to go beneath the surface. We need to engage with their roots which are the source of their strength. For deep within us are our own roots which form the foundation for our values.

“Perhaps the flower blossoms high on the tree, but its life comes from the roots deep in the ground. The plucking of a flower has to acknowledge those roots.” Nona Beamer

Beamer, W. Nā Hula O Hawai. 1976. Island Heritage Limited.

Diamond J, Degnar D. The Old Man and the Tree. Smithsonian Magazine Jan 2022.

Indigenous Values Initiative. The Great Tree of Peace (Skaęhetsiˀkona).

Legislature of the State of Hawaiʻi. A Bill for an Act Relating to Environmental Quality.

National Bonsai Federation.


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