Weekend Warm-Up: Treeline

For thousands of years, trees have given us wood for our fires and lumber for shelter. They provide the air we breathe and they house vital plants and animals. Forests have always meant stability and security, yet they remain a great mystery to us.

We cannot begin to fathom how old trees can be. Ecologists can tell the age of a tree by counting its annual rings. Tree rings are like an archive of thousands of years of information. They let us see into the past. They show what the climate was like and how the land affected local plants.

5,000 years of history in a single tree

Some trees are so ancient that they pre-date the Pyramids of Giza. Bristlecone pines are the longest-living trees in the world, and the oldest individual has survived over 5,000 years. How is this possible? Bristlecone pines are especially resilient to changes in climate and harsher conditions. And their past might hold the key to nature’s future survival.  

An ancient forest in British Columbia. Photo: BGSmith/Shutterstock


In Japan, trees are deeply respected. Individuals believe that forests have thoughts and consciousness. There is almost a religious aspect to their activities in the deep forests or even among the trees in urban areas. Arborists or “tree doctors” help heal them when they are sick, snowboarders traverse the forest in winter and liken the practice to a conversation. The Japanese believe that trees have spirits and that we should treat them as we do humans. They are much older than we are, after all. 

In British Columbia, ecologists see ancient forests as vast networks. Think of a computer or nervous system. Each tree relays information to the other, sending signals to fungi on the forest floor or signaling the presence of new animals or insects. This only reinforces how very much alive trees are. These ancient forests are vital for storing carbon and supporting ecosystems. Unfortunately, logging is increasing. If it continues without adequate checks, recovery could take over 1,000 years. 

What will it take to rebuild our respect for trees? We must remember that one day, we will rejoin them in the Earth. We must remember that our energy will replenish the forest.