I think everyone can use a mentor. Someone to listen, support and guide you when times get rough or the way ahead is shrouded in confusion.
Mentors are usually human beings, older and wiser than you. But what being could be older or wiser than a tree that has stood firm through wind and rain, fortune and misfortune, for perhaps many decades in your local neighbourhood?
So here’s something a bit different: a practical exercise to meet your local tree mentor and start getting the nature feels that I wrote about last week.
Spoiler: this exercise is part of my free Rewild Your Job workshop. Enquire within.
Prepare to meet your mentor
1. Identify a tree mentor (or likely candidate) in your nearby nature
Google Maps does an excellent job at showing you nearby nature, but switch to satellite view and turn off those ugly labels. Click the menu button (three ‘hamburger’ bars in the top left), select ‘Satellite’ and deselect ‘Labels on’.
Another great Google Maps integration is this circle drawing tool. Here you can plop a 3km circle around your house and find nearby nature within range. You can also throw down another circle around your friend’s house to find nature that’s nearby for both of you.
If you’re based in the UK, then check out the OS Maps ‘Greenspace’ layer. This overlay highlights all your local greenspace—and even shows you where the pedestrian and vehicle access points are. Also in the UK, you can plug your postcode into the Woodland Trust search bar to find your nearest tree party.
If you live in a famous city, then check out Treepedia, which uses Google Streetview data to show you where your greenest streets are. Note that this does not include parks.
See if you can find two or three clusters of greenspace that you haven’t visited before.
2. Choose a name for your tree mentor
Personaly, I think it’s a bit rude to go into your meeting without knowing what to call your mentor.
Taking my inspiration from Jack Cooke’s The Tree Climber’s Guide, here are some suggestions: The Peacock Roost, The Tree of Knowledge, The Royal Perch. Don’t overthink it. If you can’t come up with anything right now, call it Dave and see how you go.
3. Block out time in your calendar for your one to one
Seriously. Put it in your diary. You’ll want at least 20 minutes for this first session, excluding travel time.
All done? Great!
AGENDA: Get to know your mentor
When the time comes for your scheduled one to one, I’ve drafted an agenda for you and your mentor. Feel free to pick and choose elements and leave plenty of time for A.O.B.
- What species is your mentor tree? Bark, buds and (fallen) leaves, seeds or flowers can solve the mystery. The British Trees app by the Woodland Trust can help you if you’re based in the UK or northern Europe. Elsewhere, or if you need more help, give PictureThis a whirl—it includes tree ring analysis!Note: Using your phone while out in nature can undo its beneficial effects so don’t get sucked into this agenda item. You can also pick up a fallen leaf to help with your identification back at home.
- What does your tree feel like to touch, smell, admire? Try staring up into the branches for 60 seconds to enjoy the fractal patterns and develop ‘soft fascination’.
- How old is your wise mentor? Measure its girth at shoulder height and refer to this rule of thumb method of calculation—or this chart if your mentor is a grand old oak tree. (Note: obviously the PictureThis tree ring analysis is no good here—please don’t chop down your mentor, not now.)
- How healthy is your mentor? Does it have any cool scars?
- Who lives here—can you spot any birds or bugs? Fun fact: oak trees can support up to 2,300 other species, the most neighbourly of any tree in Britain.
- Are there any other trees nearby? Does your mentor have any friends to play with?
- Hypothetically speaking, how would you climb it?
- Practically speaking, and if you can—go ahead and climb your tree! Cling to its branches, sway on the boughs and feel its roots become your roots.
I hope you have some fun and make this a regular check in with the wise trees of your local neighbourhood. Did you feel any improvement in your stress levels? Or notice any bursts of creativity? I’d love to hear how you get on.
UPDATE: Pia Spangenberger, Sonja Maria Geiger and Sarah-Christin Freytag, researchers from the Technical University of Berlin, used immersive virtual reality to help humans become the tree in an experiment where handheld controllers translated every movement of the users’ arms into slight movements of the tree’s branches.