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Trees, Foresty, and the Responsiveness of Creation

Rationalism supposes that nature is an It. The authors — using the tree as an ikon — see all creation as a Thou awaiting subject-to-subject relatedness with humankind.

In Crossing the Postmodern Divide, Albert Borgmann contrasts his own version of postmodern realism with the epistemological despair of postmodernity. He claims that the “postmodern theorists have discredited ethnocentrism and logocentrism so zealously that they have failed to see their own anthropocentrism. Why reject a priori the very possibility that things may speak to us in their own right?”1 What Borgmann intends by “postmodern realism” is not the naive and aggressive realism of modernity, but, rather, an attending to what he terms “the eloquence of reality.” Aggressive realism has silenced creation: “Rivers are muted when they are dammed; prairies are silenced when they are stripped for coal; mountains become torpid when they are logged.”2 Nor has the postmodern concern for hearing the voice of the other been extended to the nonhuman other. Yet without such a hearing, there can be no response to the other’s cry and no learning from the other’s wisdom.

What follows is our exploration into hearing the voices of creation. We will begin with a short discussion of what Thomas Berry has described as our “cultural autism.”3 Why are we unable to “hear” the voices of creation, and what is necessary for us to be able to hear again? Then we will strive to listen to one particular kind of creature — the tree. We choose trees from the myriad of possibilities because one of us, Marianne Karsh, is a forester. Can we listen to trees, and through new paradigms in forestry and tree biology facilitate such a listening?

Trees as Thou

Descartes summed up the modern spirit well when he said that the goal of its devotees was to become nothing less than “the masters and possessors of nature.”4 Mastery and possession, however, require a silencing of the other. If we allow the other to speak to us, if we allow ourselves to hear the cry of the other, we can no longer continue our oppressive mastery. What is true in human affairs is also true in the context of the broader ecosphere.

Many of us first began instinctively to realize that there was something profoundly wrong with modernity’s objectification of reality when we read Martin Buber’s I and Thou.5 We received this enigmatic book of poetic and relational epistemology as a wonderful liberation from the constricting categories of the rationalistically oriented philosophy and scientistic ethos that have dominated Western culture and scholarship. Although Buber’s wise Jewish philosophy took us beyond the limiting overemphasis on I-It relationships in both society and the academy, there was a problem with Buber. When he suggested very early in the text that we could enter into an I-Thou relationship with a tree, many of us waved off the statement as some sort of weird Hasidic mysticism:

I contemplate a tree. . . I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air. . . I can assign to it a species and observe it as an instance, with an eye to its construction and its way of life. . . I can overcome its uniqueness and form so rigorously that I recognize it only as an expression of the law. . . I can dissolve it into a number, into a pure relation between numbers, and eternalize it.

Further reflecting on this process of contemplation, Buber noted that “throughout all of this the tree remains my object and has its place and its time span, its kind and condition.” Then he wrote words that many of us could not hear, or would not listen to:

But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It.

For Buber, if something ceased to be an It, it thereby must have become a Thou. An I-Thou relationship with a tree! We may have been weary of much of Western rationalism but to give up on our culture’s anthropocentric bias — its assumption that creatures such as trees were mere biotic objects that could be observed, analyzed, and acted upon — was more than many of us were willing to do. To use Buber’s terms, “grace and will” have, by and large, not been “joined.” We have not been drawn into such a relationship with trees.

The problem was that even though Buber insisted that such a relation does not require us to forgo other modes of contemplation, he nonetheless clearly said that we “should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.”6 And, of course, this means that if we did enter into I-Thou relations with trees, doing so would not be a romanticist projection of relatedness, but a conviction that in some important way trees reciprocate the relationship; that not only do we relate to trees, but they also relate to us. This was not a welcome prospect for those of us raised in the context of an Enlightenment worldview.

Now, however, the worldview that presupposed an objectified nature has run its disastrous course and we are open to a different way of relating, a different way of life, beyond the subject/object dualism, beyond the I-It relationship. As we have come to see the profound truth that, “in the beginning is the relation,”7 we have realized that relation entails reciprocity. Recognizing the dead end of an anthropology of the autonomous and imperial ego8 and convinced that in the context of the present ecological brokenness we must strive anew for contact, for reciprocity — and that our striving must aim at what Buber called “tenderness”9 — we find ourselves revisiting Buber’s I-Thou relationship with trees. We want to listen to Buber again. Even more, we want to learn to listen to the trees.

Wanting to listen, however, does not mean that we can listen. By construing nature as deaf and dumb, we have made ourselves deaf and dumb in relation to that nature. This construal, this social construction, constricts our imagination and closes us to precisely the reciprocal relationship that we now seek.10 We also find our imaginations held captive by a mechanistic worldview that makes it impossible to access profound resources of our own traditions that may open up such relationships. We refer to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Disenchanting the Biblical Tradition

Buber’s language of I-Thou relationships with trees sounds alien, perhaps even infantile, to modernist ears. So does the aboriginal language of kinship and communication with trees and other creatures.11 To the degree that we are unable to countenance this language, however, we also find ourselves alienated from much of the biblical tradition. While not all Christians embraced Bultmann’s demythologizing project earlier in this century, almost all Western Christians have been influenced by the demythologizing and disenchanting tendencies of post-Enlightenment scientism in their relation to nonhuman creatures, thereby alienating themselves from the Scriptures and engaging in a de facto act of demythologization. We can take trees as our example.

When trees are referred to as part of God’s good creation (e.g., Gen. 1 or Ps. 104), or are spoken of symbolically as in “the tree of life” (Gen. 2:9, 3:22, 24; Prov. 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4; Rev. 22:2, 14), and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9, 3:3), Christians of various persuasions have little interpretive difficulty. And while the way that Jesus relates to a certain fig tree might be somewhat puzzling for us (Mk. 11:12-14, 20-25), his frequent use of trees in his parables and teachings presents no problem. What becomes almost impossible for our modern Western minds is language that refers to trees exercising some form of agency not unlike the kind of agency that can be noted in aboriginal worldviews.

All of creation is portrayed as engaging in acts of groaning in Romans 8:22-23, and in many psalms all of creation is called upon to sing praise. As Jesus tells the Pharisees during the entry into Jerusalem that if his disciples’ loud hosannas are silenced even “the stones will cry out” (Lk. 19:40), so also does David sing during the festivities surrounding the return of the ark of the covenant: “The trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (1 Chron. 16:33). This connection between the trees singing and judgment is also found in Ps. 96:12-13:

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.

While prophetic literature speaks of forests being destroyed as part of the judgment upon a particular nation (cf. Is. 10:18-19; Jer. 7:20; 20:45ff), an even more common theme appears to be the place of trees in prophecies of restoration. Ezekiel’s covenant of peace envisions creational harmony and mutual responsiveness as trees of the field joyously yield their crop (34:27; 36:30). And Isaiah’s vision of the wilderness blossoming includes the growth of cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, pine, fir, and cypress trees (41:19):

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow
the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed. (Is. 55:12-13)

This kind of language, so creative in providing a biblical foundation for theological reflection in our context of ecological crisis, is also somewhat problematic. That trees have a place in God’s restorative plan is not itself surprising, given the depth of creation theology that the Scriptures display. Nor should we be surprised that language of judgment is good news for trees since the whole created order has been, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “terribly skewed and scarred by injustice”; God’s judgment refers “to God’s action of intervention to look after the rightful claims of the weak ones who have no power to make their own claim or look after themselves.”12

Trees are among the weak ones. But what are we to make of the language that attributes agency to trees? What does this language about trees singing praise and clapping their hands mean? We are not, of course, appealing to a naive literalism in the biblical text; we know full well the meaning and use of metaphor. We modern readers must be careful, however, not to use metaphor as a way of distancing ourselves, in these instances, not only from the biblical text but also from trees themselves. If we speak of metaphor only as a way of saying that trees don’t “really” sing praise, but rather that we, in moments of religious ecstasy, imaginatively attribute such activities to trees, we keep trees and humans in an I-It relationship; our attitude remains hopelessly anthropocentric. Our question here is, in what manner is it appropriate to use such metaphors in relation to trees, or, for that matter, in relation to other nonhuman creatures? We suggest that the metaphors are appropriate only if they are disclosing real dimensions of these creatures’ subjectivity. Of course trees don’t have hands, but it does make sense to speak of hands metaphorically in relation to trees, since trees do, in fact, in their own fashion, respond to their Creator, both with deep groans of longing and pain and with songs of praise. If we are to learn from our own scriptural tradition then we will need to learn how to listen to the trees and to respond to them appropriately. We need the ears to hear the “eloquence” of these creatures. Perhaps only then will we be able to hear the Scriptures anew.

Trees as Responsive

As responsive creatures, trees display a high level of cooperation with other life forms, going beyond what is necessary or expected. Take, for example, the association between trees and fungus. It may be adequately explained as a biological evolutionary adaptation, but it is intriguing that “although both the trees and the fungus benefit from the association that forms, the trees can live without the fungus and the fungus without the tree.”13 Moreover, not every group of trees forms these associations. They appear to be optional; their sole purpose appears to be only to better the growth of one another. “The fungus assists the green plant in absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus and in return receives some of the plant’s surplus carbohydrates.”14 Further, the fungi not only form associations with trees in their immediate vicinity but, like the vast train systems in Europe, they run for hundreds of miles, interconnecting with other trees and amassing large pockets of nutrients at various junctions. As Lewis Thomas comments:

The most inventive and novel of all schemes in nature, and perhaps the most significant in determining the great landmark events in evolution, is symbiosis, which is simply cooperative behavior carried to its extreme. But something vaguely resembling symbiosis, less committed and more ephemeral, a sort of wish to join up, pervades the biosphere.15

Such a wish, we suggest, is indicative of a responsiveness, perhaps even of will.

Secondly, trees as responsive creatures display a remarkable ability to survive and adapt in spite of impossible circumstances. Who can but marvel that trees in our cities manage to survive in conditions of intense noise, vibration, pollution, and high dosages of salt. They have also been patient of and adaptable to other ways in which we have systematically mistreated them. We are now coming to realize that we have been wrongfully pruning trees for about as long as arboriculturists have been in existence. The treatments given to help trees have followed too closely the treatments given to people — “cover the wound with a dressing, cut deep into the wood and clean the cavity, stimulate healing by stimulating callus, prune trees by cutting branches flush to the stem. . .”16

The problem is that all of these techniques cause the trees’ most distinctive defense system to break down while the tree is still alive — the analogy to AIDS comes to mind. Yet the trees have adapted even to this mistreatment. Their strong survival capacity inspires wonder in us. Could it be that trees have a type of intentionality that we have previously not discerned?

Thirdly, trees display qualities totally inexplicable if considered solely from a mechanistic, nonresponsive viewpoint. For example, a mechanical model could lead us reasonably to expect that tree growth could be predicted accurately and that foresters could create an “ideotype” or model tree. The fact that foresters cannot do this and that trees of the same species growing in the same soil, climate, and spacing conditions seem to respond individually to the same stimuli suggests that there is something else in trees — a selfhood, or subjectivity, or a factor ‘x’ — contributing to their infinite variability.

Variability of tree growth is an established fact. Oddly enough, the more productive a site, the greater the variability and the greater the error in prediction, a great frustration to foresters who prefer conformity and standardization. The diversity of trees is especially apparent when one formulates concepts of quality which require identifying all the characteristics that produce a model tree. Researchers have long been struggling to define the illusive concept of “seedling quality” because, in spite of all our expertise in growing seedlings, we still cannot identify the factors in a young tree that will produce a healthy surviving adult.17 To assess seedling quality, there is a need to incorporate, along with genetics and background data, an ‘x’ factor (call it “will” or “motivation”) whose existence would be difficult to prove. Yet, since trees do exhibit different rates of responsiveness that cannot be measured mechanistically, it seems valid to hypothesize an ‘x’ factor.

Fourthly, trees as responsive creatures affirm life, an adaptation especially apparent where acid rain is a problem. In acidic conditions trees begin to show symptoms from the top down or from the outer extremities inward, suggesting that the tree maintains the core and roots in order to preserve its life for as long as possible. Even in the most extreme of acidic conditions (such as the fog-covered mountains of Germany) conifer trees will bear a huge cone crop in the last year of life.18 There is no apparent biological reason for this except that a cone crop ensures that a seed source will survive in case conditions get better. It should be noted that cone production in trees depends on a lot of factors, including tree age and growing conditions. Cone production may also be cyclical, with a cone crop occurring every seven years or so. Further, it takes a special channeling of energy within the tree to grow a reproductive structure; in these areas where concentrated acid mists and fogs cover trees for most of the growing season, every last ounce of the tree’s last bit of energy goes into producing a cone crop. Why? In these conditions, a cone crop would seem to be a wasteful use of the tree’s energy. However, as the proponents of the nonmechanistic worldview tell us, nature is not wasteful. Perhaps the cone crop is a sign of hope. In symbolic terms this tree behavior says, “We believe in God’s redemptive covenant to us, do you?” Even more interestingly, a proportion of trees do not produce a cone crop and die rather quickly. Perhaps they were under more stress than the others (no one has done research on this), or maybe they just did not have the same “will to live.” It remains to be explained why trees under similar acidic conditions respond differently, some not only affirming life, but seeming to do so individually, thereby suggesting some form of individual agency.

Forestry and the Future

The conclusion that trees are “responsive agents” challenges traditional forestry with something amounting to a paradigm change. Although forestry has moved from an era of exploitive extraction to various types of forest management, trees are still treated as indifferent and distant objects. Practicing foresters are governed today by inventory philosophies which perpetuate the idea that a little data collected everywhere will provide a sound basis for forest management. It will not. Moreover certain forestry practices lack credibility. For example, to put data into classes and simply to move the classes forward for the next twenty-year period so that foresters can have a normally distributed forest “makes sense economically but not biologically.”19 Paul Hawken’s general comments about contemporary shifts in science need to be heeded in forestry:

The new scientific paradigm is a bright blossom in a world dominated by the technology of the old, a science which treated life as mechanical, where living organisms responded to fixed laws which man discovered and applied. Unwillingness in the plant world to completely cooperate has always been met with new technologies, new ways to assert dominance over a life form which we approached as one to subjugate and control.20

A new approach is needed — an approach of listening and involvement.

Such involvement with plants characterized the work of Barbara McClintock, who was awarded a Nobel prize for her discoveries in gene transposition work with corn plants. She views the corn plant as “a unique individual,” “as a mysterious other,” and “as a kindred subject.” This “kindred subjectivity” is a “special kind of attention that most of us experience only in relation to other persons”; as J. B. McDaniel explains, corn plants to McClintock “are distant, perhaps very distant cousins: strange but lovable kin.”21

Similarly A. L. Shigo, states that, “the only way to get common sense about trees is to give them your attention, touch them, and watch them grow, wane and die.”22 For John Muir, whose special gift was listening to plants (he sat down beside an unfamiliar plant for a minute a day to hear what it had to tell), “listening included analytical scrutiny from his botanical training, along with sensitivity to the plant’s environmental relationships. Muir’s listening to a plant also involved cultivating empathy — that intuitive projection by which we imagine the character of another. Together these techniques create the kind of understanding we hope for in human relationships: recognition of another’s living integrity.”23 Of trees he said, “I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual trees — Spruce, and Fir, and Pine, and leafless Oak. Each was expressing itself in its own way — singing its own song, and making its own particular gestures. . .”24

This kind of listening to the individuality and responsiveness of trees opens forestry up to a broader data base and it provides a perspective, an orientation, a worldview, through which to interpret that data. The responsiveness of trees to acid rain, for example, combined with global warming, now becomes relative data for forestry and calls forth new modes of interpretation.

Will the forestry of the future emerge as large-scale agriculture on a smaller land base, as some foresters fear, or will it become something else? If will and grace be joined, the new forestry will be characterized by a relationship of listening and communion.25 Neither a naive preservationism nor a distanced objective management, it will be a stewardship of care that attends to trees in all their rich and nuanced diversity, variability, and individuality. Instead of reducing trees to economic objects that can be explained from a distance through quantifying measurements, the new forestry, rooted in “kindred subjectivity,” will attempt to understand trees as eloquent others who have wisdom to impart.

Trees have been telling us that monocultural planting of trees with an eye only to profit is neither economically productive nor ecologically sound. They have been telling us, too, that deforestation will contribute to global warming. Charles Birch and John Cobb note that in tropical Africa, “the forest teaches diversity, the constant cover over the soil, and sustainability,” and the people who are listening have been “achieving a natural control of pests and freedom from fertilizers.”26 Universally, trees are saying, “View us as gift, tend us, and keep us healthy.” We ignore their impassioned cries at the risk not only of the sustainability of the ecosystem, but also at the risk of losing our own souls in the morass of I-It relationships.

Trees as Agents

But this raises another question. What kind of claim are we making when we say, with Buber, that we can enter into I-Thou relationships with trees? Is our claim that trees are responsive creatures a scientific claim? We have appealed to the scientific evidence in forestry concerning the survival capacities, adaptivity, cooperation, variability, diversity, and individuality of trees to point to something which suggests a responsiveness, volition, or motivation in trees; it points us as well to a position which discerns agency in trees.

Nonetheless, our claim that trees are responsive creatures who have things to say to us is not, at its foundation, scientific. Rather, this claim functions for us prescientifically as part of the tacit dimension of our knowing, part of the conceptual, or even preconceptual framework that we bring to our scientific and theological reflection.27 Following Michael Polanyi’s contention that tacit knowing is both profoundly personal and an indispensable foundation of all knowing, we happily confess that we begin with a deep conviction concerning the meaningfulness of metaphors that portray trees clapping their hands, groaning, singing, or praising. This conviction functions in our thought, we must confess, as something which is argued from, not argued to. Indeed, it is the nature of such convictions that they cannot be successfully and conclusively argued to; scientific and theoretic argument meets its limitations when it comes to such convictions.28 One vision of life reduces trees to a mechanistic notion of biotic functioning. Another sees only their value as economic resources. Our foundational worldview perceives them as creatures responding to their Creator-God.29

The orientation of one’s limit convictions will give paradigmatic direction to one’s science. Intuition, humility, feeling, connectedness, and relatedness become key words. If trees are responsive creatures, they will need to be respected in their responsiveness, with all of their individuality and variability. While traditional forestry attempts to overcome such individuality in order better to control the forest, the new forestry will respect variability and difference. Epistemologically this kind of science functions as “an invitation to engagement with nature,”30 an engagement that calls for nothing less than a love for the subject “that allows an intimacy without the annihilation of difference.” And such intimacy requires “a lifetime of cultivated attentiveness.”31

The limit convictions that give rise to such science are formed in multidimensional ways. Our conviction that we need to rehear what trees are saying to us has been formed through the grief of seeing trees mistreated, the joy of a walk in the forest, the evocative wonder of listening to native stories, the shame of our oppression and exploitation of trees, the scientific inadequacy of older models of forestry and biology, the creative excitement generated by a science of connectedness, and personal momentary hearings of the trees’ voices. For the authors of this article, the biblical witness has also been influential in our attempts to heed Buber’s call to I-Thou relationships with trees. The model that we present is formed by all of these influences. But it is to the distinctiveness of the biblical tradition and its contrast to a more typically modern and Western worldview that we finally turn.

Mutuality with Creation

Both the very nature of trees qua trees and the present ecological crisis require us to relate to trees in a way which goes beyond economic or even ecological self-interest. We need to go beyond notions of dutiful stewardship of resources to a relationship of coresponsiveness, intimacy, communion, mutuality, fellowship, and love with the trees themselves. A tree is not “merely an object in our world of experience but also a subject of relations in its own right. It is acted upon and it acts.”32 Only through a subject/subject relationship with trees can true understanding be achieved: an I-Thou relationship is both the heuristic foundation and epistemological goal of authentic science.

If trees function as responsive subjects capable of I-Thou relationships, then we need to find some way to talk meaningfully about trees possessing agency. To have agency is to have will, volition, intentionality, and selfhood. This means that an agent’s behavior is not mechanistically determined but contingently directed by the agent’s will. Trees do not merely react, but act on and interact with us, other creatures, and, we would contend, God.

The business of agency remains the central stumbling block to being able to embrace Buber’s vision. How can trees have agency in the way in which we have been speaking of it here? To begin to answer this question requires that we be clear about what we mean by the exercise of agency. Does agency require that the agent be able to exercise some sort of will? This would appear to be the case. But if we confine our understanding of “will” to rational decision-making, it becomes ridiculous to speak of creatures that lack higher intellectual capabilities as exercising such will. This has been perhaps the greatest stumbling block to perceiving agency in plant life. The problem is that this is a false stumbling block. Human agency and will cannot be understood primarily in terms of rational decision-making. We are multidimensional creatures and our intellectual capabilities are but one factor in the exercise of our wills: an intellectualistic conception of will cannot adjudicate the claims of our volition, let alone those of nonhuman creation.

To say, as the Bible does, that trees praise, sing, clap, and rejoice is to say that trees, as trees, in their whole physical, chemical, spatial, biotic functioning can fully respond to their Creator when that functioning is uninhibited and free. To say that trees groan is to say that trees experience and respond to conditions of human abuse or neglect that inhibits and closes down their responsiveness. In this way, metaphors of praising and groaning enable us to “hear” what the trees have to “say.”

But metaphors do not just disclose and identify the meaning of tree-responsiveness — they also are, in their own way, productive of reality. Metaphors are world-formative, they engage in world-construction. The metaphor of trees clapping their hands, for example, functions in the world-constructing activity of people who employ it in a way drastically different from that in which the metaphor of trees as economic resources (or “timber”) functions for other people.33The metaphors we use mediate the worldviews by which we live; they function, therefore, both as visions of the world (or interpretive frameworks) and as visions for the world (providing an orientation for cultural and ecological praxis).34

“Hearing” trees through appropriate metaphors and allowing those metaphors to have a world-constructing role in our lives calls forth a response to what the trees are saying and what kind of world our metaphors envision. To hear the groaning of the trees is to be called by the trees to participate in that groaning. To hear the trees praise is to be invited to join in that creational liturgy. Such hearing also calls us to acts of stewardly empowerment. When trees groan they ask us to take away that which inhibits their praise. We are called to be partners with the trees in the coming shalom of God’s creation. We suggest that such a partnership is what Buber envisaged with his I-Thou relationship with a tree — an eloquent creature in a responsive creation.

Notes
1. Albert Borgmann, Crossing the Postmodern Divide (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 117. See also his article, “Texts and Things,” in Timothy Casey and Lester Embree, eds., Lifeworld and Technology (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1990), 93-116.
2. Ibid., 118-19.
3. Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), chap. 3.
4. From his Discourse on Method, chap. 6. See Essential Works of Descartes, trans. Lowell Bair (New York: Bantam, 1961), 37.
5. Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970).
6. Ibid. All of these quotes can be found on pp. 57-58.
7. Ibid., 69.
8. Buber notes that “the basic word I-It is made possible only by. . . . the detachment of the I” (p. 73).
9. Ibid., 79.
10. On the construal of nature see Neil Evernden, The Social Creation of Nature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); and Roderick Nash,Wilderness and the American Mind, 3d ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967, 1982).
11. Buber knew well that I-Thou relationships were not problematic for native peoples (see pp. 69-73). For a sampling of aboriginal approaches to nature see David Young, Grant Ingram, and Lise Swartz’s fine study of the work of medicine man Russell Willier: Cry of the Eagle: Encounters with a Cree Healer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989); Thomas W. Overholt and J. Baird Callicott, Clothed in Fur and Other Tales: An Introduction to an Ojibwa Worldview(Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982); James Redsky, Great Leader of the Ojibway: Mis-quona-queb (Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1972); and James R. Stevens, ed., Legends of the Forest: Told by Chief Thomas Fiddler (Moonbeam, Ont.: Penumbra Press, 1985).
12. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, Augsburg Old Testament Studies (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 145.
13. Roger B. Swain, Earthly Pleasures: Tales from a Biologist’s Garden (Markham, Ont.: Penguin, 1981), 134.
14. Ibid.,132.
15. Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 140.
16. Ibid., 502, 511.
17. The matter of seedling quality is addressed at greater length in an unpublished paper by Marianne Karsh, “How to Assess Seedling Stock Quality” (University of Toronto Faculty of Forestry, 1988).
18. These observations were pointed out by researchers at a Forest Decline Conference, Toronto, 1987.
19. Don MacIver, Jack Pine Growth Model: A Brief Progress Report (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 1985), 16.
20. Paul Hawken, The Magic of Findhorn (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 118-19.
21. Jay McDaniel, Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 86-87. All the quotes in this paragraph are from this book.
22. Alex Shigo, A New Tree Biology: Facts, Photos, and Philosophies on Trees and Their Problems and Proper Care (Durham: Shigo and Trees Associates, 1986), 51.
23. Richard Austin, Baptized into Wilderness: A Christian Perspective on John Muir (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 17.
24. Cited by Austin, ibid., 29.
25. We employ the phrase, “new forestry” in full awareness of the movement that goes by that name. The New Forestry movement is attempting to foster a forestry practice that is rooted in a concern for ecological wholeness. Our project attempts to do the same thing but pushes the issues one step further to engender a “listening forestry.” Indeed, only if there is such listening, we suggest, will ecological wholeness be attainable. On the New Forestry see, Chris Maser, The Redesigned Forest (San Pedro, Calif.: R. and E. Miles, 1989).
26. C. Birch and J. B. Cobb, The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 305.
27. See Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966).
28. See Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future: Reflections on Science, Myth and Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), chaps. 2 and 3. An excellent discussion of contemporary philosophies of science that corroborates the position taken here is found in Clarence Joldersma, “Beliefs and Scientific Enterprise: A Framework Model Based Upon Kuhn’s Paradigms, Polanyi’s Commitment Framework, and Radnitzky’s Internal Steering Fields,” unpublished M.Phil. thesis, Toronto: Institute for Christian Studies, 1982.
29. Brian Walsh (with Richard Middleton) has discussed worldviews at greater length in The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984); and “Worldviews, Modernity and the Task of Christian College Education,” Faculty Dialogue 18 (Fall 1992): 13-35.
30. Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 163. The context of Keller’s comments is a discussion of Barbara McClintock.
31. Ibid., 164. Keller goes on to make the methodological observation that “questions asked about objects with which one feels kinship are likely to differ from questions asked about objects one sees as unalterably alien” (167). Also instructive are Douglas John Hall’s comments about an “ontology of communion” and “being-with” in Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship (New York and Grand Rapids: Friendship Press and Eerdmans, 1986), chaps. 5-6.
32. Birch and Cobb, The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community, 123.
33. Indeed, Walter Brueggemann notes that “world-creation also includes world-delegitimation of other worlds.” Israel’s Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 27.
34. See James H. Olthuis, “On Worldviews,” Christian Scholar’s Review 14, no. 2 (1985): 153-64.

This article was originally published in Cross Currents, Summer94, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p149, 14p, and can be found at www.crosscurrents.org/trees.htm. Also, see www.crosscurrents.org/nature.htm for a list of other fine articles on religion and environmentalism.

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Authors:
Brian J. Walsh :
Brian J. Walsh serves as a Christian Reformed campus minister at the University of Toronto and teaches theology of culture at the Toronto School of Theology. He is the coauthor of Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP, 2004), Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Dislocation (Eerdmans, 2008), Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be (IVP, 1995) and The Transforming Vision (IVP, 1984). Walsh lives at Russet House Farm with his wife, Sylvia Keesmaat, and their two daughters.
Marianne B. Karsh :
Marianne Karsh, is the Ecology Education Coordinator for the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. As member of Russet House Farm and Director of Arborvitae she exercises her deep passion for re-connecting people with the earth.
Nik Ansell :
Nicholas Ansell is professor of theology at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. He is interested in exploring the shape of a reformational theology sensitive to the spirituality of existence and to the eschatologically open nature of creation. He is also interested in examining the relationship between faith and belief in critical dialogue with proponents and critics of contemporary feminism, postmodernism and religious pluralism. Nik is the author of The Woman Will Overcome The Warrior: A Dialogue with the Christian/Feminist Theology of Rosemary Radford Ruether (University Press of America, 1994) and The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann (Paternoster Press, forthcoming). Nik has also been a regular contributor to Third Way magazine, having edited its (biblical) "Commentary" section for seven years.