SCOTT JOSEPHSON

Location: Belmont Lake State Park, Long Island, New York

Belmont Lake State Park, Long Island

Belmont Lake State Park, Long Island

Scott Josephson, an engineer by trade, doesn’t yet consider himself a tree hugger, but says he’s getting closer.

“For a long time, I had heard the term ‘tree hugger’ and knew it was a phrase ascribed to nature lovers. In fact, I used to think it was kind of derogatory and I admire that you have taken it back to literally love nature by wrapping your arms around it,” he said.

In the picture, you will see Scott embracing a tree for the first time, and he clearly liked the experience. Scott grew up in a suburban home on Long Island surrounded by towering trees. Even though almost all of them are gone now, he has fond memories of them — most of which revolve around backyard baseball with his brother or playing catch. “A tree would often mark a base, or a certain play in the game like a ground-rule double,” he remembers. “Sometimes we’d hit the ball over a fence and have to climb it, or run around the corner and search through the neighbor’s overgrown shrubs to recover our only ball.”

Scott said he always felt a spiritual connection to nature, a feeling of being at home in a natural setting — whether it’s a desert or a forest. On a trip to Israel at the age of 16, he planted a sapling. “I think it was either an olive or a fig tree and I always wonder about what it looks like today.”

“Trees give so much to us and we give nothing in return. They provide shade, sustenance, nourishment, sanctuary, and comfort,” he added, which isn’t surprising given that one of his favorite books is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.

As a wine and music lover, Scott enjoys listening to “The Dreaming Tree” by Dave Matthews, and drinking the namesake wine, which is quite delicious.

Scott is an avid traveler and has visited 47 of the 50 states of the US. He hopes to hug more trees on his travels in the future. “I’d like to get in the habit of thanking nature and bonding with new trees that I encounter on the road, as well as those familiar, favorite trees that impact my life on a daily basis.”

VINODH VALLURI

Location: Muir Woods, California

Muir Woods, California

Vinodh Valluri is a writer, editor, tree hugger and an advocate for all things green. He recently became the Managing Editor for the Energy, Environment & Sustainability team at Cactus Communications in Mumbai, India. Here, he talks about his experience of being hugged by a majestic redwood in Muir Woods, and his philosophy of leading a green life.

LS: How did it feel to be hugged by the redwood?

VV: Before I left California I visited Muir Woods, and a tree finally hugged me! As I contemplated on the occasion, I realized that the photo connected to what I had been reading recently – Hot, Flat & Crowded by Thomas Friedman, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Man is dependent on Nature first; and then, we serve Her by properly civilized living. It seems to me that conservation begins with an expression of humility by humans, that we are tiny in comparison to the elephants or the redwoods. It is Mother Nature that hugs us first, and if we hug back, it is an expression of love which reaffirms the knowledge and dedication it takes to protect our world’s forest, rivers, birds, animals, insects and mountains.

One may or may not believe in God, but being hugged by a redwood is direct proof that there are things in this world much bigger than our ego, even outside our own vivid imaginations. A moment in the forest is enough to consider the existence of a Supreme Source of all things majestic, all things beautiful, and everything that ever existed in this world. A walk in the woods is a talk about that spiritual aspect. To me, hugging a tree is a practical exercise of the Vedic axiom – a soul in all beings, and a Supreme Soul to which all are connected.

LS: When did you become a tree hugger?

VV: Some of the first trees I hugged were the victims of summertime fruit-stealing exploits of my childhood: a couple of red guavas, a few mango trees, one giant Jamun tree, and an Indian gooseberry – all growing in the vicinity of my home at the foothills of Simhachalam, a beautiful place of pilgrimage in south-eastern India. So, let’s just say it’s an old habit!

LS: What’s your inspiration?

VV: The ancient Vedic culture of India, which had woven sustainability integrally into her texts such as the Isa Upanisad and the Bhagavad Gita, is what inspires me to continue engaging in endeavors that benefit this planet and all living entities on it. One powerful quote is the first text of the Isa Upanisad which is like the most ancient definition of sustainability:

isavasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma grdah kasya svid dhanam 

“Everything animate or inanimate that is in this universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.”

LS: When do you think people will start to realize the importance of taking care of mother earth?

VV: It is only when we see that it is She (Mother Earth) who clothes us, feeds us, protects us, and heals us that we will begin to tread carefully on this planet during our ephemeral stay here. Unfortunately, the impersonal, mechanistic world view which dominates current science (and by extension, our society) starves us of such love and affection by making our relationship with Nature a matter of mere business. However, let’s note that “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade”. Even, or especially, in the field of conservation and environmental sustainability, there is only so much that science and technology can do to solve the problems. Beyond a point, it matters that we show integrity in our daily actions and a sincere, selfless love for all living beings, without which we fail to learn even the smallest lesson from everything that we already know.

LS: Where do you work and what do you do?

VV: Currently, I am with an Editing company, Cactus Communications (Mumbai), that helps researchers and scientists from all over the world present their scientific articles in international journals. I consider myself fortunate to be the Managing Editor for their Energy, Environment & Sustainability team.

LS: What would you like to see happen in the next few years?

Firstly, our society could use a shift towards responsiveness. There is extremism, impersonalism, and compartmentalization in all spheres of life today. Why, the recent financial doldrums are clear signs of such cognitive dissonance in our world. We know that selflessness is the solution; that the more we give, the more we will get. However, we seek to remain blind to our own goodness, and instead focus on the negative in everyone. Creating ethical economics and sensible sustainability can begin only when a case is made for such selflessness on individual, regional, national, and societal levels.

Vinodh likes sharing his perspectives on the science and ethics of sustainability on his personal blogBeyond The Elements. To follow Vinodh, check out this Facebook page.

AGNES NOWACZEK

Location: Peruvian Amazon, South America

 

All of us pursue happiness, whatever this means to each person: security, love, success… My own pursuit of happiness –incorporated into my Doctoral studies at the time– took me to the Peruvian Amazon basin which I have always dreamt about. As someone who loves nature, I felt like Alice in Wonderland – the multitude of sounds, sights and smells, with bizarre creatures at every level left me dizzy in wonderment just standing in the middle of the rainforest and taking it all in. There in the Amazon jungle I experienced the powerful energy of the trees, first coming across the biggest tree I have ever seen, and then learning about the plants and animals from the local Shaman. My understanding of the connectedness of all living things culminated when I took part in the sacred Ayahuasca ceremony which involves the Ayahuasca vine (the master plant of the jungle) prepared and administered by the Shaman.

This picture was taken in the Peruvian Amazon basin at the very moment when I first came across and was in absolute amazement of the largest tree I have ever seen. My professional camera and lens could not capture it in its entirety, but more importantly, the power and energy of the tree were pulling me toward it to embrace it and become one with it.

Following my work in the Peruvian Amazon basin during my Doctoral studies, I developed an affiliation with the small, beautiful and friendly country of Costa Rica which is known for ecotourism and high success rate with a variety of tried sustainable approaches. My networking and consulting work in Costa Rica inspired me to create an ecotourism adventure travel company (Ecotours-by-Agnes) that is one of its kind. I wanted to remain true to the principles of social and environmental sustainability, not just as a marketing strategy, but more importantly I wanted to share with other travellers the places which inspired my transformative experiences in hopes of their magic having the same effect on other visitors.     

My work in Costa Rica took me there four times in 2011 spending a total of six months. While in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, during my last stay working with a local Foundation on developing an Environmental Education Curriculum for elementary schools, I experienced more natural and personal wonders which have reinforced my connection to nature. Perhaps the most insightful thought when thinking of trees and our connection to all nature comes from the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh who states, “We have learned the lesson that when we perpetrate violence towards our own and other species, we are violent towards ourselves; and when we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.”

Agnes Nowaczek, Ph.D is the owner of Ecotours-by-Agnes. Visit www.ecotoursbyagnes.com for more information. She organizes trips to Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and South Africa.

LAVANYA SUNKARA

Location: Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park
May 2012

I visited the mighty Yosemite three times in the past decade. I consider it my heaven. Nowhere in the world does one see such incredible sights of the Half Dome crest, cascading waterfalls and the Giants Sequoias, and enjoy amazing hikes with panoramic vistas all around. It’s truly an honor to experience one of the natural wonders of the world.

In the picture above, you will see me embracing one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. It was an enthralling experience that I will remember for a lifetime.

Just a half hour drive through windy mountain roads from Yosemite Valley, you will find the trail head to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias located in Yosemite National. The grove contains a couple dozen mature Giant Sequoias, including one you can walk through (although it’s dead). Sequoias are one of three types of redwoods and are the largest trees on the planet. The mature trees found in the Tuomumne grove are 280 feet tall and at least a few thousand years old. Theese giants dwarf the other large dominant trees of the forest surrounding them, and standing next to one of these is a privilege.

Even though the trees in Tuolumne are smaller in comparison to those found in Mariposa, the grove is less crowded and closer to the Valley. The hike to the grove is downhill and the round trip is about 2.5 miles.  The way back involves a walk up 400 feet up to the parking lot. But it’s all worth it just for a hug from one of the wisest trees on the planet.

Getting There: From Yosemite Valley, take highway 120 ten miles to the Crane Flat/Tioga Road turnoff, then take Tioga Road half a mile east to the Tuolumne Grove parking lot.

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do.”
~ John Muir

RACHEL BRATHEN

 LOCATION: Uvita/Playa Ballena in Southern Costa Rica

 Photo by Sergio Pucci

This angelic picture was taken on a mountaintop in southern Costa Rica, close to Uvita and Playa Ballena. Rachel Brathen, a yoga instructor living in Aruba (who was recently featured in The New York Times) considers herself a tree hugger. “Trees give the greatest comfort. I remember a long time ago, before I was a yoga teacher or meditating or caring at all about the environment at the fine age of 15, I would go for long runs in the forest in Sweden (where I’m from). I was having a bad day once and stopped in the middle of my run, crying over something or other. I leaned up against a tree and gave it the BIGGEST hug, and it totally hugged me back!”

Rachel says after the moment passed, she dried her tears and turned around because she felt embarrassed for hugging a tree in the middle of nowhere. But now, she says, “I am a proud tree hugger. A person that says it’s silly to do so has obviously never tried it.

“Having a connection to nature is a beautiful thing,” says Rachel and shares one of her favorite quotes by Osho

“Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers – for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are.” 

Trading Sweden for eco-friendly Costa Rica right after high school changed Rachel’s life. Sharing how she made positive changes in her life, Rachel says, “I started devouring every book, film, documentary I could find. I still do.” Today, Rachel is vegan (that’s a super green thing she says), she buys organic food, green skincare and organic cleaning products made in Aruba.

“Once you learn how your life affects the earth we walk upon, you cannot unlearn. You will change, for the better,” Rachel says.

Paddle board yoga with Rachel Brathen in Aruba

Rachel’s life is truly inspiring. She practices what she preaches, and it shows in how happy, healthy and fulfilling her life is. I could say this with conviction because I’ve had the good fortune of taking her paddleboard yoga lesson when I was staying at the Aruba Marriott, and it was one of the most beautiful and spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. To read my article and learn more about paddleboard yoga, click here.

Rachel Brathen currently lives in Aruba with her three rescued dogs who she says are tree huggers too. You can find Rachel Brathen Yoga Lifestyle on Facebook.

SUKHIN CHAWLA AND FRIENDS

Location: Ropar, Punjab

Ankita Sharma, Sukhin Chawla, Dalvinder Singh and Ajay Singla

We were on our way to a friend’s wedding when we came upon a beautiful village near Ropar in Punjab. There was greenery all around. It was very ethereal and mesmerizing. There were fields of sugarcane, maize, rice, etc. There were poplar trees all around. They are grown in this region for wood because they grow quickly. Their wood is soft, white and of uniform texture and well suited for various industries. They can be harvested in 8-10 years, and can help with reforestation.

We stopped the car and I asked my friends to hug the poplar trees tightly and be TREE HUGGERS. It was a very calm and relaxed place free from pollution and noise. We could see God in the trees, fields, birds and grass. Every moment was great!

Sukhin Chawla is a 24 year old proud Punjabi  who works as a TV Presenter in Doordharshan in India. She is pursuing her dual masters in English Literature and Agribusiness from Punjab University, Chandigarh. She will be doing her last two semesters at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In addition to getting her friends to hug trees, she tries to raise awareness and get people to be more environmentally friendly. She hopes to build a tiger sanctuary in the future. She believes that anything is possible if “we have trust and faith in ourselves”.

DORRI OLDS

Location: Xochimilco, Mexico

This picture was taken in Xochimilco, a borough outside Mexico City known for its canals. The waterways along with chinampas—squares of land for growing crops—are a vestige of pre-Columbian times. Colorfully painted gondola-like wooden boats called Trajineras are available for rent. The Mexican government is doing much to preserve this area. The water in the lagoons is clear and the wildlife is protected. Birds are not allowed to be shot. At this time of year, there’s a big influx of Pelicans from South Canada because there are so many fish for them to eat.

On the boat, a sweet bread snack was served along with Horchata, a warm rice and milk drink similar to hot breakfast cereal with little tasty lumps. Other people on the boat indulged in ancient delicacies: fried grasshoppers, baked worms, ant eggs and bright red mini shrimps that looked like bugs. I did not partake. Thank goodness there was also normal food available. I had guacamole, tortilla chips, black beans and rice.

When I was a kid I loved to run around in the woods behind my parent’s house in Long Island. My best friend and I played hide and seek behind the trees. We’d jump over the fence and run down to a nearby stream to catch frogs, lizards and snakes and jumped from rock to rock across the water. We always wore sneakers because we fell in a lot.

I also like to talk to plants. In my old apartment on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, my plants suffered from the dry heat. I’d heard that if you talk to plants it’s good for them. One day a friend was over and she heard me saying to the plants, “Please don’t die, please don’t die.” Horrified she told me I needed to say something more positive. From then on I’ve been saying things like, “Hello! How are your little leaves?” I live in Chelsea now and my plants have been thriving since I moved here.

In the past, I was not a recycler. I’ve always put my empty soda bottles outside for the homeless so they could collect the nickel deposit but threw everything else in the trash. Then I went to Al Gore’s Live Earth concert in London on July 7, 2007. In between the Black Eyed Peas and Madonna, there was a huge slideshow that illustrated how much waste one person generates. I have religiously recycled ever since.

Dorri Olds is a freelance writer, web designer and social media consultant. She spends her days designing websites, posting on social media sites and writing stories, always with her beloved dog Buddy James at her feet. Her favorite topics to cover are travel, movies and her dog. Dorri also spends a considerable amount of time for a good cause—The Little Baby Face Foundation, which provides free reconstructive plastic surgery for children born with facial deformities. Dorri contributes to NY Resident and Petside.com among others. Find out more at www.DorriOlds.com.