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Have You Hugged a Tree Today?

Richard St Barbe BakerRichard St Barbe BakerThe assumption that the "good life" requires more individual consumption, constant meat-eating, larger homes and vehicles, and disposable everything will need to fade.  A spirit of shared and equitable material sacrifice can replace it - with no loss of what really matters, such as active good health, strong communities, and time with family.

The Earth's soil and vegetation can remove billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Agricultural landscapes can accomplish this while improving food and fiber production and minimizing the need for artificial fertilizer and fossil-fuel-driven tilling and raising farmer incomes  (Worldwatch, January, 2009.)

Richard St. Barbe BakerRichard St. Barbe BakerRichard St. Barbe Baker, was among the first conservationists to tell the world about the importance of conservation and its effect upon humanity and global warming. In 1954, St. Barbe wrote: "When the trees go, the rain goes, the climate deteriorates, the water table sinks, the land erodes and desert conditions soon appear".

At the tender age of four, Richard St. Barbe Baker planted his first tree.  St. Barbe was born in 1889 and lived until 1982 and spent his entire life teaching conservation.  His father was an evangelical minister and loved gardening and was instrumental in teaching St. Barbe the skill to grow gardens and trees and from the pine forests near his home he developed his love for nature and the beauty of the forests. “In his travels around the world, he became known as the “Man of the Trees”… source from “Man of the Trees” printed by Ecology in Action, 1989.

Five of the first fifty Watu wa Miti ( Men of the Trees)Five of the first fifty Watu wa Miti ( Men of the Trees)His father told him many stories of an adventurous uncle and St. Barbe decided he wanted to be just like his uncle and  travel the world.  And so he went to live in Saskatoon, Saskatchwan.  It was here in Canada  that he saw the irresponsible destruction of the forests.  He saw them becoming the future deserts, knowing that without the protective cover of the trees, the soil begins to drift and blow away as much as an inch every year.  With the advent of World War I, St. Barbe served in the Army and afterward his goal was to graduate from the School of Forestry at Cambridge.

In 1920 St. Barbe went to Kenya  to work in the colonial office as Assistant Conservator of Forests.  It was here he learned firsthand the stages of degradation from forest to forest with forests cleared and burned for farming, after which the soil was exposed to sun and rain and the humus quickly degraded.  Without the forest to slowly absorb and store rainfall, water tables would eventually sink.  St. Barbe decided that the solution was to plant more trees!

The first Dance of the Trees, Kenya, July 22, 1922The first Dance of the Trees, Kenya, July 22, 1922St. Barbe had become a friend of the Kikuyu in Kenya and when he tried to encourage them to plant trees, they said “ shauri ya Mungu – God’s business.”   St. Barbe replied that if all of Mungu’s trees were felled there would be no young ones.  So, he decided to hold a “Dance of the Trees”; dancing is an integral part of the Kikuyu tribe and a prize bullock was offered to the best turned-out warrior (a bullock is a much coveted cow) and a beaded necklace for the most beautiful woman.  3,000 warriors turned-out for the event.  St. Barbe then encouraged volunteers to become “Men of the Trees” who would be willing to plant ten trees each year and also to protect the existing trees.  This began the existence of “social forestry” long before the concept was invented.  Because St. Barbe was held in high esteem by the Kikuyu, he was the first white man to enter the Kikuyu secret society, and thus began the beginning of his lifelong effort to conserve forests and the need for a global understanding of their importance.

Richard St. Barbe Baker (1932)Richard St. Barbe Baker (1932)In 1930 St. Barbe met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who at the time was the Governor of New York and convinced him to put into action a plan for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and it was St. Barbe who used his influence to protect the California Redwoods.  And as a long-time resident of California, I am ever grateful to St. Barbe as there is nothing more beautiful than to walk through the Redwoods and feel close to God.  It is a staggering emotion filled with love of nature, joy to be alive, and a sense of wonderment.

St. Barbe continued his work in Nigeria in 1924 where he promoted the idea of “sustained benefits”.  And, he was instrumental in bringing about the idea of forestry and agriculture as a way of maximizing land use while protecting the soil.  Due to a personal intervention for a fellow African, he was dismissed from his job but he took the opportunity to be free to pursue his vision of reforestation.  And, because of his deepening desire to do greater things for the environment he came upon the Baha’I Faith and became a member which gave him the inner strength to continue his pursuits.

"Omahuta," one of the great kauris in the Omahuta Reserve, Northland, New Zealand. Height to first limb 55 feet; girth 45 feet."Omahuta," one of the great kauris in the Omahuta Reserve, Northland, New Zealand. Height to first limb 55 feet; girth 45 feet.In 1929 St. Barbe was invited to Palestine where he gathered together representatives of the major religions to commit to a plan of reforestation of the desert areas.  Tree nurseries began to crop up everywhere and the tree plantings were assured.

St. Barbe’s life reads like an adventurer going from place to place teaching conservation, meeting with heads of state, planting trees and encouraging everyone to do the same.

He wrote many books and articles; one while in bed literally lying flat for 10 days.  He was a man of action.  He was always there to show you how to do it and would join you in the process.  A quality which endeared him to the many he met in North America, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and India.  He was never afraid to having his say and broadcasting it widely.  Once while in New Zealand, he called the newspapers together and had his own little press conference, despite the fact that he was not well known there.  While at a ceremonial tree-planting in Ireland presided over by the President, he inquired what percentage of Ireland was tree-covered and then ventured a guess of 2 ½ percent.  The President turned to ask his Minister of Lands, on the spot, to find that the figure was much less.  Because of St. Barbe’s intervention an order to double the tree planting program was begun.

An experiment using trees for dune stabilization in Nothern Africa, 1961An experiment using trees for dune stabilization in Nothern Africa, 1961Many noted people have been counseled by St. Barbe, India’s Nehru, the President of the United States, the President of Ireland, New Zealand to name a few.  He lectured in England about the “Wonder Trees of the World”  and gained the support of Britains taxpayers to save the Redwoods.  The First World Forestry Charter Gathering was held in 1946 to exchange ideas between representatives of the world’s countries to tackle the reclamation of the Sahara Desert.  “Not discouraged by the task, St. Barbe reasoned that if the United States could plant a thousand-mile windbreak across the western plains from Canada to Texas, and Russia could create a shelter belt the length of three thousand miles, then what would prevent the countries surrounding the Sahara Desert from collaborating on a shelter belt four thousand miles long and thirty miles wide?  St. Barbe felt strongly that the energy that was spent nationally and internationally on armaments and strife could find a creative outlet in a unified battle against the encroaching desert; the desert that was then advancing twenty-nine miles every year!”

A photograph of California redwoods taken by St. Barbe and which appeared in Dance of the Tree, published in 1956A photograph of California redwoods taken by St. Barbe and which appeared in Dance of the Tree, published in 1956“Decades before the earth was photographed from space and understood as a unitary ecological reality, St. Barbe was practicing forestry from this global and holistic perspective.  His view of the planet as a living organism and anticipating the Gaia (is a broadly inclusive term for related concepts that living organisms on a planet will affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life) which has provided such a fruitful base for scientific investigation…He believed that life as a property of the whole ecosphere is maintained by the synergistic interrelationship of air, water, soil and organisms. …He saw forests as a vital organ within the self-regulating, life-sustaining whole.  And knowing himself as a part of this whole, he felt the urgency of protecting, conserving and planting trees.  He felt we human beings must “play fair to the earth,” to understand and serve this wholeness, which embraces all beings.”

Richard St. Barbe Baker, O.B.E. - 9 October 1889 - 9 June 1982 - Founder Men Of The Trees - Richard never retired; instead he traveled and taught. He is buried in a Saskatoon cemetery near two large spruce trees (Canada.) Richard St. Barbe Baker, O.B.E. - 9 October 1889 - 9 June 1982 - Founder Men Of The Trees - Richard never retired; instead he traveled and taught. He is buried in a Saskatoon cemetery near two large spruce trees (Canada.)I had the good fortune to meet St. Barbe in Los Angeles, California many years ago at a meeting held at the old Bahá'í Center on Pico Boulevard, and I remember his absolute joy talking about his trees and conservation and how important it was to understand how the future generations would be effected by global warming.  It was the first time I had heard of global warming.  And, it was a wakeup call.  He was a tireless worker, an incredibly beautiful man who said “when you are not feeling well, go outside and hug your tree!”  The audience laughed but I think we all went away with a profound appreciation of trees and a feeling that we better do something soon!

Book written by Richard St. Barbe BakerBook written by Richard St. Barbe BakerRichard St. Barbe Baker attended the First World Forestry Congress in Rome and then went on to work in Palestine and set up a chapter of the Men of the Trees there. There, meeting and winning the support of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith who became the first life member of the Men of the Trees in Palestine, he was able to get the backing of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders for a program to reforest Palestine.

St. Barbe said:

"Almost everywhere in the world man has been disregarding the Divine Law and the Laws of Nature, to his own undoing. In his pride, he has rampaged over the stage of the earth, forgetting that he is only one of the players put there to play his part in harmony and oneness with all living things."

"This generation may either be the last to exist in any semblance of a civilised world or that it will be the first to have the vision, the bearing and the greatness to say, 'I will have nothing to do with this destruction of life, I will play no part in this devastation of the land, I am determined to live and work for peaceful construction for I am morally responsible for the world of today and the generations of tomorrow.'"

"I picture village communities of the future living in valleys protected by sheltering trees on the high ground. They will have fruit and nut orchards and live free from disease and enjoy leisure, liberty and justice for all, living with a sense of their one-ness with the earth and with all living things."

Source: Man of the Trees—Selected Writings of Richard St. Barbe Baker; published 1989 by Ecology Action of the Midpeninsula, 5798 Ridgewood Road, Willits, CA 95490. Please also note that to obtain a copy of the book people can contact: Bountiful Gardens at (707) 459-6410;

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