I saw a woman hugging a tree on a Brooklyn street corner shortly after Donald Trump was elected President. I was rushing to catch the train and heard a rustling from one of the trees that line the sidewalk. When I glanced over, I realized it was a woman softly embracing a sycamore.
Her hands didn't quite meet but she had melted into the tree and her eyes, mid-cuddle, were closed. I looked away quickly, because it felt like a private moment, but also because I wanted to laugh. But in the following weeks, as the full horror of Trumps reign began to sink in, I too started to sidle up to a sturdy maple on my block and give it a quick squeeze before running to catch the F train.
It was winter then and the branches were bare, but let me tell you--hugging that tree felt good. No matter the season, a tree's trunk stands solid, the bark rough and reliable. I was self-conscious at first; actually, I still am. I try to make sure nobody is watching, and I don't hug it for very long.
Being a grownup isn't all it's cracked up to be. As a child, I loved a eucalyptus tree at the end of my garden. I mean, I truly loved it. I would admire its silvery jigsaw-patterned bark and climb its branches with my sisters to use its gray-green leaves as a hideout. Then I somehow learned that trees are not living things to be treasured, but objects for humans to use. The term "tree hugger" was a pejorative, embedded in my brain so deeply that I can't recall the first time I heard it.
The first tree huggers were incredibly brave. The term was coined more than 250 years ago when 294 men and 69 women of the Bishnoi sect of Hinduism physically clung to the trees in their village in order to prevent them from being used to build a palace.
These tree huggers were then killed by the foresters cutting down the trees. Can you imagine putting your body on the line for a tree? In 1974 in Uttar Pradesh, India, a group of peasant women hugged trees, using their bodies as a physical barrier to protect them from foresters. This practice spread and culminated in the Chipko (meaning "to hug") movement.
It strikes me that I become very Chipko-like in romantic relationships, but that's not relevant here. What is relevant is that this movement forced deforestation reforms and greatly helped to protect the trees in the...