I found this documentary to be comfort food for the soul in these troubled times.
Diana Beresford-Kroeger, an Irish-Canadian, is a “certified” tree hugger, which is just fine with this fellow traveler. She has written a number of books, some of the coffee-table variety, such as “Arboretum America” and “Arboretum Borealis.” Her husband is her photographer. She has nurtured “Diane’s Farm,” for decades, somewhere in the wilds of Ontario, Canada. She is justifiably proud of the various species of trees, as well as other plants, that she has assisted in the growth process. Jeff McKay directed this film, working with Merit Motion Pictures based in Winnipeg. The film was released in 2016.
The documentary takes us to several locales around the world. Most fittingly, it commences in the country whose citizens seem to revere the natural world more than most any other: Japan. I had never heard of the expression “forest bathing” yet the Japanese have had the concept for thousands of years. Perhaps it is no more than “a good walk in the woods” being a balm for the soul. Beresford-Kroeger is a scientist and can rattle off the names of the various chemicals emitted by trees that make us feel good. And that itself provides a lot of comfort, since I am leery of getting sucked into some “New Age” mumbo jumbo about the alignment of the stars. Professor Miyawaki, who lives in Tokyo, is a delight, with his mission of creating the smallest “forests” in the urban landscape. The documentary also shows the Erino Peninsula, in extreme southeastern Hokkaido, where the lush forest was cut down for agricultural purposes, but instead an infertile desert was created. Professor Matsunaga is a marine chemist who solved the problem of how fish obtain the iron they need. It is contained in fulvic acid, which is produced by the forest, and thus fisherman are strong advocates of restoring the forests.
Beresford-Kroeger takes the viewer back to her native Ireland and the cliffs of Mohar in County Clare, near where she was born. She sits at the base of the magnificent Brian Boru Oak, perhaps a thousand years old, and definitely worth the journey. She discusses Brehon’s Law, promulgated centuries before the Magna Carta, whereby individuals could take as much as they needed, for themselves, from the forest, but no more. She also places much of the blame on the deforestation of Ireland on the English, who claimed that the Irish would never be subdued as long as the trees have leaves. Today, less than 1% of Ireland’s original forests remain.
“Few forests evoke enchantment more than the Black Forest of Germany,” so says Beresford-Kroeger. She also confirmed my (counterintuitive) impression of Germany, which sits in the middle of heavily populated Europe: 30% of the country remains forested. How this wonderful preservation of the natural world occurred, regrettably, is not discussed.
The documentary also briefly mentions how the extraction of “black gold” from the tar sands of Northern Alberta is destroying the forests there and how the Ojibway Indians (and their white allies) are seeking to preserve the forests that straddle the Manitoba and Ontario border area.
The maps of the diminishing of the old growth forests in North America are truly grim, as bad as Ireland’s now slender 1%, and we do not even have the English to blame. We are now down to 133,000 acres of redwoods in all North America. While there are some inspiring scenes of folks planting trees, the core problem, the explosion in the human population is never mentioned, and I do fault the documentary makers for that.
Overall though, a wonderful paean to the value of forests. 5-stars.