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What began as a curiosity about the traditions and folklore related to trees planted in the center of many farms in Norway, "Tuntre", and Sweden, "Vårdträd", led me to a recognition of a tradition that can still be observed in the cultural landscape today. The tradition can be traced as far back as the Viking period, and directly linked to the mythology of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. I have been studying these traditions as they relate to the field of environmental education as an example of mythopoetic stories and folklore that influence moral and ethical regard for nature.
Sacred Trees of Norway and Sweden:
A Friluftsliv Voyage
Prepared for: Henrik Ibsen: The Birth of “Friluftsliv”
A 150 Year International Dialogue Conference Jubilee Celebration
North Troendelag University College, Levanger, Norway
Mountains of Norwegian/Swedish Border
September 14-19, 2009
Douglas Forell Hulmes
Professor of Environmental Studies
Prescott College
Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A.
Sacred Trees of Norway and Sweden: A Friluftsliv Voyage
What began as a curiosity about the traditions and folklore related to trees planted in the center
of many farms in Norway, ‘Tuntre’, and Sweden, ‘Vårdträd’, led me to a recognition of a
tradition that can still be observed in the cultural landscape today. The tradition can be traced as
far back as the Viking period, and directly linked to the mythology of the World Tree, Yggdrasil.
I have been studying these traditions as they relate to the field of environmental education as an
example of mythopoetic stories and folklore that influence moral and ethical regard for nature.
Two areas that I feel are relevant to perspectives of ‘Friluftsliv’ are:
*How does the mythology and folklore of a culture influence their perception of place?
*How does ecological knowledge of a landscape compare with ‘kjennskap’, or what is
sacred in a landscape?
Key Words: ‘Tuntre/Vårdträd’, Cultural Landscape, Mythopoetic traditions, ‘Kjennskap’,
A special tradition that is shared by many Scandinavians is the planting or the knowing of
a special tree in Swedish called a ‘Vårdträd’, and in Norwegian a ‘Tuntre’; a sacred tree planted
in the center of the yard on a family farm that reflects an intimacy with place. The caring for the
tree demonstrates respect for ancestors’ spirits that were/are believed to reside in the tree, and is a
moral reminder of caring for the farm or place where one lives. One Norwegian told me that the
‘tuntre’ provided a direct connection with the nature spirits that lived underground at his farm.
The tradition of sacred trees in Scandinavia goes back to the pre-Christian Viking Age, and likely
long before that. Remarkably, it is a tradition that can still be seen as part of the cultural
landscape throughout the Scandinavian countries.
I am continuing my research in Norway and Sweden of this fascinating tradition. I sense
that many Scandinavians are no longer aware of this tradition and that in another generation
many of the beliefs and the trees themselves may disappear. So far, I have found some evidence
of this tradition being brought to America, in the form of photographs, letters, and e-mails about
trees planted on farms. I am limited in my ability to read and translate most of what has been
written about this tradition in Norwegian and Swedish; however, I have thoroughly enjoyed the
challenge, and have huge respect for my colleagues who speak several languages. There is very
little about the tradition that has been translated into English. I have contacted numerous
colleges and universities with Scandinavian Studies programs, and only two professors have
written about their familiarity with the tradition. Dr. James K. M. Kaplan, from Minnesota State
University Moorhead knew of the tradition, and Dr. Kathleen Stokker, Professor of Scandinavian
Studies at Luther College, said that she was very interested in my research and believes the
tradition and ecological and moral connections that I have made are right on. She was familiar
with the tradition in Scandinavia but was not aware of actual examples of it occurring in
America. I have included several quotes and poems from the books, ‘Svenska Vårdträd’, by
Gustaf Ewald, and ‘Träden och Människan’, by Allan Gunnarsson that I have attempted to
translate. A new book that I have not had the opportunity to read, Gastekar och Väckefuror, by
Åke Carlsson and Eva-Lena Larsson, was sent to me by a very kind friend and professor from
the University College of Kristianstad, Dr. Johan Elmberg, who said that as soon as he saw the
book he thought of me and my research. I have asked a Swedish woman living in my hometown
to assist me with some of the translation. Her first response after reading a poem and three
paragraphs that I gave her was: This will be very challenging. I am not familiar with the
tradition and I don’t even know what some of these words mean; many of the quotations are
gammal svenska (old Swedish) or a dialect that I am unfamiliar with. I also know there are
many other sources that I have not yet had the possibility to read in Norwegian. My sincere
apologies to the authors and Swedish and Norwegian speakers if I have made any gross errors! I
will be sharing this paper with the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle (Ballard), Washington,
and would appreciate your suggestions on the content and accuracy of my research. To be
I. Mythological Origins of Trees:
The ancient tribes and cultures that are the ancestors of contemporary cultures and
civilization created myth to help explain the natural world and humans’ place in nature. It is
interesting to note that a great many mythologies have a tree or column or mountain at the center
of the world. The Scandinavians’ identification with a great tree reflects their geographical
location within the boreal forests of Northern Europe:
More specifically, the symbol of three cosmic regions connected by a tree that we find in
Norse mythology also appears in Vedic Indian and Chinese mythologies.
(Crossley-Holland, 1980, p. xxiv)
Classical Greek mythology also describes three women of fate, similar to those within the Norse
Pantheon, in association with the tree of life. As civilizations evolved, human speculation of
ourselves and the world around us gradually transcended into philosophy, religion, and science;
each influencing the other as individuals of learning often considered all three together. It is
unfortunate that most people educated today have little understanding of ancient history as it
relates to the relationships and successions from myth to philosophy, religion, and science, not to
mention an understanding of how humans impacted their environments, and how environments
and ecology influenced history.
1. Yggdrasil: Tree of Life and Wisdom from the Edda (Grandmother Saga)
Yggdrasil: The World Tree of Norse Mythology
At the end of the World, the great Ash tree Yggdrasil dies... (Or, according to some
interpretations, the great tree trembles but does not die).
According to Norse myths, the end of Asgard, the world of the gods, home to Odin, Thor,
and Loki, is brought about by the death of Yggdrasil, the great ash, tree of life and wisdom from
which Odin hung upside down for 9 days and lost the sight of one of his eyes in exchange for the
wisdom of the runes, and intuition of the goddesses or norns. The tree had been kept alive by the
three women of fate (past, present, and future), Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, who cared for the tree
giving it water from Mirmir’s Well of Wisdom, and covering its wounds, inflicted by goats and
deer, with white clay. Despite their care, the great tree dies from its roots, slowly strangled by
the great serpent Nidhögg, whose body was entwined throughout the roots of the great tree, and
who symbolizes the inevitable cycles of life, death, and renewal.
The complete meaning and symbolism depicted in this saga called the ‘Edda’, which
possibly means the mother, will forever remain a mystery. As an oral tradition, the sagas and
myths were handed down from one generation to the next throughout the 400 years that marked
the Viking episode of the Nordic culture:
It is likely the oldest mythical sagas originated earlier with the Scandinavian Bronze Age,
which lasted for over a thousand years, from about 1600 to 450 B. C., and were further
influenced by other Germanic tribes that moved into Scandinavia during the Migration
Period caused in part by the disruption of the Roman Empire from about the 3rd to the
6th century A. D. (Davidson, 1969, p. 12)
These tribes replaced or mingled with peoples who first inhabited Norway and Sweden eight to
ten thousand years ago at the retreat of the last ice age. In the 13th century some of the great
sagas were written down by a Christian Icelander, Snorri Sturluson. Much speculation continues
as to the influence Christianity may have had on his transcription of the sagas, but through them
we are given a window into the superstitions, beliefs, and symbolic wisdom held within these
stories providing a basis for understanding the significance of the planting of a ‘tuntre’ in the
center yard or ‘tun’ of the farm. In pre-Christian times a tree was planted on the grave of the
original farmer to honor him and his descendants. The care and regard of the tree was believed
to help insure the health of the farm. The tradition of planting a tree in the center of the farm
continues today in parts of Norway. In Sweden there is a similar tradition, and the tree was
called a ‘vårdträd’, or caring/guardian tree.
2. Role of the Norns (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
Most Americans and Scandinavians are familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien’s, ‘The Lord of the
Rings’, but do not appreciate the significance of his work in relationship to the Nordic, Celtic,
Anglo/Saxon, and Finnish mythologies that he integrated into his writings:
In the ring quest myths of the Vikings, that ferocious warrior culture of Norsemen, we see
one of the primary sources of inspiration for Tolkien’s fantasy epic, The Lord of the
Rings. (Day, 1994 p. 29)
For example, Frodo, the hobbit capable of carrying the ring of power, could well be taken
from Frodi, an ancient Danish king and figure of heroic legend:
Frodi was the most powerful of all kings in the northern lands, the peace ascribed to him
wherever Scandinavian was spoken and the people of the north called it the “Peace of
Frodi”. (Lindow, 2001, p. 130)
Frodi is believed to have lived in the land of Denmark during the time of Christ, when the area
was inhabited by an agrarian culture, not unlike the hobbits. Smegal, the original hobbit name
for Gollum before he succumbed to the Ring of Power, seems similar to the Swedish word
‘smyg’, which means stealth.
The most immediate parallel for anyone even mildly familiar with Norse myths is that the
world of mortal men, in both, (Norse mythology and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings)
have the same name: The Norse “Midgård” literally translates to “Middle-earth”.
(Day, 1994, p. 31)
Galadriel, queen of the elves, is another of Tolkien’s characters who is likely taken from
the three norns depicted in the Norse sagas as the women who cared for Yggdrasil. In, ‘The
Lord of the Rings’, Galadriel descends a spiral staircase that surrounds a great tree (Yggdrasil),
and pours water from a well at the base of the tree, into a basin. From the reflection in the water,
Galadriel is able to ‘see’ the fate of Frodo.
3. Odin Sacrifices One of His Eyes to Gain the Wisdom and Intuition of the Norns.
In order for Odin to gain the Wisdom and intuition of the Norns and Yggdrasil, he must
sacrifice one of his eyes. I spoke to Kjærsti Skjeldal, a Professor of Folklore, at Telemark
University, and asked her the meaning of this symbolism. She said: It’s obvious, men believe
what they see, women believe what they intuit. In order for Odin to gain the Wisdom and
intuition of the Norns, he had to give up some of what he could see. The symbolic meaning of
this Norse myth seems relevant today, when Western culture is obsessed with logic, knowledge,
and technology, which are generally stereotyped as male qualities of thought and action, yet
seriously lacking in the Wisdom to guide us towards ecological sustainability.
Gandalf - ‘sorcerer elf’ - appealed to Tolkien when choosing this name for his wizard.
He carried a powerful staff that for Odin, in Norse mythology, was taken from the World Tree
In Odin’s character we can see both of Tolkien’s great magicians: Gandalf the Grey and
Sauron the Ring Lord. (Day, 1994, p. 37)
The message of Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, is that power corrupts. Can power be seen as
the assumption of Western culture that knowledge and technology will allow us to control nature,
and the result of this dangerous assumption is the end of the world as we know it, not unlike the
final battle, Ragnarök, of Norse mythology?
II. Traditions of the ‘Tuntre’ and ‘Vårdträd’
1. Yggdrasil: Macrocosm of the World
I selected the following two quotes to summarize the many different accounts of
Yggdrasil that I have come across in numerous sources:
The giant ash Yggdrasil was the largest of all Guardian Trees; it stretched up to the
heavens and spread its branches over the entire earth. In the World tree’s shade live
three Norns in a beautiful dwelling. Yggdrasil had three roots. The middle went to
Mimer’s brunn (well or spring that was the source of wisdom, memory, and fate), where
all wisdom was kept, the other stretched itself to Nifelhem, where the dragon Nidhögg
gnawed upon the root, and the third attached to Midgård where it was watered by the
Norns. Highest in the World Tree dwells the glistening rooster, Gullenkamme, who gave
an hourly sign for the Asagod’s watchfulness and care of the world’s security.
(Ewald, 1983, pp. 9, 10)
Usually known as a Guardian Tree, Yggdrasil nourishes, and suffers from, the animals
that inhabit it, feed on it and attack it. While the dragon Nidhögg gnaws the
roots, deer and goats leap along the branches and tear off the new shoots; and a
squirrel runs up
and down the trunk carrying insults from Nidhögg to an eagle who sits in the topmost
branches, with a hawk perched between its eyes. (Crossley - Holland, 1993, xxiii)
2. ‘Tuntre’ and ‘Vårdträd’: Microcosm on the Farm
The original sources of thetuntre’ or ‘vårdträd’, appear to have been the holy groves
where pagans worshiped to the Norse gods. Saplings from the groves were transplanted to the
center of the village, ‘Bøtrær’, or the farm and planted on the grave of the original farmer.
Gustaf Ewald (1983) describes numerous examples of the relationship between Yggdrasil the
World Tree and the ‘Vårdträd’:
The holy groves had a similar place and meaning as the Vårdträd or Life Tree in
the particular tradition that was practiced on every farm. The Caring or Guardian Tree
is not only a remnant of some holy grove, it is a direct connection with supernatural
powers, and has in our land in past times, been an object of worship.
In my home village in northern Skåne was a tree called Yggdrasil. The farm had
its Vårdträd that stood within a courtyard surrounded by buildings, and the entire village
had its village ash. The representation of the Vårdträd as responsible for the farms well-
being and consequently the related customs, depends on the exceptional position that
gives it a central focus for ‘fantasi-association’. While a sacred tree can certainly be of
a common tree type, it is distinguished from other trees through its placement on the
farm, and this allows it to be observed more than other trees, and moreover involves it
with the home’s atmosphere, ‘hemkänsla’. People’s reverence for the tree increases with
the tree’s age and in conjunction with its growth, which can display its grand size and
shape compared with other trees of the same variety. (p. 20)
According to Hylten - Cavallius in 1863, these trees are so holy that no one dares to break
or cut so much as a leaf; and to injure or damage them results in misfortune and illness. A long
held belief-system tells us that earth spirits and guardian spirits resided in these trees, and a ritual
offering of casting milk or beer over the tree’s roots is still done on remote farms:
Many of our recorders of folk memory tell of how the heathen’s dissimulation to another
god had their dwellings in certain groves and trees that survived long after the pre-
Christian times. Hylten-Cavallius relates that the people in certain places of Småland,
(Swedish province) still in the beginning of the 1800’s, had a superstitious fear of
injuring or damaging the trees of such an ancient, sacred sanctuary, and would be
mindful not to disturb the tranquility or in any way desecrate the place’s holiness. Man
had not leave to go into such an old grove, and the intruder did not escape without a well
deserved punishment. (Ewald, 1983, p. 17)
In the book, ‘Norse Myths’, there is a description of the tradition in Iceland:
A familiar sight in Iceland, outside the few towns, is a lone-standing farmhouse with a
solitary tree growing right up against it. These trees must be a twentieth-century echo of
the traditional guardian tree, object of veneration outside farmstead and shrine alike in
pre-Christian Northern Europe. The first and greatest of such trees was Yggdrasil, the
ash that appears to have had no beginning and will survive Ragnarök, and guarded the
world itself. The concept of a tree that embraced and linked all creation is a familiar one
in many European and Asian mythologies and the myth of Yggdrasil may be no less old
than the myths of the bisexual progenitor and the divine cow.
(Crossley - Holland, 1980. p. 182)
The emotional connection with these trees and their traditions has been the focus of many
artists and writers. There was a spiritual relationship between the farm folk and the tree
that beckoned regard and respect. Poetic incite and metaphor make comparisons with
the annual rings of the trunk, the interlocking branches, playful sparkling leaves, and a
strong root system. Many of the trees have therefore been wreathed in legend and given
cultural/historical status. (Ewald, 1983, p. 7)
Numerous stories and traditions of Sacred Groves and the folklore related to the
‘Vårdträd’ exist today. One of the legends I came across was of a girl who tried to defend a
sacred grove from people who wished to set fire to the grove:
At the priest’s farm possession in Skokloster parish, Uppland, (Swedish province) there
was in past times a Sacred Grove. At that time folk decided to burn the forest. A little
girl thought that it would not be good to burn the beautiful trees, wherefore she, before
the ignition occurred, climbed up into a small ash and held up her hands in an attempt
to protect the trees from the fire. The holy grove was set ablaze, and when the trees
were finished burning, the girl was found uninjured in the ash. (Ewald, 1983, p. 17)
Another description comes from a Christian who still regards and justifies the sanctity of
the sacred grove as a source for both obtaining saplings, and also as a place of spiritual renewal:
can, to some, seem like a foolish pas time, but for us was an example, to not make
useless waste of a saplings life, from which a useful shade tree can become, or to destroy
or desecrate a holy grove where no thinking Christian may enter and enjoy refreshment
without thinking of the Creator’s goodness, and memory of how the world’s savior had a
grove, a garden, that he made use of to meet with his disciples, where he would talk with
them of the soul’s immortality. (Ewald, 1983, p. 16)
In, ‘Träden och Människan’, Allan Gunnarsson (1988) writes:
When a farmer in older times in these districts (Southern Sweden) constructed a farm, he
always planted a tree in the center of the farm's courtyard, a tree whose root was derived
from a holy grove which since heathen time was found in every district. (p. 26)
During my own interviews with friends in Norway, I have come across similar accounts
of superstitions that continue today with the ‘tuntre’. Brynjar Stautland of Bømlo relayed to me
that his cousin cut down the ‘tuntre’ on the family’s farm, and the rest of the family was
outraged. Another story was of a farmer who married a woman from Poland. She nagged her
husband to cut down the ‘tuntre’ because it blocked the sun from her deck. Now many of her
neighbors are talking... Øystein Barane of Haugesund, relayed to me his concern for the ‘tuntre’
orbøtre’ planted in the city center. It is a huge old maple. One of the administrators from the
building it stood in front of tried to convince the city officials that the tree should be cut down to
make room for a playground for children! These stories demonstrate that a sense of regard
towards these trees continues today.
Deciduous trees are generally planted as thetuntre’ or ‘vårdträd’, possibly to reflect the
cycles of the seasons and of life and death and the return of life in the spring. Long-lived
deciduous trees like oak, ash, linden, maple, and elm are common varieties used, while birch and
mountain ash replace the more southerly varieties as one gains elevation or latitude.
In the summer of 2004 I visited the Norwegian Folk Museum on Bygdøy, in Oslo. The
administrator who I spoke with was not familiar with the tradition of planting a sacred tree on
farms; however, when I walked through the outdoor museum, I came across a worker who was
restoring one of the old buildings. I asked him if he knew about the tradition, and he said: Oh ja,
we have a tuntre on our farm. When I asked him what he knew of the tradition, he suggested that
I ask the gardener of the museum, Stein Sunde. Stein was more than accommodating, and I think
was pleased that a foreigner knew of the tradition. He said that not only did he know about the
tradition, but that he had traveled to many districts to determine what was the commontuntre’
that was planted, and he has planted those types by the museum buildings that are from the
different districts. Three months later he wrote me a most welcome letter:
Dear Douglas, January 19, 2004
I thank you for your letter and the interesting essay on Yggdrasil. Unfortunately, I have
not had the time, or opportunity to answer your letter before now. We have had a wonderful long
autumn, with very good weather and a reasonable temperature in the air, and a lot of work
preparing everything for the winter and next spring.
The December month is also very busy as we have a Christmas market every weekend,
creating a lot of extra work.
The Norwegian King has given most of his land area on Bygdøy to the Norwegian Folk
museum, as of January1, 2004. It will then be the largest outdoor museum in the world, both
when it comes to the number of historical buildings, area and antique items. There will now be
even more interesting woods and trees to care for and look after.
You asked me about ‘tuntraer’, so I am sending you a general insight on the subject. My
wife is from Scotland and she is translating this letter for me, so that there will not be too many
grammar, or spelling mistakes.
I hope my letter answers some of the questions you have, and I look forward to meeting
you again, 2005? If there is anything else I can assist you with, please write.
I wish you a happy New Year and all the best.
Yours Sincerely,
Stein Sunde
*To my knowledge this survey of typical types of ‘tuntre’ planted in different districts is
unpublished information:
Table 1: Common ‘Tuntre’ Found in Districts of Norway. -Stein Sunde
District Latin Norwegian English
Sørlandet Quercus robur Sommereik Summer Oak
Quercus petraea Vintereik Winter Oak
Ulmust glabra Norsk Alm Norwegian Elm
Fagus sylvatica Vanlig Bøk Common Beech
Fagus sylvatica
Blodbøk Blood Beech
Setesdal Faxinus excelsior Norsk Ask Norwegian Ash
Sorbus aucuparia Vanlig Rogn Mountain Ash
Vestlandet Tilia cordata Småbladlind Small Leafed Linden
Tilia platyphyllos Storbladlind Large Leafed Linden
Tilia Europaea
Kjeiserlind Kaiser Linden
Tilia Europaea Parklind Park Linden
Fagus sylvatica Vanlig Bøk Lime or Beech
Fagus sylvatica
Blodbøk Blood Beech
Jaeren Ingen tuntaer No tuntre
Hordaland Tilia cordata Småbladlind Small Leafed Linden
Ulmas glabra Norsk Alm Norwegian Elm
Trøndelag Betula pendula Hengebjørk Hanging Birch
Nord Norge Sorbus aucuparia Vanlig Rogn Mountain Ash
Østlandet Quercus robur Sommereik Summer Oak
Quercus petraea Vintereik Winter Oak
Tilia cordata Småbladlind Small Leafed Linden
Fagus sylvatica
Blodbøk Blood Beech
Ulmus glabra Norsk Alm Norwegian Elm
Telemark Acer platanoides Spisslønn Norwegian Maple
Quercus robur Sommereik Summer Oak
Quercus petraea Vintereik Winter Oak
Hallingdal Sorbus aucuparia Vanlig Rogn Mountain Ash
Betula pubescens Vanlig Bjørk Common Birch
Numedal Sorbus aucuparia Vanlig Rogn Mountain Ash
Gudbrandsdal Betula pubescens Vanlig Bjørk Common Birch
Betula pendula Hengebjørk Hanging Birch
Østerdal Sorbus aucuparia Vanlig Rogn Mountain Ash
Betula pendula Hengebjørk Hanging Birch
III. Landscape and Culture:
What is Home?
Talk of what Home is - snow and fir forest is Home.
From the first moment they are ours.
Before anyone has told us that it is snow and fir forests.
They have a place in us, and since then they are there,
always, always. Come home. Go in there bending branches -
Go on till you know what it means to belong.
A Norwegian poem by Tarjei Vesaas
To the Seri Indians living along the west coast of Sonora on the desert coast of the Sea of
Cortez, Home is not a building, it is more a sense of place; it is the land, the plants and animals
that live there. It is the sea, the desert, the wind, the stars, and the ancestors whose spirits live
among the desert plants and speak to them in dreams. It is generations of wisdom handed down
through the centuries of how to survive in a harsh arid landscape. It is the knowledge of plants
that ripen during different seasons providing a steady source of food, of secret water sources
hidden in remote desert canyons. To the Seri Indians, Home is where The People have lived and
died, and where their songs, dances, and myths reflect their closeness to the land.
To most Americans, home is a house, the people and possibly the animals that live in the
house, and perhaps the yard around the house. For most Americans, they have lived in many
houses, in many places. Most Americans live far from their parents, and even farther from their
grandparents. Few Americans know much about the lives of their ancestors, and perhaps do not
even know where they originally came from. They have few stories handed down from
generation to generation, and have at best a very superficial knowledge of the place where they
live. Unfortunately, most Americans have little sense of place, and very little that reflects a
closeness to the land.
It is possible that due to technology, television, automobiles, airplanes, and even
spaceships, that Americans are broadening their sense of place and Home, to the Earth. Many
young people, when asked to draw their Home draw the Earth. Perhaps the loss of wisdom and
knowledge of a particular place is evolving to something larger. Perhaps…
I believe the ultimate role of the environmental educator is to help remind us of the place
where we live ... our Home. I believe it is the role of the environmental educator in our culture
to remind us of the wisdom handed down by past generations of people who have seen the
changes, experienced the hardships and blessings of the land, and remind us of the mistakes
made by a culture struggling to survive in a new land that they knew little about. The 19th
Century myth that rain would follow the plow caused the death and suffering of thousands of
people during the dust bowl and numerous other drought cycles of the Great Plains, and the arid
Southwest. The European/Americans who moved there knew little about the land and how to
survive without water. Technology has helped against the odds, but for how long? History
repeats itself, and there are too many examples of past civilizations that have fallen because they
exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.
Environmental educators are the teachers of the wisdom given to us by Ecologists, who
in the words of Aldo Leopold are the doctors of the land, who see the marks of death or sickness,
and are beginning to understand how the land stays healthy. Environmental educators must also
understand the relationships of history and culture, science and politics, economics and ecology,
religion and philosophy. Our culture has forgotten that the words ‘ecology’ and ‘economics’
come from the same Greek root, Ecos, which means Home. Ecology is the study of the Home,
while economics is the management of the Home. How can we possibly understand the
relationships of ecology and economics if we have lost the meaning of Home?
The following outline could be viewed as a way for us to discover our home. It could be
a thematic unit or an entire school curriculum. It is a way of seeing the connections between
subjects that for too long have been taught without seeing their relationships to each other, and to
Home. It is the role of the environmental educator to help us find our Home.
I. What is Home? What do we need to know about the place we call Home?
1. Geographical and Ecological Overview
a. How was the landscape formed?
b. What is your home's watershed?
c. How does the climate and weather influence the land?
d. What plants and animals live or lived there, and how did they adapt to the land?
2. Cultural Overview
a. Who lived here before us?
b. How did they live?
c. What was their impact?
d. What were their stories, mythologies, traditions?
3. European/Historical Overview
a. Who came?
b. Why did they come?
c. What was their impact?
d. How did their attitudes towards the land differ and change?
4. Contemporary Cultural Overview
a. Who lives here now?
b. Why are they coming?
c. What are their impacts?
d. How do they view the land and their Home (Anthropocentric, Biocentric, or
5. What will happen to our Home?
a. What do we want to happen to our Home?
b. What can we do to take care of our Home?
II. What is Education for? How can we as educators help to integrate a sense of place and Home
into our educational systems?
1. How can we show the relationships of subjects taught in school in order to better
educate about our Home?
2. How can we teach people to care?
The hope for our culture may lie in the understanding that Home is not just our house.
Home is also our neighborhood, community, bioregion, state, country, and the planet Earth. We
have much to learn. In the words of Barry Lopez (1986):
Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, no matter how profound or
accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, and still
deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes
simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to
sense the range and variety of its expression - its weather and colors and animals. To
intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom
to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when
something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you
are there. (p. 204, 205)
It is easy to underestimate the power of a long-termed association with the land,
not just with a specific spot but with the span of it in memory and imagination,
how it fills, for example, one’s dreams. For some people, what they are is
not finished at the skin, but continues with the reach of the senses out into the
land. If the land is summarily disfigured or reorganized, it causes them
psychological pain. Again, such people are attached to the land as if by luminous
fibers; and they live in a kind of time that is not of the moment but, in concert
with memory, extensive, measured by a lifetime. To cut these fibers causes not
only pain but a sense of dislocation. (p. 250)
1. How does landscape influence culture?
Through traveling and teaching about landscapes and cultures in many different
bioregions, it has become apparent that landscape influences culture in a variety of ways
including architecture, diet, clothing, art, literature, music, folklore, and mythology. It has
become increasingly apparent to me that landscape influences culture, and culture as a result of
its unique history, influences attitudes towards nature as well as the cultural landscape that one
Since first traveling to Scandinavia more than twenty years ago, I felt a deep connection
with the landscape, almost as if I was experiencing a biological recollection at the cellular level,
that this is a landscape where I came from, and the feelings and familiarity resonated deep within
my DNA. I felt the same when I traveled to Scotland where another branch of my ancestral tree
originated. When I visited the house that my grandfather came from in the province of Blekinge,
in southern Sweden, I immediately connected with the oak, birch, and maple deciduous forests,
and understood why my morfar felt at home in the deciduous forests of the upper Midwest where
he immigrated as a young man.
From these initial emotional experiences, I came to better understand myself as a person
searching for a landscape where I felt I belonged, and I also began to question the relationships
between landscape and culture. Because of my academic training in the natural sciences, I
immediately began a process of trying to understand the landscape’s physical geography, and
also to learn the common plants and animals, which were often very similar to the Midwest,
where I grew up. I experienced a form of déjà vu when I taught on the island of Bømlo, in
Norway, and felt a familiarity with the landscape of granite rocks, from which grew patches of
heather and tall scotch pine. A similar combination exists in the highlands of Arizona where I
have lived most of my adult life. In the central mountains of Arizona, ponderosa pine grow in
close proximity with manzanita, which is a close cousin to heather, and the predominant bedrock
is either granite or grey metamorphic schist similar to Norway.
When I first read ‘Wisdom in the Open Air’, I was impressed that the Introduction began
with a physical description of the landscape and its influence on Norwegian identity, and also the
Norwegian culture:
The mark the land has left on Norwegian culture is deeper than regional differences in
speech and dress, though less easy to demonstrate. The length and gloom of the
winters, it is said, inflicts the Norwegians with a ‘dark sickness’, which has left its traces
in a folk literature filled with trolls, goblins, and other mystic beasts. Patience, tenacity,
courage, and strong kinship ties are also said to be the bequest of a landscape that split
people into small communities and only grudgingly yielded them a living. But a ‘rugged
individualism’, a sense of living every day on the frontier, was not the whole
story: nature was a challenge, to be sure, but nothing one could expect to triumph over.
Philosopher Gunnar Skirbekk writes: “One must learn that nature is not always
something that can be conquered. We ourselves are small and vulnerable, and we must
understand that we do not stand outside of nature as all-powerful engineers, but
that we belong to nature, as a part of the whole.” (Reed & Rothenberg, 1993, p.
Years later, when I taught a college course, ‘Explorations of Norway and Scotland,
Nature and Culture’, with David Gilligan, I was excited to find a colleague with a strong
background and interest in geography, history, and culture. The comparison of Scotland and
Norway made it very apparent that landscape influences culture, and culture as a result of its
unique history, influences the cultural landscape that has evolved over thousands of years. The
stark differences between Scotland and Norway are not the result of having different climates or
geography, rather they reflect differences in history. In the Scottish Highlands, the forests have
been cut and eliminated for so long that the soil has changed, and with sheep still a major factor,
the challenge today is to find trees that will grow at all. In Norway the debate focuses on
whether the forests should be cut to increase the biological diversity created by human
cultivation in parts of the country people have now abandoned. It also became obvious that
‘cultural landscape’ is not a term that is often used in America, because our cultural evolution
with the landscape as European Americans has throughout much of the country only existed for
about two hundred years, and as a culture we have been too arrogant or naive to recognize that
the native indigenous cultures had in fact created a vast cultural landscape before our arrival.
The authors of ‘Wisdom in the Open Air’ go on to describe the influence of landscape on
Norwegian literature, and to quote Harald Beyer who speaks to the influence of the mountains,
the sea, and the forests:
A literature that has grown up among mountain may lack luxuriance and gaiety, but it
has the advantages of seriousness and greater perspective... such a (vision) may bubble
away in the aimless backwash of the eddying fjord, but more often it finds its way to the
open sea... Whether by contrast or association, these two features have the deepest
possible significance for Norwegian writing. But to these we must add a third feature,
the forest. The forest generally calls upon the mystical. In the woods the poet can dream
of hidden and secret forces. (Reed, Rothenberg, 1993, p. 8, 9)
This description caused me to recall my own childhood experiences wandering in northern
deciduous and boreal forests, and the stories my mother had told me about the tomte and the
trolls. I have often wondered how and why people from around the world who come from forest
ecosystems share similar feelings of the presence of spirits and other mysterious beings.
2. How does culture as a result of its mythology, folklore, and traditions influence the
Sven Arntzen (2008) offers this perspective in his book, ‘Humans In the Land’:
In this process of academic study and concern, coupled with interests concerning
preservation of the natural and cultural past, the term ‘cultural landscape’ has come to
have a more restricted meaning, confined to the distinctive characteristics that are due to
human activity and that are considered particularly valuable from a certain point of view,
such as that of ecology, archaeology or history. (p. 9)
He goes one to say,
A related question concerns the significance of cultural landscapes and of landscape in
general to human life and existence, history and identity. In this connection, a question
arises concerning the feasibility of local normative discourse, a discourse of preservation
and use that is anchored in a particular landscape and tied to local and traditional
knowledge of the environment. (p. 11)
The American author, Barry Lopez (1987), offers a similar perspective in his book, ‘Arctic
Dreams’, through his experience working and living with Indigenous cultures in Alaska and
It is precisely what is invisible in the land that makes what is merely empty space to one
person a place to another. The feeling that a particular place is suffused with
memories, the specific focus of sacred and profane stories, and that the whole
landscape is a congeries of such places, is what is meant by a local sense of the
land. (p. 250)
IV. What is Sacred in Nature to a Culture?
Sacred can be defined as something that is worthy of respect or reverence. In the
American culture, and I fear Western culture as a whole, there is not a remaining sense of nature
as sacred. This is a combined result of Western philosophy, which is inherently anthropocentric,
and the influence of Western philosophy on religion (Judeo/Christian), modern science rooted in
a Cartesian mechanistic view of the world, and economics (capitalism), resulting in the
‘commodification of nature’. Max Oelshchlaeger (1991) summarizes the objectification of
Nature, in his book, ‘The Idea of Wilderness’:
The separation of humankind from nature’s embrace began long ago with the Neolithic
turn and the advent of civilization in Sumeria and Egypt. The Pre-Socrates intensified
the separation by making nature an object of intellectual study... Judeo-Christianity both
desacralized nature - since only God was divine - and raised humans above it, thinking
the world God’s gift to his most favored creation: man. The scientific and industrial
revolutions were the ultimate realization of the alchemist’s dream: through science the
biological and physical world was conceptualized as a machine that could be understood
simply as so many atoms-in-motion. Capitalism and democracy coalesced with machine
technology to effect the conversion of nature into a standing reserve possessing market
value only. Modernism thus completes the intellectual divorce of humankind from nature.
(p. 95)
C. A. Bowers (1997) offers this observation in his book, ‘The Culture of Denial’, as an
outcome of Modernism:
The continuing effort to provide a scientific explanation for more and more aspects of life
represents a form of reductionism in ways of understanding and experiencing. The loss
of a sense of the sacred is often the first expression of the moral attrition that results
when Western science gains a dominant standing within a culture. (p. 45)
The tradition of planting a Sacred Tree in Scandinavia represents an existing tradition that
retains from our pagan roots a sense of the sacred in connection with nature. The following
poem by Ivar A. Gånstam captures the emotional connection embodied in the tree that grew on
his farm:
The Old Guardian Tree
When the struggle of life is heavy and severe, I remember my home, the peace and tranquility of
the farm yard. My memories of the beauty and care of the old trees surround my old body and
take me back to my childhood. I dash there and somersault beneath the shade, deep and cool; I
rest in the peace of home and listen to the trees speak.
Everything is so quiet. The wind blows through the old tree stirring the branches. It sighs
gently; half in a dream, I hear its whispering. And its speech is as a story of how generations
struggled, fought and suffered, and grew up under its protection, and now lie there in the graves
V. Relationships to the Field of Environmental Education
When I was a boy, my brother Daniel and I would raise trees. We would transplant them
from the flower garden, the window well, or the neighbor's yard and plant the small maples,
oaks, walnuts and elms in a small tree garden along the north side of our yard. As the years
passed, we came to know each tree, how they grew, the kinds of buds they had, and which type
of tree the rabbits would eat during the winter. We could tell how deep the snow had been by the
height of the eaten stem. In the spring, two buds would appear from the maple, and we would
argue whether or not to cut one of them in order to encourage the tree to grow straight and tall.
When the trees were too big for our garden, we planted them in our yard.
The trees have grown quite large. The bur oak shades my father's vegetable garden, the
walnut feeds the squirrels, and the maple took its place along the street next to its parents. My
brother died when I was seventeen. A vandal cut down the maple tree the following year. The
tree that had survived the rabbits and that had given me so much joy as a child, lay wilting in the
hot June sun. It was a cruel and thoughtless act, and I vowed to help people understand and care
for trees.
As my knowledge and concern for the environment expanded from trees to ecosystems, I
continued to ask myself why some people had incredible compassion for nature, while others had
seemingly little or none. It also became apparent to me that while knowledge about the
environment is important, without compassion, and a sense of mystery and wonder, there can be
little hope for solving the incredible environmental problems we as a species have created.
Thomas Merton, the famous theologian, defined compassion as the keen awareness of the
interdependence of all living things that are all part of one another and involved in one another.
Throughout history, and in all of the world's diverse cultures and religions, there have been
individuals who have felt this deep compassion for life and its relationship to humans and the
Earth. The scientific study of these relationships in our culture is the science of ecology. But
without compassion, the study of ecology can remain objective and distant. For me,
environmental education is the compassionate teaching of ecology. It is the recognition of our
spiritual and ethical relationship to the earth in addition to our scientific understanding. It is also
a responsibility that has been handed down to us from some of our wisest ancestors.
Environmental educators must continually strive to see, feel, and teach about
interrelationships. They must have a solid understanding of ecological concepts as they relate to
the natural and human world, a broad understanding of history, and the ecological effects that our
species has had on the earth. Environmental educators should be familiar with the literature and
philosophies concerning human’s relationship to the natural world. They should also have some
political and economic understanding in order to teach about relationships between our
technological society and the global environment. It is not enough to teach awareness,
appreciation, and knowledge about the environment. Environmental educators must also be able
to teach and exemplify responsible and informed involvement.
Unfortunately, very few environmental education programs that train teachers offer an
interdisciplinary foundation in ecology, philosophy, history, and geography. As a result,
environmental education has remained soft and superficial, rather than the profoundly important
‘place-based’ interdisciplinary link between subjects taught in a school curriculum and the places
where we live. Aldo Leopold was able to express these thoughts with enduring insight:
One of the requisites for an ecological comprehension of land is an understanding of
ecology, and this is by no means coextensive with education, in fact, much higher
education seems deliberately to avoid ecological concepts. An understanding of ecology
does not necessarily originate in courses bearing ecological labels; it is quite as likely to
be labeled geography, botany, agronomy, history, or economics. This is as is should be,
but whatever the label, ecological training is scarce. (Leopold, 1978, p. 197)
Most importantly, environmental educators must remember that before individuals are
confronted with the grim realities of a world engulfed in environmental problems, they must be
given opportunities to experience the joy and beauty of the natural world. Responsible
stewardship will only occur when people cherish and have compassion for the complex and
diverse life that inhabits the Earth. Responsible stewardship can begin with the appreciation and
love for a tree.
The emphasis on scientific knowledge in formal education throughout the world has
contributed significantly to advances in our understanding of the world and the technology we
use to improve our lives. However, the penalty of losing traditional wisdom and cultural
diversity should concern all of us:
The increasing dominance of scientific knowledge in shaping the direction of the
modernizing process should be a matter of critical concern. The daunting challenge
facing the environmental movement is to pressure for the reform of science education in
ways that help future scientists recognize that addressing the problem of moral ignorance
of relationships, particularly human/nature relationships, may be more important and
complex than understanding the chemistry that will enable them to engineer new forms of
life. But the starting point is in recognizing the way in which the reductionist orientation
of science undermines the cultural beliefs that are the basis of moral behavior.
(Bowers, 1997, p. 47)
When I was a guest professor at Telemark University College in Norway in 1996 - 97, I
was impressed by the advanced technology being utilized by professors. Lectures were given
almost exclusively by Power Point, and I learned that Norway had one of the most advanced
computer mapping programs in the world. With the click of a computer key, a map of Norway
was transformed into a grid of colors that represented different forest types. By zooming in, one
could determine the forest composition of a district. I was very impressed!:
How the computer revolution will change the cultures of the world, particularly
regarding their ability to reduce their adverse impact on local ecosystems, is not
understood. Instead, university-educated interpreters and prophets of the Information
Age are nearly unanimous in representing computer technologies as a quantum leap in
human progress. (Bowers, 1997, p. 53)
As an example, I would offer a lecture that I attended in Rauland, Norway, at the
Telemark School of Folk Studies. As the wood carver spoke, he carved the burl of a flame birch
into a beautiful bowl. He spoke of the wood carver’s way of knowing, ‘kjennskap’, that the bowl
existed in the burl, and that his understanding of wood was essential in the process of bringing
the bowl out of the wood, and then for emphasis he threw the bowl against a wall saying, …and
I know it will be strong! I immediately recognized a contradiction in the knowing. The
computer model was the result of a technician inputting data into a computer that would digest
the data and transform it into a map, and he could do this without ever walking through the
forest. The wood carver, not unlike the builder of the Viking ship, would walk the forests and
search for trees that had special characteristics; a perfectly bent branch, or the very strong bend
between the trunk and a major root that the shipbuilder knew would make the strongest possible
joint connecting the ribs to the keel. I fear we are losing the more intimate ways of knowing that
require time, experience, and generational wisdom – ‘kjennskap’, that different way of knowing
compared to factual knowledge - ‘kunnskap’.
VI. How Does Language Influence Reality?
The English language frequently uses words and phrases that convey a sense of
separation from nature as expressed in the phrases, ‘individual and culture’ and ‘man and nature’,
‘outdoor education’, ‘resource management’, ‘vacant property’. According to C. A. Bowers,
…the linguistic conventions of our anthropocentric culture prevailed in too many
instances with the result that words that should have conveyed what I wanted to
foreground in the discussion of ecosystems were kept separate through the use of a
conjunction that suggests the linkage of distinct entities. (p. ix)
I would suggest that when we refer to trees as timber and nature as a “resource”, we are
confirming a cultural reality that objectifies nature and labels nature with words that convey an
anthropocentric value orientation reinforcing utilization without moral, ethical, or ecological
regard. In contrast, I have come across words in Swedish that convey a sense of respect and
connection with nature. The following words in Swedish and their English translation or
equivalent are given as examples:
Naturminne - nature’s memory
Naturvårdsarbete - nature care work, conservation
Skyddsväsen - guardian spirits
Folkminnesupptecknare - folk memory recorders
Guda-anknytning - connection to God
Friluftsliv - free air life
VII. ‘Friluftsliv’
Norwegian perspective
Our connection with the landscape begins with our home and for many includes their
yard, neighborhood, community, and bioregion. Many Norwegians and Swedes also connect
with a family farm or summer cabin, ‘hytta’, or ‘stuga’. What does it take to develop a deep
connection or ‘Kjennskap med Landskap’? Scandinavians are incredibly fortunate to be
essentially indigenous to their homeland. In America, few people grow up and live in the same
town, and fewer still live close to their grandparents. I was fortunate to grow up close to both
my Swedish and German grandparents. I heard both languages spoken, and was also familiar
with many of the traditions. I heard their stories of Sweden and of growing up on the farm in
Illinois. I knew which farms were owned by relatives, and we always spoke about the weather
and the condition of the corn.
Sunday was usually the day that we would travel to visit my grandparents, and my
brother and I would challenge each other to a game of identifying trees going 55 miles an hour.
By the age of 10, I was able to identify most types of oak, maple, elm, and many other deciduous
trees even in winter when the trees were barren of leaves. I employed this ability when living in
Telemark, and soon was able to identify most of the trees while driving, riding, and walking
through the landscape. Names of trees and plants were actually the first words I learned in
Norwegian, as they were what interested me the most! So it was the cultural landscape of my
childhood, and the cultural landscape of Telemark that I connected with.
When I recently visited Telemark, I contacted a Professor of Environmental Studies, Dr.
Odd Vevle, who taught courses in cultural landscape ecology. I asked him if we could search for
tuntre’ in the district. The day we spent driving the country roads of Telemark searching for
‘tuntre’, will remain one of my happiest days in Norway. I felt like I did as a child with my
brother, calling out: That must be one (tuntre) over there about two miles. How are we going to
get there? I think it’s ash. That one over there is definitely a maple, you can tell because its
shape is so perfect. We found onetuntre’ that was a mountain ash, (in Norwegian, rognbær tre;
in Swedish, rönn), standing in front of a ‘stabbur’. Half the tree had been recently downed by
the wind. I noticed that the ‘stabbur’ was falling apart, and I thought to myself, the farmer has
neglected the ‘stabbur’, and the ‘tuntre’ is now seriously damaged. I asked the farmer if he was
going to cut down his ‘tuntre’. He said: No, that would be bad. I could not help but think that he
should also get busy and repair the ‘stabbur’.
Part of the cultural landscape where I grew up in the Midwest contained patches of
deciduous forests. There were some ‘Forest Preserves’ as well. One preserve had the largest elm
I have ever seen, that unfortunately died when I was a teenager because of the Dutch Elm
disease. It was called the Shabona Elm, in honor of Chief Shabona, who held council with his
tribe beneath its towering crown, before the European settlers forced the Illinois Indians from
their homeland. The elm was considered sacred to the Indians, and I felt its power and dignity as
a child. It grew in an opening in a dense deciduous forest very similar to ones I have seen in
southern Sweden.
I was fortunate to grow up close to nature; I knew the plants and animals that lived in
forest and countryside. I heard stories about the history of where I grew up from my
grandparents. I believed that there were ‘tomtar’ in the forest, especially up north, where the
birch and maple grew. When I first came to Scandinavia, I made a point to explore the landscape.
It was the friends I met who enjoyed exploring the landscape and being in nature that are now
some of my closest friends anywhere. It is these friends who brought me to understand the
concept of ‘friluftsliv’, and how ‘kjennskap gir vennskap’ (deep, intimate knowledge leads to
friendship). It all connects, and those who can make the connections with nature, with the
landscape, with the earth, are needed as teachers or even better, ‘veileder’, or leaders of the way,
to help us see the connections that most of us cannot see.
As Nils Vikander suggests, in ‘Nature First’, the friluftsliv ethos may be viewed as an
expression of E. O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis (that of the innate affinity of the human species
with all living organisms):
The continued cultivation of the mythological dimension of nature in the Nordic area
with trolls, gnomes and elves, which has intrigued many observers and which still infuses
friluftsliv for many, may be understood as mirroring this. The roots of friluftsliv, with its
plethora of implications, can then be traced back through human evolution, and suggest
that the friluftsliv ethos is anchored in a world view imbued with deeply “heathen”
elements. (Vikander, 2007, p. 12)
Conclusion: From ‘Tomte’ Wisdom to ‘Friluftsliv’
My research on the tradition of Sacred Trees actually began when I was a small child and
gazed to the heights of an ancient white pine. This was one of my very first memories; I was
three years old. The following year, when my family returned to our vacation cottage in northern
Wisconsin, I pleaded to go see the tree. My brother told me we could not go. I remember
crying, because I could not understand, and then my father told me the tree had been cut down
because the landowner wanted to turn the tree into matchsticks. Ironically, when he cut the tree
down, the insides were rotten, and the ancient tree was left lying in the marsh. My journey to
understand why some people can only see the monetary value of a tree while others see the tree
as a ‘guda-anknytning’, as tying us to god, has been a profound journey of finding, seeing, and
making connections.
Several years ago, I visited an ancient sequoia in Yosemite National Park. It was a snowy
day in February, and few people were in the park. As I approached the tree, I thought to myself,
well, I have seen redwoods, and this sequoia will certainly not be bigger than those.... and then as
I gazed up, I could see snow spiraling and swirling down from clouds that shrouded the top of
the tree. I stood agape, and I felt my entire body tingle, while the words came to my mind: the
cells of my body are in absolute awe with the cells of the being that stands before me, for within
this tree, that has stood for more than three thousand years, is a Will that began as a tiny seed,
and has lived through the millennia transforming light from the sun into oxygen as its byproduct
of photosynthesis and in the process, sustains life on the earth. I have studied ecology, chemistry
and botany; I have taught environmental education, to children and college students. But it was
not until I traveled to Scandinavia and learned Swedish, that I came across the word ‘guda-
anknytning’ in relation to the Sacred Oak and that I then realized that myth and science are really
not that different, for both attempt to explain why we exist, where we come from, where we are
going, and how to make sense of the mystery and wonder that is all around us. When I finished
teaching at Olavskolen Folkehøgskole in Norway in 1991, the Friluftsliv teacher shared with me
the expression, ‘Kjennskap gir Vennskap’. For years I struggled with the meaning because
‘Kjennskap’, I was told, was the word for knowledge, and ‘Vennskap’ means friendship. It was
not until I met Aage Jensen and discussed the word and its meaning that I understood:
The term kjennskap refers to the kind of wisdom you gain through tumbling and
fumbling....The result of tumbling and fumbling is that you acquire more and more
kjennskap and are developing the ability called “serendipity”. Kjennskap is a
way to recognize, come close to, get used to, look and listen, touch and taste - using all
your senses. Kjennskap is a way to understand life, and that wisdom can only be
obtained by “being in reality”. ...kjennskap teaches us to take care not only for
ourselves, but also even more importantly, for nature. (Jensen, 2007, pp. 102 - 103)
What have I learned on my journey from the stories of tomten I heard as a child to my
connection to ‘Friluftsliv’? I have learned this, at least: Mystery and wonder in nature exist all
around us. Some see the connections through mythology, stories, folklore, traditions, and others
through science. I have been fortunate to gain ‘kjennskap’ through all of these connections, but
most of all by simply being quiet in nature; ‘stillebesøk’, ‘kjennskap med landskap’, ‘friluftsliv’;
realizing that I am connected to something much older, greater, and more wonderful. Is not this
the message of the ‘tomte’ and ‘nisse’? The ‘tuntre’ and ‘vårdträd’ are part of my Scandinavian
ancestral heritage; a cultural tradition that connects us to Yggdrasil, the Guardian Tree of Life
and Wisdom. Odin had to sacrifice some of what he could see so that he could gain Wisdom
through the female way of intuition and that like the Norns, we must care for the Tree of Life.
Our ancestors are watching, and if we do not take care of our home, our farm, and nature; the
place where we live, bad things are going to happen. ‘Kjennskap gir Vennskap med Landskap’.
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The genus Cupressus L. (Cupressaceae) is unevenly distributed across the world, occurring mostly in the northern hemisphere. Species of Cupressus have been considered very important from traditional to modern times due to their many useful characteristics. Common cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.) is a sacred and highly praised tree with a rich and long history in some cultures around the Mediterranean basin, West Asia, Asia Minor, North Africa, and North America. Common cypress, also called Mediterranean or Italian cypress, is an integral part of the landscape, economy, history, symbolism, tradition, religion, culture, romance, and folklore of most countries in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. The natural geographic distribution of C. sempervirens is characterized by uneven and often relic populations growing in Iran, as well as in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Libya, the Aegean Islands, Crete, Turkey, Cyprus, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It is also cultivated in most Mediterranean countries. Many monumental and old accessions of cypress and, particularly Sarv‐e‐Abarkuh (Abarkuh Cypress), are presently found in central, southeastern, and southwestern parts of Iran. Historically, cypress has been the first choice for Persian (Iranian) gardens. The word “Sarvestan” (meaning a place covered with many cypresses) is used as a name for some cities and localities in Iran, especially in Fars, Yazd, and Kerman provinces, highlighting the importance and symbolic position of cypress in Persia since time immemorial. Anthropogenic and environmental pressure such as fire, drought, overexploitation, pastoral activities, overgrazing, cypress canker, etc. are the main threats for individual cypress trees and small populations worldwide. Genetic improvement programs for cypress are targeted at resistance against abiotic and biotic stresses and, in particular, cypress canker caused by Seiridium. Large‐scale breeding programs in recent decades, mainly for selecting resistant cultivars against canker, have been successful in the release of some canker‐tolerant clones. Cryopreservation and somatic embryogenesis are two reliable methods that can be used to facilitate breeding programs and to assist biotechnological studies on this species. Approaches such as the establishment of germplasm banks, cooperative germplasm conservation and transfer programs, cryopreservation, optimization of efficient propagation methods (especially the use of tissue culture), the extensive use of cypress in private and public gardens, parks, and landscapes, and the development of ecotourism have recently been introduced for the efficient protection of the genus Cupressus worldwide.
First published in 1949 and praised in The New York Times Book Review as "a trenchant book, full of vigor and bite," A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America's relationship to the land. Written with an unparalleled understanding of the ways of nature, the book includes a section on the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside; another part that gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; and a final section in which Leopold addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. As the forerunner of such important books as Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire , and Robert Finch's The Primal Place , this classic work remains as relevant today as it was forty years ago.
Introduction: Environmental philosophy and cultural landscape
  • S Arntzen
Arntzen, S. (2008). Introduction: Environmental philosophy and cultural landscape. In Arntzen, S. & Brady, E. (Eds.). Humans in the land (pp. 9, 11). Oslo: Unipub.
The culture of denial
  • C A Bowers
Bowers, C. A. (1997). The culture of denial. Albany: State University of New York Press.
The Penguin book of Norse myths: Gods of the Vikings
  • K Crossley -Holland
Crossley -Holland, K. (1980). The Penguin book of Norse myths: Gods of the Vikings. London: Penguin Books.
Scandinavian mythology
  • H R E Davidson
Davidson, H. R. E. (1969). Scandinavian mythology. London: Paul Hamlyn.
Svenska vårdträd (Swedish guardian trees). Vårgårda: Vårgårda Å. Carlsson
  • G Ewald
Ewald, G. (1983). Svenska vårdträd (Swedish guardian trees). Vårgårda: Vårgårda Å. Carlsson.
Träden och människan: Om människans upplevelse av träden (The trees and humanity: Humanity"s experience of trees)
  • A Gunnarsson
Gunnarsson, A. (1988). Träden och människan: Om människans upplevelse av träden (The trees and humanity: Humanity"s experience of trees). Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren.
The value and necessity of tumbling and fumbling
  • A Jensen
Jensen, A. (2007). The value and necessity of tumbling and fumbling. In Henderson, B. & Vikander, N. (Eds.). Nature first: Outdoor life the friluftsliv way. Toronto: Natural Heritage Books.
The idea of wilderness
  • M Oelshchlaeger
Oelshchlaeger, M. (1991). The idea of wilderness. New Haven: Yale University Press.