WOOD, do you believe it? Apparently, in order to best embrace the tree, you have to have a special connection with your spruce.
“Choose one that speaks to you,” urges Hugh Asher, organizer of the annual Scottish Tree Hugging Championships.
It turns out barking is a lot more annoying than just wearing a stupid hat or dying your hair.
Hugh, 50, who created the competition last year, explains: “When you stand in the trees, you will often say, ‘I like this one better than this one’.”
“Sometimes you’re drawn to the texture or a misshapen tree that looks a little self-pitying. Or it could be because it has a massive trunk.” Well, size isn’t everything, I know that all too well, but I decided to give it a try.
Hugh put me through my paces ahead of this weekend’s event at Glencoe Lochan Forest in Argyll.
He and his fellow judges look for the best entrant in three categories, including speed hugging – a competition to hug the most trees in one minute.
Then there’s the Dedication section, which aims to find the most passionate and committed hug for a maximum of 60 seconds.
And with freestyling, you can pamper your bush as you wish. So would I be one of the top seeds – or would I see that with my efforts I can pull off the win?
After picking a tree that called to me—mainly because it was under a thick canopy so I wouldn’t get soaked in a summer downpour—I was shown how to hug a koala.
This involved jumping about six inches up the torso and then crossing my arms and legs.
Hugh says, “Once you’re comfortable, just relax. At certain times of the year you can even hear the water running down the trunk when you put your trunk downin addition.”
I didn’t hear anything, but after a minute I was able to relax my muscles and just lie there peacefully. Hugh reveals: “Actually, the biggest hurdle people face is getting out of their comfort zone and hugging a tree for the first time.
“But I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s walked out, hugged a tree, and come back in a worse mood than when they started.”
But can the passion for a pine be faked? Hugh says, “Engagement is probably one of the hardest categories to judge. I’m sure you can fake it, but we’re looking for itlanguage and to see if the competitor has made that connection.”
Up was a “speed hugging” in which contestants compete to hug as many conifers as possible.
Hugh says, “Each hug has to be five seconds, but we usually have to encourage people to count a little slower because they love to run to the next tree.” It felt silly, but it was a lot of fun and I did couldn’t help but smile.
Most recently, there was Freestyle, where Hugh performed an “inverted koala” – which does exactly what it says on the tin. Basically he was clinging like the little Aussie bear with his head stuck in the ground.
I failed miserably and managed at best a Half Upside Down Koala – but I managed a great Barrow.
Hugh says, “A person decorated a tree with origami. It’s freestyle, you can do whatever you want.”
After completing my training, Hugh anointed my head with a ring of fernsI had passed. And just as he predicted, I ended up feeling a lot more alert than I did when I started, which appears to be all down to the hormone oxytocin — the so-called “cuddle chemical.”
Hugh says, “They say that when you hug an inanimate object like a tree, your body releases oxytocin.”
The contest comes at a time when eco-protesters from Just Stop Oil have stepped up their actions beyond the tree-hugging cliché.
Hugh sighs, “Nine times out of ten people use the term ‘tree hugger’ in a pejorative way. It conjures up images of easily obsessed people.”
Almost on cue, a passing stroller calls out “damn tree huggers” before our troll pops in for a friendly chat. And Hugh reveals that due to the activity’s bad reputation, he decided to start the competition, which originated in Lapland’s HaliPuu forest during the first lockdowns.
Former Lancashire prison worker says: ‘Ias a forest bathing guide and often people say, “That’s just hugging trees, isn’t it?”.
“I found out about a competition in Finland and I thought, ‘That seems like a fun thing,’ which almost upset me.
“But it actually started during Covid. It was about giving people something to hug when they couldn’t hug other people.” However, Hugh is careful to point out that the competition is a “lighthearted celebration of trees”. He emphasizes: “I’m really not against chainsaws and trees being cut down, because trees are a renewable energy source for most of humanity.”
“But you also find that if you take most of the trees from anywhere, the results are pretty disastrous, as the root systems reduce flooding and landslides.”
“Trees have been around longer than people. I think we need the trees more than the trees need us.
“The aim of the competition is to raise awareness of thisof trees and nature while having fun.”
Hugh was “overwhelmed by the positive response” to the concept he performed on2 with Claudia Winkleman after 50-year-old crofter Alasdair Firth, from Rhemore on the Morvern Peninsula, was crowned Champion 2022.
Hugh says skeptics are welcome at the event, adding, “If anyone doesn’t feel like trying it, they can just watch.”
“But there are many advantages to being between trees. It tends to relax and make people happy.
*The championships will take place on Saturday 29th July in the woods around Lochan na Dunaich, near Salen. For information or to participate, please visit silvotherapy.co.uk
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