Trees today are valued almost exclusively for their role in mitigating global warming. Hence, there is an urgency to plant trees and save forests. Pakistan is proud to be fourth in a list of 100 countries that have planted the most trees in a year.

But trees are so much more than just a tool for human survival. The poet W. H. Auden wrote, 'The trees encountered on a country stroll, reveal a lot about that country's soul.'

The Japanese closeness to nature is expressed in the art of tree shaping. Whether through full grown trees or miniature bonsai, it is an homage to the essence of the kodama [spirit] of each tree - each with its own personality. It can, conversely, reflect the restraint that has also come to define Japanese society.

Whichever view one takes, trees are seen as an art form. A walk through woodlands must be done slowly, without hurry, with time to observe and absorb its beauty. The 170 trees that re-grew after the Hiroshima bomb, called hibaku jumoku [survivor trees], represent resilience - the return of life to a devastated city.

Across continents, religions and civilisations, trees have been given a stature which extends beyond just being tools for human survival

The English manage, rather than shape, their trees in accordance with their natural growth. They are valued as emblems of the nation's history in the form of druid oaks, Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree, a 1,000-year-old oak with a hollowed trunk, once even used as a tea room, and the remains of Betty Kenny, an old yew tree, said to have inspired the nursery rhyme Rock a Bye Baby.

The French control their trees into box shapes or pollarding, arranging them in rows, as a testament to a civilisation superior to, what Comte de Buffon called, the 'savage nations'. Trees were cut, pruned and tended. This was to 'testify everywhere that man has taken full control of that kingdom which God has allocated him for food and shelter,' said the 19th century scientist Antonio Stoppani.

The Pakistani nation inherited a number of magnificent trees, such as the 5,000-year-old juniper forest of Ziarat, Balochistan, the largest banyan tree on the banks of the Chenab river that has over one thousand roots and covers an area of about three acres - just a couple of acres short of the largest Banyan tree in the world in India.

President Ayub Khan sprayed tree seeds all over Islamabad's Margalla Hills. Yet, trees are used mostly for fuel. Parveen Shakir laments, 'Kal raat jo eendhan ke liye...

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