Monday, March 24, 2014

Red and Green

The Red Country is going… green?

Red Square. White Snow. Of all the colors commonly associated with Russia, I would not imagine that green is often one of them. However, it seems only appropriate that we usher in our recent season change by discussing something Spring-y, and no one can deny that Russia has something interesting going on with its trees.
Russia’s national tree (yes, countries lay claim to particular trees) is the birch.  In ancient times, Slavs would worship this prodigious plant as a goddess, thinking that it had the power to repel evil spirits and grant wishes. As time progressed birches became a common theme in traditional Russian culture, featured in everything from novels to folklore. Birch sandals were all the rage before society discovered the mystical flip-flop-foam plant, and (no surprise here) many Russians even attempted to drink the birch juices in search of its supposedly famed healing properties.
In a thought-provoking number scheme, approximately 1/4 of Russia is covered by trees – trees which collectively make up about 22% of all the trees in the world. A quarter of Russia, a quarter of the world… Scary. This number is almost twice as much as the second most forested country, Brazil.
But 22% of the world’s trees can’t all be birches – and indeed Russia is home to a number of other little arbors. In fact, Sochi’s palm trees were a common topic of conversation during this year’s Winter Olympics, because it seems absolutely absurd that such a tropical plant could survive in the frigid Russian environment. Again, people… *insert heavy accent here* In Soviet Russia, palm trees like snow.
Whether it be a birch, a palm, or some other plant, the things that I'm reading seem to suggest that Russians place much more emphasis on respecting, and benefiting from, nature than a number of other cultures. One article said something that I love: “If you see a Russian tenderly hugging a birch, do not be worried; there is no need to call an ambulance. Sometimes a tree can be much more healing than the best doctors.” A good thing to keep in mind, now that Florida is finally warming up.

Chillin' with the palms in Sochi

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