Life-Changing Lessons From Tree Planting In Highlands Of Scotland

January 27, 2022

I’ve been through quite a few (literally) life-changing experiences lately, starting from COVID quarantines to resigning from my safe job, going on a pilgrimage, moving countries, break-ups with lovers and friends and starting new projects. One of my new projects was to fly out to Scotland to try out something entirely different from what I’ve ever done—tree planting! I spent 2 months planting trees on the beautiful Highlands of Scotland and it was a life changing experience in every way.

Tree planting is a really fun but really hard job. It is transformative in every way—it transforms our Earth, and it transforms your body and Spirit and way of thinking.

As someone who used to work in the past three years in front of a computer for hours, this was a very big change. I hated my mainstream life with my boring job where I felt like a robot. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something meaningful, something that makes me and my work feel important. Something that makes me proud!

Just then, the Universe answered my call in the shape of a friend. I (quite literally) bumped into a guy on my pilgrimage who happened to own a forestry company that plants trees. Do you think I needed more? No! I immediately applied for the job and as soon as I got the chance, booked my ticket to Edinburgh.

Despite always leading an active life, it was just not enough to get my body ready to climbing mountains with sometimes 600 trees sitting on my hips (we carry the tiny trees in special planting bags with huge sacks. The number of trees that would fit in can vary depending on the type of the tree you plant.) Yet, this strenuous work is amazing. You get to move your body, build strength, breathe in the freshest air, work in the most beautiful environment, do good for the planet and for me it also worked as therapy. So many unresolved and buried issues came up while I was digging the ground with my shovel, I had time to think through everything and sometimes the negativity and suppressed emotions I buried for years fueled the speed of my planting as well.

In the last weeks I also had time to reflect on my key takeaways from planting.

1. Always consider different perspectives

As not one human is the same, so are trees—each kind has different needs and the way you plant them is distinct, but also the type of soil and the land where you plant it can change the way you plant your trees. Sometimes, from your perspective, you think you know what you’re doing and are convinced you’re doing good work—but from the plant’s perspective, things might not be that great. Due to a process of trial and error, I eventually learned the importance of considering the plant’s perspective first…and this is something that has proven useful in other areas of my life and human interactions, too.

2. Adaptability is essential

Whether you bring a plant home from the nursery or grow one from seed and then need to transplant it, that plant needs to learn to adapt fairly quickly in order to survive. It’s something that I, as a planter learned fast, too. Many things are unpredictable—the weather, working hours, the people you work with, accommodations and so much more! The quicker you learn to adapt to any situation, the more peace you’ll experience. I could just not be bothered by the end about things like where will we stay while some others caused themselves a headache by thinking too much about things we can’t control.

This has taught me that being adaptable is essential to growth and that we should make the most of the environment that we are in.

3. A little bit of dirt is good for the body and soul

Before I spontaneously became a planter, I must admit that I wasn’t too keen on getting my hands dirty. Now, I just let my inner child roar free and love digging my hands into the soil and making a mess. The end result is always something beautiful. Getting my hands dirty has become a great way to relax and solve many of my problems. I also learned that it’s good for my health because the soil has bacteria in it that’s good for your immune system. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

4. Being alone is sometimes where the magic happens

Planting is done as a group, yet it’s also solitary as each one of us is working on their own trees. I have found that I can do a lot of thinking and processing of emotions while I silently work in my own rows, far from everyone. This is where many of my personal breakthroughs and growth have come from. Though I met people who like it better when they have someone near them so they can talk about their problems and just let it all go.

5. Relying on others is important and necessary…

Besides planting trees, we also worked on a site where we only did maintenance of trees that were planted years ago. Without our care, the plants would not receive enough sunlight as other plants and weed would grow over them and they would wither and die. For a long time, I didn’t give much thought to this. I am an independent person, and often I struggled to rely on other people. Many times during our work we had to rely on each other as well (eg. to get to work and home, help each other to cross rivers to get to the sites or just to get our groceries). Because of this lesson, I have become more focused on allowing myself to rely on others and also care more for others needs.

6. …but depending on others is a whole different thing

There’s something I really did not like during this time and it was the fact that I had to depend on others way too much. In Scotland (especially as rural as we were) you need to have a car—I don’t even have a driving license, so mostly I had to depend on others to drive me around, to take me to work or to the city where I could buy my food. We even depended on someone else to book our accommodation which made everything such a mess. This has cut so much from my freedom that I literally suffered from it. There were days when we couldn’t even get to work because there was no one to drive us—this is simply a level of dependence I can’t afford. I love my independence and despite I learned the importance of relying on others, I don’t want to depend on anyone this much.

7. Self-sufficiency is key

I was thinking if I should write “money ruins everything” but it wouldn’t be entirely true. This point somewhat connects to the previous one.
I started planting with basically no money and hoped for making a lot, as we got paid after each planted tree. But we didn’t get paid until the site is completely done. This left me in a position with no money at the end of the day and was working harder than I planned, missing many opportunities to enjoy the landscape around me or take breaks with the others and make our connections more meaningful. (Fact is it’s a little hard if everyone is on their phone even if they have no network.)

It’s not only the chase for money that ruins everything but can be the incompetency of others—whether it’s important as leading a group or just doing simple work as booking a caravan. Greediness, dishonestly and lack of communication caused problems too. One either has to find the right community to live with (which can be a hard quest) or learn to rely on themselves only.

The biggest lesson for me was this: I don’t want my life to revolve around money and covering living expenses so much that I forget to look up and see the rainbow above my head. Working for others and working for money is a dependence that I don’t want to take over my life. Especially in such a world we live in now, I think this will get more and more importance with time.

My goal from now is to make my own living, grow my own food, if I have to even build my own house with my own two hands so I can be as free as possible. Just like my trees. They also needed a little help from us to be planted in the right environment, but once they adapt, grow stronger in their roots and start to grow they will be fine on their own.


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Photo: Imola Toth

Imola is a Hatha and Ashtanga yoga teacher, tree planter and writer and editor of Raised by the Wolf, an online magazine for Wild Women, with a passion for exploring and life outdoors. Originally from Hungary but currently planting trees and rewilding the enchanting forests of France. Hop over to RBTW magazine, and blog and follow her on Instagram @yogiraisedbythewolf


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