Why We Hug Trees: Exploring the Instinctive Bond between Humans and Nature

Three Wednesdays, September 25, October 9, and October 16, 2013, 6:30-8:00 P.M. | Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Drive, 77024.

Why do humans study nature?  Because we are part of the natural world.  Nature sustains us.  Nature moves us.  We use facets of nature to describe delicacy, beauty, and destruction.  We crane our necks up to the great sequoias of northern California or into the filigree of a huisache tree.

We associate the smell of a fruit or a bloom with a particular season.  We are hypnotized by the movements of bees, ants and butterflies.  We marvel at the migrations of robins, herons, hawks and warblers through our region.  Weather references pepper our descriptions of people and events: “she’s a force of nature,” “it was a stormy session,” “it was a landslide election.”

Our three speakers will examine the relationship of humans and nature.  What is the actual relationship? How does it work? Why does it matter? 

September 25 – David George Haskell’s recent publication, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (Penguin Press, 2012) uses language to describe a square meter of earth in Tennessee.  We observe with him and come to understand the language of nature, to understand the stories that close observation can reveal.  The book propels the reader through time and season.  He links his study to the creation and contemplation of sand mandalas by Tibetan monks.  He writes “The mandala is a re-creation of the path of life, the cosmos and the enlightenment of the Buddha.”

For Haskell, his book is a “biologist’s response to the challenge of the Tibetan mandala, of Blake’s poems, of Lady Julian’s hazelnut.”

David George Haskell is a professor of biology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.  He earned his B. A. at University of Oxford and his Ph. D. at Cornell University.  The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature will be available at the Arboretum bookstore and Dr. Haskell has agreed to sign copies.

October 9Jaime González will present “The Wilderness Within: An Introduction to Biophilia Theory and its Impact in the Houston Community.” 

In Houston, despite the fact that we are surrounded by forests, prairies, coastline and parks, we spend countless hours in our cars or in front of a screen. There is an antidote to these often necessary and mind numbing pastimes.  Jaime González is a leader in Get Outdoors Houston!, the local component of a statewide effort.  He will tell us about “biophilia,” a term introduced by E. O. Wilson in 1979 to describe the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life, positing that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology.  He shares the view that our children (and we), divorced from the natural world, are in crisis.  He is actively working on several initiatives to reconnect us to the environment around us.

Jaime González earned a Master of Education in curriculum & instruction - science education (2007) and a B.S. in biology (1996) both from the University of Houston. He is currently President of the Coastal Prairie Partnership, a member of the Texas Children in Nature Coalition Steering Committee and Conservation Education Director and Volunteer Manager for the Katy Prairie Conservancy.

October 16Joe Novak coined the term “sociohorticulture” to describe the role of gardens in improving quality of life.  He examines the ways gardens affect children and heal adults and the connections between nature, contemplation and the creative process.  He applied these findings in the classroom and outdoors in a holistic garden while a senior lecturer in Horticultural Science at Texas A&M.  Novak has retired from A&M and now plans to develop the Houston Horticulture Center to study the role of gardens in rejuvenation of neighborhoods and in improving quality of life.  He will tell us about the science behind the healing qualities that gardens and nature provide.

Joe Novak received his B.S. summa cum laude with special honors in botany from Ohio University in 1965. He received his Ph.D. in vegetable crops with minors in plant pathology and international agriculture from Cornell University in 1971.



Registration for fall 2018 is ongoing. You may register online, by mail, or by phone with a credit card. 


If you are interested in traveling to Virginia in the spring of 2019, please call the registrar at 713.666.9000 to place your name on a list. Please see Terms and Conditions for "travel list" policy. 


Please note a date in the Mid-term Elections course has changed from that published in the brochure. The course will meet the first two Mondays, October 29 and November 5 as planned, but will meet Tuesday, November 13 instead of Monday, November 12. 


Also note Art Underground: Carlos Cruz-Diez at the Cistern on Wednesday, November 14 is FULLY SUBSCRIBED. A second session has been added and will meet Monday, November 12 from 2:00-3:30 P.M. Registrations are being accepted for November 12. You may register online, or by phone.


Who Gets to Vote: Challenges for the 2020 Elections?
Speaker: Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voter Rights Project
Monday, November 19, 6:30-8:00 P.M.
Location to be announced


Register today!


For additional information about any of our courses, to register offline, or to add your name to our mailing and/or email lists, please contact our adminstrator at  or phone 713.666.9000.