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Directions in the Wilderness Secret Language of Trees

About how to use trees to help you navigate in the wilderness by observing the amount of growth they have.

Trees Speak a Secret Language

If you are hiking in the wilderness and become lost you can find the right direction by using the trees for guides. The Indians of North America used this technique when the sun or stars were not visible. Examine several trees--their foliage, the way the tops are leaning, their bark, and the moss growing on them--and they will indicate to you which direction to go.

You need to observe 3 or 4 trees for directional purposes. It is essential that you choose trees growing in an exposed place. Check each tree for the side that has the most leaves and branches growing on it. One side of each tree should appear to have distinctly more foliage. In the northern hemisphere this will be the south side of the tree. Now look closely at the top of the tree. The tops of trees almost always lean to the south or southeast. The bark is duller and darker on the north side. If you see a tree stump, it also can help you find your way. Check the ring pattern. The tree rings will be thicker on the side to the north and thinner on the southern side. In areas with heavy precipitation, trees will have moss and lichen growing on them, and this is another indication of direction. The moss or lichen generally grows on the north side of trees in North America. It will appear as a short velvety covering ranging from green or brown to a dull gray.

You may wonder why the trees grow in this manner. Sunlight produces foliage. The southern side of a tree usually gets more direct sunlight and therefore it produces larger branches with more leaves. Because the branches on the southern side are reaching for more sunlight, the tendency is for them to grow horizontally, away from the trunk. The northern side of a tree will usually have a more upward growth of branches. Moss grows on the northern side because moisture is retained longer here.

There is one other thing to remember about cold areas of North America. Deciduous trees grow on the warmer, south-facing slopes. This is because in the northern hemisphere, the southern slopes of the hills receive the most direct rays from the sun.

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