From The Triumph of the Tree, by John Stewart Collis, 1950:
We were nursed into life by trees. It is to trees that we owe the development of a physiology which made Man possible – that is to say, made conceptual thought possible. Those fundamental facts should be sufficient to explain the intimate quality of man’s relationship with trees.
There is a still more practical side to the connection. Trees are necessary to our existence because they are the chief guardians of the soil, keeping it stable and watered. In the very ancient past, trees were thought to be spirits or the habitation of spirits, both good and evil, and finally were conceived as simple deities who were the guardians of fertility. This climate of thought lasted for some centuries in every country and led to a very widespread worship of trees and to an equally widespread fear of injuring them. We call it the Era of Mythology.
This way of thinking gradually broke up and we entered the Era of Economics when trees and everything else were valued in cash. At the height of this economic era the application of science showed how swiftly and completely men could make use of trees in particular and nature in general. We have just reached the end of that period, having found that such an attitude has brought us to the edge of disaster. We are about to enter what might be called the last act of the drama, when science now discovers precisely in what way trees really are the guardians of fertility after all.
This will be the Era of Ecology – the science of achieving an equilibrium with the environment. Thus having come full circle, we are back at the beginning again. But is it too late to make a fresh start? The world is not what it was at the beginning of the story. Half the wealth has gone. Even so, we could save the situation. But are we sufficiently alarmed to mend our ways? Do not too many people think, on the contrary, that we have done so extremely well that we can now actually look forward to entering an era when we will experience freedom from fear and freedom from want? But it is unlikely that we will experience much freedom from want until we have restored our capacity to fear the responses of nature.