TomBroussard
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TomBroussard, May 19,  2021  9:57am EST

Aphasia Recovery & Coppicing Trees: Regrowing the Learning Field

Dear AHA/ASA Friends and Colleagues,

We went to visit Celebration Tree Farm & Yoga, a tree farm in Maine, to cut down our tree for Christmas last year. It is a beautiful place with an old (but sturdy) barn and several walking trails taking you to the tree lots and forest behind the fields. We took our bow saw with us and went looking for the best Christmas tree ever!

I had been to tree farms before but I had never seen anything quite like this. As we entered the forest, many of the trees had one (or more) mature and ready-to-cut trees growing out of the same stump. It is called coppicing and is a method of tree management based on the regeneration of new trees when the original tree has been cut.

When a tree is cut down it creates a stump. Depending on the type of tree, young trees can sprout into larger trees from the original stump, resulting in many “generations” of Christmas trees from a single parent tree.

At the tree farm, the wooded areas are divided into sections and the trees are cut down in rotation (between 10 to 25 years) not unlike farm crops in rotation. Because of coppicing, trees can live a longer and more productive life producing timber, firewood, furniture, and many other uses.

But when I saw those trees growing out of stumps, all I could think of was aphasia and recovery. When trees are cut down (especially for Christmas trees), I assumed that whatever stumps there were would never grow a new tree on top of them. I thought that stumps were just stumps and couldn’t grow anything!

Not unlike regaining my language from a stroke, it took years for me to understand that the remaining brain cells (after a stroke that had destroyed millions of my cells) have the capacity to grow new branches (dendrites) and leaves (synapses) with those remaining cells. Once I saw the stumps growing new trees, it hit me that nature has more tools than we know of.

Experience-dependent (reading, writing, speaking) activities are the key to neuroplasticity’s growth. Persistent and repetitive language activities are the active ingredients that are needed to grow and repair the brain. Photosynthesis converts sunlight into sugar and green leaves (including coppicing trees!) that use that capacity to grow new growth. In the same way, neuroplasticity converts thought and cognitive activities into the neural branches and leaves, regrowing the learning field.

Please see the full article and associated video, https://youtu.be/WTWVIarqt_Q

Thanks again and have a great Aphasia Day!

Tom

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