Kaarle “Pappa” Raekallio was only 12 years old when he first chopped down a tree in the forest next to his home in Veitservasa, near the village of Sirkka in Finnish Lapland. The forest was a part of his upbringing ever since his parents were allowed to redeem the piece of land to compensate for the estate in Petsamo they had to leave after World War II.
Over 60 years later, the time for clear-felling was approaching. Except that Pappa didn’t feel up for it.
“It was Easter and we were sitting by the fire in the forest,” Pappa’s daughter, Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink, recalls. “Dad was feeling down about the thought of the trees being gone and mentioned, in passing, that maybe we should adopt them.”
There was no need or time for business strategies or mind-mapping a market segment analysis. Raekallio-Wunderink instantly thought that adopting a tree would be a great idea. Seeing them get killed didn’t feel right for her either.
“I’ve always seen trees as something much more than a mere material. To me, it feels terrible to watch giant, beautiful creatures being chopped down.”
To Raekallio-Wunderink, like her father, the forest is a place for calm and quiet. A little over a decade ago, she and her Dutch husband decided to move to Sirkka to be close to family – and, at the same time, the trees.
Let the tree worry for you
Halipuu (‘hugging tree’ in English) was founded in 2015. It does exactly what it says on the tin: lets people adopt a hugging tree in Lapland.
“It’s a way to create an escape for people who might not have an opportunity to visit a forest otherwise,” Raekallio-Wunderink explains. “For a lot of people, the everyday life can be very detached from nature and they have no time to stop and breathe. The still presence of trees is a reminder of the connection we should have with our environment.”
Adoption contracts last for five years, after which the fee is nominal. The tree can also be decorated, seen live on Halipuu’s Periscope account and, of course, met in “person”.
Halipuu organises trips to the woods, but the few-hectare Halipuu forest can also be visited by the “owners” of the trees on their own. One of Halipuu’s specialities is an award-winning cocooning tour, where people listen to the quietness of trees whilst relaxing in a hammock.
The trees serve even those who lack the chance to adopt a tree. The forest has a nominated Worry Tree, ready and willing to carry people’s concerns on their behalf. People from all over the world can send their worries to Halipuu in writing, and they are brought to the woods to be burned and the ashes then scattered at the roots of the Worry Tree. The tree will convert the worries into oxygen – and life.
Greetings from Tokyo
Customers can either adopt a whole tree or take part in a group adoption. In all cases, the tree actually exists.
“You don’t adopt just a tree, you adopt the tree which you can recognise, visit and feel is your own,” Raekallio-Wunderink emphasises.
Things have moved on at a steady pace for Halipuu; Raekallio-Wunderink hasn’t really needed to put effort into marketing, as word has been spreading through social media and international media visits.
Companies have taken the opportunity, too. For example, Finnair has added hugging trees to its webshop, and plenty of other collaborations are in the pipeline as well.
Adoptions pop up from all over the world. One of Raekallio-Wunderink’s favourite stories is about a man living in Tokyo.
“He adopted a tree, because his wife had described the trees to him so beautifully. He’s blind, so he wasn’t able to see it for himself. One day, he’s hoping to come and touch his tree; and we’d be thrilled to welcome him here.”