1 February

The Hidden Lives Of Trees

by Jon Katz
Trees And Their Social Networks
Trees And Their Social Networks

In a deep forest of Germany, author and forest ranger Peter Wohlleben pointed up to a pair of towering beech trees. “Those trees are friends,” he told a reporter. “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block the light.”

Wohlleben has been watching trees for much of his life, and his new book, The Hidden Lives Of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From A Secret World, is a runaway bestseller in Germany and parts of Europe. It is being published in the United States in September (you can pre-order it from Battenkill Books my wonderful independent bookseller (518 677-2515) now).

I got hold of a brief excerpt last week, a blog reader sent it to me from Germany. From the excerpt and the reviews and interviews, it feels like a very important book, a powerful, convincing and exciting re-imagination of trees. Even thought they surround us and our lives, most of us know little about them.¬† Like many of the wondrous things in nature, we take them for granted, we don’t think about them much.

That may soon change.

Wohlleben – along with many biologists – argues that trees are social beings, not inanimate objects good only for oxygen, shade and firewood. Trees can count, he says, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by transmitting electrical signals across a fungal network. They keep ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive by feeding them a sugar solution sent through their roots.

This book has already touched me in a powerful way, I can’t wait to read¬† it all and take it into the deep woods where I walk with Maria every day. Living in the country, in nature, walking in the woods has already changed the way I look at the forest, and at trees. I have confessed recently to being a tree-hugger, I love photographing trees, touching them, learning how different and individualistic each one is.

Walking in the forest is my enduring passion, my way of centering, thinking, exploring my creativity. I am fascinated by trees and the way life runs through them, I know there is so much to learn from them. I am beginning to learn how to photograph them.

We humans are as disconnected from nature as we are from the real lives of animals, and almost all of us take trees for granted, they are always there, everywhere we look, yet few of us have taken the time or learned how to look at them. I am seeing them anew, and I think I already know that what Peter Wohlleben writes is true, you can see it if you look and open up to it. I can’t wait to learn more.

The Hidden Life Of Trees has already sold more than 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries. Canada’s Greystone Books will publish an English version in September.

The book has a very simple, almost magical narrative style, I suspect we all have a special relationship with trees, once awakened. Walking in my forest every day, I can see that trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings, as Wohlleben suggests.

Trees, he says, are a community. They help the sick, open channels for sunlight, and communicate with one another in different ways. Trees function best around other trees, he believes they suffer from being alone.

Wohlleben’s view of trees is anthropomorphic in some ways, and dog and animal lovers will easily connect with the book, as he describes them much in the way some people think about their dogs. Some biologists balk at his notion that trees speak in the way we do (this eternal argument is familiar in the pet world) but they agree that trees do communicate with one another, and do have social systems.

But Wohlleben has made the book accessible, the reviews rave that it is readable and sensible.

I am familiar with this debate. I believe animals have emotions, and do communicate with each other, I do not believe they communicate in the way people do or have our precise emotions. My sense is that the same thing applies to trees, it seems clear that they are complex and sentient organisms, that they are aware of one another and perhaps help each other. As with dog, the trick is in remembering that this does not make them people.

Walking by the same trees every day in the forest, I see how different each one is, and how respectfully they integrate with one another. They do have personalities and styles, sometimes they seem to be communicating with me.

We don’t need to make them like us to love them, we can respect them for what they are, and for the differences between us.

I’m excited about this re-imagination of the tree, this has already begun in my life and I am excited to learn more about it and take it another level. It’s about time.

My Good Witch/Pagan/Artist wife is there already, she has been hugging trees for yeaers, we already have some amazing times up in the forest getting to explore the hidden lives of the trees. I love the experience of opening up to the trees, this morning I felt them enveloping me. I think I may start communicating with them.

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