In this charming non-fiction book written by German forester Peter Wohlleben, the trees will rather quickly become your favorite characters. As I was taken on a journey learning about their personalities, their ways to feel, their quirks, their social life and how they communicate, I not only could feel and better understand the trees, but as bizarre as it sounds, I felt like one.
Set in beautiful Northern European forests of my own German childhood, the trees and how they live their lives seemed so real to me that the book is read like a drama, a real life story. After a few chapters I had developed a dislike for beeches, which turned out to be the bullies of the forest, and a love for spruces or yews, the tough survivors and smart thinkers.
I think my favorite part of the book was the beginning when the entire humanism of the trees hit home. From early in the book I was the tree and felt what Peter describes as the trees feelings and how they communicate with friends and foes. How they treat their families, how they warn other trees of danger, how they build friendships and care for the elderly and dying, and also how they gracefully die, almost like a human. The life of a tree seems indeed to be comparable to the human life, except for the time frame in which it moves. Trees are simply slower than us.
There are so many fascinating facts to learn about the plant kingdom and what many would look at as mundane trees. Regarded as ‘wood’, an object to be used for our life style. And mundane because they’re everywhere and part of the scenery which we often take for granted. However, Peter Wohlleben and other scientists from all over the world have studied and analysed their specific preferences, their ‘thinking’, their plans and intentions, their protective mechanisms and survival strategies against so many different dangers, to come up with astounding results.
For example, what truly does make a forest a social entity, a community? Well, one answer to that is that trees and their root zones share a mycelial fungal web underground, which allows trees, with help of their fungi friends, to communicate with other trees by transmitting carbon back and forth. Does ring a bell as the blockbuster movie AVATAR made this a big subject. Peter Wohlleben goes one step further. He says the roots of a tree are literally an organ and the most important part of a tree: it is the tree’s brain, where memory and knowledge are stored.
One enormous issue modern forests face, according to Wohlleben, is that most forests and their trees are commercially grown to be felled after ‘only’ 100-120 years. However, as the life span of a tree and the their speed of growth is so much slower and steady than our human speed the time span of 200-300 years is rather normal for a tree. It made me sad to understand where trees differ from us and how humans do not respect that distinction and the needs that come with it. The other result is that there are hardly any true, old-grown forests left in the world. We do not have much opportunity to walk and enjoy these old tree communities, nor to study them as the ‘miraculous communities’ I imagine them to be.
Another side product in this modern tragedy that Wohlleben points out is that mother trees and their ‘children’ nowadays get little time anymore to pass on knowledge as commercial felling, and weeding in forests create generational gaps, and induce loneliness and disconnection. Cut off from communication younger species loose the smart means of natural resistance and wisdom. The ‘how’ to go about issues and challenges in their life of a tree. When reading I truly suffered with those young trees, cut-off from family and ancestry, making me draw parallels to our own general human and social disconnections. In any case, it made me look at trees rather differently.
To sum it up, nostalgic feelings for childhood forests from home got awakened as I formed a deeper understanding about the sensitivity and wisdom of trees. I am grateful for that. It was more than nice to mentally stroll though the European forests, all the while living in Australia. And during my walk I came to understand the cycles, the symbioses, the suffering, the dreams and ideals, the world and the spirit of trees. And where I have always liked trees, always having felt drawn to them, now I utterly adore and love them!
I recommend ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben to nature lovers, tree huggers and botanic scientists alike as it contains enough information to satisfy the mind and the heart.
Available at Amazon and any other respectable online book platform or shop.