The Hidden Life Of Trees.

“Slow down, breathe deep and look around.”

Is it fiction? Is it magic? Is it real? Does it matter? Those are the questions I’m left with after reading The Hidden Life Of Trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate, by German forester Peter Wohlleben.

I’ve walked through quite some forests during the past ten years. Especially since I can call myself the caretaker of a very active nature loving dog, I’ve seen many forests in my home country (The Netherlands) and abroad. The rest and stillness of the firmly standing trees provided me with a quiet and peaceful mind. But boy, little did I know about what was really going on inside and around those trees! It turns out there’s a lot going on there..

So much of trees is still unknown to humans. We’ve always accepted a certain kind of view on the natural world, and trees were just… trees. Growing, providing us with shelter, with building materials, energy (fire!) and food to keep us warm. It has been this way for most of humanity as long as we’ve been in existence and our attitude towards trees would probably stay unchanged if it wasn’t for Wohllebens’ unusual approach to explain some of the hidden features of our wooden friends.

Trees communicate, trees talk to each other, and support each other when in need. They form communities and need each other to thrive. They even remember things and anticipate the future. They have a love-hate relation with fungi — who connect the roots so that trees can communicate, but also eat them alive when trunks are ‘wounded’, and so do they with insects and birds. Wohlleben convinces the reader of these facts — backed up by scientific evidence — and although they may sound far fetched at first, the attribution of human characteristics to trees helps us to understand his thinking.

What I take away most of the book is that trees are truly living the slow life. For us one year we can oversee, ten years is already a long time, and a hundred years is very difficult to imagine. Trees are just getting out of their teenage years at a hundred years old, that is when they’re not growing in our monoculture plantations.Trees in forests can grow very old, and the usual tree easily makes it to 500 years. The oldest tree in the world is about 9,500 years old. Imagine, this tree could tell you first hand that all world religions are fables!

So, most of our lack of understanding comes from the different pace we live in. We live in the fast lane, cars and planes didn’t really help make it better, and therefore we don’t take time and look closer at the life of trees.

For example, the notion that trees can walk sounds silly. But is it really? Yes, of course you won’t see an individual tree walk the streets, but if you look over the course of a very long time, we’re talking thousands to tens of thousands of years, then you will see that trees move. And they have to if they want to survive. Why? The climate constantly changes, and most trees are made for a very specific climate — take into account: not too wet, not too dry, not to cold, not too hot, etc. This means when the climate changes, trees will also move to where ‘their’ climate goes to. They do so by their seeds, who will slowly follow the climate. If you wait long enough, you will see that whole forests have moved from one place to another. Fascinating stuff.

And so there are a lot of surprising facts and insights enclosed in the book.

One could argue that in many ways, The Hidden Life of Trees is also a commentary on the importance of community for everyone. Perhaps it’s time for us to slow down our lives and adapt to the speed of nature. That could be quite a thrill, as I know now after reading the book.

Wohlleben pensively concludes The Hidden Life of Trees, “And who knows, perhaps one day the language of trees will eventually be deciphered giving us the raw material for further amazing stories. Until then, when you take your next walk in the forest, give free rein to your imagination — in many cases, what you imagine is not so far removed from reality after all!”

Want to get active with trees? The Pollinators are organizing the Tree Fest on November 3, where stories and actions come together. Planting a wondrous food forest and celebrating tree magic through art, music, and poetry.