I was so conflicted while reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Do I read it fast because it is so good, or do I read it slow because it is so good? It’s a good dilemma to have, wouldn’t you agree?
Wohlleben knows trees. He spent over twenty years working for the forestry commission in Germany before leaving to manage a woodlands he is working to return to an old growth forest. By the sound of it, the trees manage themselves pretty well and it remains for the humans to just get out of the way.
I already appreciated trees when I began reading this book, I do not need convincing about how alive and important they are, that they are beings that talk and watch our lives go by at the speed of a blink. To them, we are like insects are to us, here one day, gone the next. A tree’s life is lived in the slow lane. As the Ents would say, don’t be hasty.
I quoted from this book on a Shout It Out Monday about how trees scream. They talk to each each as well, protect each other, mother the next generation. Trees it turns out are highly social and need community to truly thrive. They are also competitive, especially with other species of trees. And they can tell time, are capable of learning, have memories and may also experience emotions. Trees also know if you are near them and can tell if you are friend or foe.
Trees control climate and when there is a forest, they create their own ideal living conditions. Without coastal forests, the interiors of continents would be nothing but vast deserts. This is because rain falls within 400 miles of coastlines. If there is a forest there, the trees take up the water and then put it back into the air which then allows the water to be carried further inland.
All of this information makes a person see and think about trees in a new way. They are, after all, living beings, and just because they can’t move around like an animal doesn’t make them somehow lesser, unfeeling, or worse, objects. Here’s a thought for you:
When the logs in the fireplace crackle merrily, the corpse of a beech or oak is going up in flames. The paper in the book you are holding in your hands right now is made from the shavings of spruce, and birches were expressly felled (that is to say, killed) for this purpose… Not to put too fine a point on it, we are using living things killed for our purposes. Does this make our behavior reprehensible? Not necessarily. After all, we are also part of Nature, and we are made in such a way that we can survive only with the help of organic substances from other species… The real question is whether we help ourselves only to what we need from the forest ecosystem, and — analogous to our treatment of animals — whether we spare the trees unnecessary suffering when we do this.
So think about that next time you swing an ax at a tree. Or pound a nail in a tree, hang a hammock, hit a tree with something, pull off twigs or leaves for no reason. If the tree were a dog would you hit it? Would you pull out its hair or break its legs? Trees feel pain and just because they can’t snarl and bite you doesn’t mean that it is ok. Talk to trees, give them a pat or even a careful hug, sit beneath them and share their quiet company. Be a friend. You won’t regret it.