I’ve been reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (Discoveries From a Secret World) by Peter Wohlleben. It’s not always easy going. The subtitle is subtitled, which tells you something about the structure of the book. Its narrative, often dense and circular, nonetheless offers up some pretty startling ideas about the forest you might think you know.
There’s an incredible study cited in the book about the sounds of roots? Sounds? That is correct. In a study of grain seedlings (because it’s hard to listen in the forest) researchers registered a quiet crackle at about 220 hertz on their sound equipment. And when other seedlings were exposed to that crackle they turned their roots toward it. Has all this really been around us for centuries and we had no idea? It seems incredible, even while it rings true. We’re known for our short-sightedness, we humans.
Wohlleben is a forester. He writes of forests as whole societies, complete and evolving. Trees support one another. Some are bullies and others are loners. They have friends; they feel loneliness and pain. They communicate through networks of roots. It’s a compelling argument to rethink how we have been looking at nature for over a century, like a machine, as if its components can easily be removed and replaced.
Reading this book made me go back and look at a picture book about a girl in a city bereft of trees. Thea’s Tree by Judith Clay, published by Indian publisher Karadi Tales, is a child-sized meditation on humans becoming separated from the natural world. If books could talk to one another in the manner of trees, this book would speak to my own Out of the Way! Out of the Way! and maybe as well to The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry.
There isn’t a children’s book as yet that encompasses the wider view of trees that Wohlleben urges upon us. There should be. His book makes me want to open my notebook and get to work. Kids will get the idea that a tree is only as strong as the forest surrounding it.