When you enter the redwood forest, often the first thing you notice is the quiet. On many trails in the Jed Smith forest it only takes a few steps before you enter that world — of utter, often eerie quiet. This sounds like a contradiction but the silence is big, overwhelming, palpable.
But stuff is going on in the forest. And a recently published book in Germany (due in an English-language edition this September) posits that the stuff happening isn’t just trees growing in minute and indistinguishable baby steps or leaves decomposing on the forest floor with little fanfare. Part of what’s happening in the forest is that the trees are networking — supporting each other literally but also figuratively, talking to each other, grieving as individuals and as a group, nourishing on essential foodstuffs of the forest and also sharing those essentials.
The trees are active. They are building up their community and thriving. Or suffering.
A book that is picking up traction within the science community, among mainstream German readers (in Germany where it was published in May), and the media is arborist Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World.”
The author’s take on the forest and trees is worth noting because the Northern California redwood forests are like no others. We have the biggest, tallest, and most remote and inaccessible tracts of redwood, hemlock, doug fir, and maple left in the world. It stands to reason our trees may be living in the last pristine arboreal eco-system. Like a lost tribe or hidden peoples. In the peopled world, a remote people’s unsullied language would be cause for celebration among anthropologists. So it is here in the redwood forest, where the trees behind the trees behind the trees remain untainted and undiluted.
The story this week in the The New York Times states, “Presenting scientific research and his own observations in highly anthropomorphic terms, the matter-of-fact Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the ‘Wood Wide Web’; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.”
The Times story from last week is here.
Additionally, a video produced in 2012 will also get you thinking about what’s going on among and between the trees of the redwood forest.
As will this TED talk from 2008 from author Richard Preston, who had just completed his book about the redwood forest and the Grove of Titans, The Wild Trees.
Who speaks for the forest, the trees, the shrubs and the roots? After what we know now it’s safe to assume the forest speaks for itself, thank you very much.