It was inevitable. I was born in Nottinghamshire, UK, and grew up in the midst of forests, and the famous one, Sherwood Forest wasn’t that far away. Migration to Australia brought a different experience of forests, and I have explored several. The writings of John Muir, Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Judith Wright, Noel Davis, Mary Oliver, and many more, inspired my interest in trees. I worked in horticultural work and farming for a time, and learned so much about how trees are really our family, our life-line, our lungs. I am happy in a forest, which we generally call the bush. In fact I’d say I was a Nemopholist – a haunter of forests.
There’s a famous quote by John Muir that I love: “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest.” I think he’s right!
Forests have something special going on, they form habitat for many creatures, they are a special climate zone, they reduce salinity, and redistribute water, provide shade, timber and many by-products. The trees in a forest also communicate. Dr. Suzanne Simard of the university of Columia studies a type of fungi that forms underground networks between trees.
Older trees or “mother trees” are hubs in this fungal network. The trees communicate across species too, from Acacia to Eucalypt. Signals between trees can now be plotted, especially defence signals, through the build up and movement of enzymes. Tree communication is not a new thing, but study has now begun to show concrete evidence of it. The trees work to protect each other, help each other, feed each other, and look after young trees. So the forest is a series of interconnected families, a set of special relationships.
The forest thrives when there are enough mother trees and when the trees are interconencted. We too thrive when we belong to supportive hubs, and are nurtured by networks that protect, share, and feed us. The fungal network equivalent for us is love, empathy, and compassion, a special climate zone, a vital ecology. With love we thrive, we grow, we bloom, and we develop capacity to give out to others. The human forest needs an ecology of love, else the erosion to loss of community will be devastating.
Gandhi put it well when he said: “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another.”
If we do to ourselves as the trees do to themselves, well, we’d be thriving and not just surviving.
For the article that underpins tree communication here, go to Do Trees Communicate With Each Other? Its a wonderful read.