The Hidden Life of Trees: What They feel and How They Communicate: Review

“The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel and How They Communicate”
Author: Peter Wohlleben
Introduced by Pradip Krishen
Published: 2016
ISBN No: 978-0-670-08934-5
Pages: 319
Publisher: Penguin Random House India Pvt.Ltd
Price: 499

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality. Breaking away from the philosophical tradition that believes that only that which is perceived by the human subject really exists, Peter Wohlleben’s book explains the wonders of the woodlands and the unknown life of trees barely noticed and sometimes even dismissed by the human world. He explains the “…forests as super organisms with interconnections…” that lead lives just like human beings in communities. Trees have feelings, they communicate and they are social. Through his own experiences in the woodlands, the author explains the science of the unexamined life of trees and their abilities to create an ecosystem that benefits everything living on this planet. The book is a fascinating journey into the urgency of understanding non- human consciousness.

Traditionally, trees have held a special place in mythology as symbols of spirituality, knowledge and magical abilities. Through Wohlleben’s chronicles one is introduced to a world one generally takes for granted. The authors own career and exposure with the forest was as a specialist tasked with optimizing the forest’s output for the lumber industry. He confesses that he was as ignorant about the emotional and social lives of the trees as a butcher is about the animals. But gradually everything changed when he toured the forest for organizing survival training and log-cabin tours for tourists in his forest. He marvelled at the majestic nature and was enchanted by the wonders of the forest life world. No longer the forests had commercial value nor did he perceive them as currency; he discovered the priceless living wonders that brought about changes in the way he managed the forest. Each experience in the forest was like revelation as the stones, branches, trunks, moss, leaves, stumps of wood and almost everything turned around into something “alive” that disclosed the complex life world, probably more complex and intricate than the human world.

Wohlleben’s account of the psychological and social life of trees explains them as living organisms much like humans. Like humans, trees are members of community that live, nurture and nourish their children, they share nutrients with trees that are sick, they support and provide social security to some as they grow and the ones that live in “families” and “communities” live healthier and longer. In contrast, isolated ones grow in tough conditions and perish much earlier than others who live in groups. The book also explains that like human, trees communicate; they communicate by means of olfactory, visual and electrical signals.

Redefining the concept of language as medium of communication, the book explains amazing facts about how trees attract attention and even can warn each other of possible dangers. The book details the breeding patterns of trees and the resulting genetic bio diversity. It also explains the mechanisms by which trees remain self-sufficient, budgeting their needs, conserving their energy, defending themselves from diseases and expanding themselves in healthy environments.

The book also contains a fascinating account of forest etiquettes, a possible sense of aesthetics and its ideal appearances that perform an important function of bringing about stability in the ecosystem. The author strongly believes that trees possess consciousness just like humans, they learn, they are groomed and just like humans they learn ways of socialising, endurance and self -sustenance.

It details the process of ageing, hibernation and its complex anatomy that functions much like humans and its ability to adapt in extreme conditions. It also gives scientific explanations of the natural tendencies of trees that support the delicate ecological balance; highlighting the fact that these are not mechanical processes but conscious efforts towards survival. From describing forest collectives that resemble community housing projects of humans to describing them as mother-ships of biodiversity the book describes its irreplaceable role in sustaining the Earth.

Observing trees, their different “moods” and “characters” can also help unravel a different sense of seasons and time. Much like human lives, the street trees lead a life unattended, they lead challenging lives and are denied the cosy atmosphere of the forest, thus they have relatively short lives. The book also describes how trees “move”; through their capacity to reproduce they make their gradual transitions through future generations. While changes in their evolutionary patterns are remarkably slow, the migrant trees considerably alter the patterns yet maintaining the balance.

The book ends with the urgent need to understand this secret life of trees, as co-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.

The book makes an important case for the need to see the world differently; from the perspective of the non human habitants of the earth and care more deeply about the remarkable things in nature that make life on earth possible. It illustrates the principles of deep ecology, an environmental philosophy that emphasises on promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs. It also calls for a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with the ways of the natural world which is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems.

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