With a full title of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World this book is going to be amazing or terrible. We got lucky. Part of The Overstory is about a forest scientist who discovers how trees communicate and writes a book about it. I believe that The Hidden Life of Trees is the inspiration for that book-within-a-book from The Overstory.
The Hidden Life of Trees starts out with a bang describing several mechanisms that trees use to communicate with each other in forest settings. We go on to a deep dive into many fascinating aspects of trees and forests that I didn’t know, despite growing up around forests and foresters. The book wraps up with a passionate argument for managing forests in a more wholesome way than most forests are managed now.
In some cases the author Peter Wohlleben ascribes more intelligence and emotion to trees than I personally believe they actually have, but that doesn’t take away from the arguments showing that as a society we know much less than we think we do about trees and we should treat them, and forests, better.
As I was reading The Hidden Life of Trees I took a bike ride that went through Angrignon Park here in Montreal, where I was surprised to find a scene that remind me of my childhood: piles of cut logs. It turns out that Montreal is cutting 4000 trees from the forested areas of Angrignon Park. This is mostly to control Emerald Ash Borer, but also to remove “dangerous” trees. Some of the trees are being turned into lumber for use by the city, and others are being chipped and returned to the forested areas of the park. After reading The Hidden Life of Trees I wonder if this is the best approach, and have so many questions. For example, if the goal is to get rid of of Emerald Ash Borer then why are any cut trees being returned to the forest? If it is ok to return trees to the forest shouldn’t they all be returned? If trees are to be returned to the forest why use the fuel to chip them when nature will decompose the trees for us in a way that increases biodiversity?