Peter Wohlleben, forester and the author of international bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees reflects: “Our need of nature is an integral part of our humanity,” and he proposes ways to meet that part of us which draws us to nature. He discovered it in himself some twenty years ago at a time when he was working to optimize the forestry output to provide the lumber industry, and when trees were nothing more than economic commodities for him.
During the same period, he witnessed the wondering passion of scientists conducting research in the forest, and with what he learned from the findings about the hidden life of the trees, he admits that he started to look at trees as living creatures, instead of profitable commodities. Soon after, he had his awakening experience during a walk across the old beech reserve, and that would rekindle in him an affection for nature and mark a turning point in his career :
I stumbled over an old tree stump one day. When I lifted the moss, I saw the greenish layer where it was attached to the ground. This color is found only in chlorophyll and chlorophyll can be stored only in the trunks of living trees. This piece of wood was still alive although it was 400 or 500 years old! Since every living being needs nutrition the only explanation was that it was supported by the neighbor trees via the roots. As a forester, I learned that trees struggle against each other, for light, for space, and there I saw that it’s just vice versa. Trees cooperate to keep every member of their community alive.
The key evidence to it, he says, is the so-called wood wide web – trees message their distress in electrical signals via their roots and across fungi networks around the roots to connect to other trees nearby– like the extended nervous system of humans.
That is how they communicate when they are under threat or when they want to share information in order to regulate their ecosystem by means of storing enough water, moderating humidity levels and protecting against strong winds and animal and human attacks.
Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community, and worth keeping alive as long as possible. That is why the saplings and weak or sick trees are nourished and supported…
After this awe inspiring incident, he recalls the transforming change in his relation with the forest:
Life as a forester became exciting once again. Every day in the forest was a day of discovery. This led me to unusual ways of managing the forest. When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.
He then changed his career to one managing an environmentally friendly forest in the Eifel mountains of Germany where he presently lives with his wife on a farmland cottage. Based on his insights from his decades of observing nature and from scientific discoveries he states:
The bond that unites us with nature is never broken.
As we get in touch with nature more, our senses of touch, smell, hearing, and seeing are sharpened. We can recognize the smell of the mushrooms, of moss and pine; with a sharpened sight, we can distinguish the colors of the plants and animals more easily.
Scientific research shows that trees have a calming and soothing effect on the psyche and the body. They lower the blood pressure and reinforce respiratory capacities. “We need to see the trees,” he says. It is already proven in the hospitals, surgical patients staying in rooms with a view of nature or trees have been cured faster.
Perhaps it is the more primitive part of our brain which responds to the presence of the trees nearby for therein we find our biotope…It is not escapism or idealism, it is in fact re-finding our roots.
Giving live example of the children and what we can learn from their full presence and awareness in the moment and their natural sparks of “wonder”:
The children know it best, they are curious, they wonder, and they can feel the awe in rain, in the cold, they attend to their awakened senses, they taste leaves, stop and observe, pick up a piece of wood, a stone, watch the anthill. They are present and spontaneously experiencing the wonders of the moment.
He firmly believes in the resilience of nature despite the ecological harm done upon the earth. He proclaims that if we leave nature on its own even for a short while and suspend causing harm, it will revitalize and find ways to rejuvenate herself.
Featuring our constrained experience of time on a single dimension tightly wrapping the urban lives of our era, he adds:
In our urban lives, the times are tightly controlled, punctuated. But the course of time is different in the forest. Having forgotten the watches and the cell phones, time resumes ample and available, one feels wider, free of constraints. When you return from the walk, you realize that a much longer time has passed than you thought.
Time slows down because we are less consumed by distractions, images, noise …
In the forest, all slows down and subsides. The environment does not change every ten seconds.
The wind, the rustling leaves, hidden sounds, the rhythm of our steps… We start paying attention to the colors, the form of the trees, the scents. Nothing is like the urban hyperactivity. Our perception of time changes.
Now it is the “time of the trees.” Deep inside we find a rhythm which is all too natural to us. We reunite with our true part. That’s why we feel better and more joyful.”
April 25, 2020
Psychologies, April, 2020 issue