THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, PETER WOHLLEBEN, & MAPLE WALNUT COOKIES
Trees are not saints, but Francis of Assisi is, and he “told” me to work on this post. Here were his instructions:
Praised be you, my Lord through our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility. — Canticle of Brother Sun
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES: WHAT THEY FEEL, HOW THEY COMMUNICATE — DISCOVERIES FROM A SECRET WORLD by Peter Wohlleben is excellent. I highly recommend it! Originally written in German, it’s a breathtaking view of what’s been going on in forests for centuries before and after humans messed with them. Peter has an enjoyable turn of phrase and is clearly knowledgeable and connected to the trees in the forests he lives in, works in, and cares for.
I will, however, add that for me it was a slow read, which was exactly what I needed to help me deal with the fast-paced changes going on in my life right now. Everything is slower in the forest. Nice place to hang out for a while.
You know, I don’t really write proper book reviews with a couple of quotes and over-the-top directions to “buy this book!” I dive deeper into them than that. If I write about them here and they aren’t about saints, then it’s a spiritual journey book review even though it’s not a spiritual journey book. In other words, this book helped me get to the next place I need to go along my sacred path. And, you never know, maybe for Peter his decades of dedication to the trees of the forest is a journey that he considers spiritual.
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES helped me to see that it’s time for me to shift my activism to nature, climate change awareness, and prevention of negative human effects on our environment as this focus is more aligned with my, um, nature.
Over the course of my long read of this book, I’ve also come to realize that I’m not as rooted in my community as I once thought I was. And there is a lot to be said for seeking a community where you are supported and encouraged to grow:
“But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: There are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never each old age. – Page 3
But, isn’t that how evolution works? you ask. The survival of the fittest? Trees would just shake their heads – or rather their crowns. Their well-being depends on their community.
And because they know this intuitively, they do not hesitate to help each other out. – Page 17-18
Almost, but not quite, just like the Ents in Lord of the Rings.
Peter writes about trees in such a way that I recognize it’s not enough to be fed if you aren’t hydrated enough to quench your thirst to be heard, encouraged, and appreciated, for instance. I dunno. Maybe I’m just seeing everything in metaphor these days:
Thirst is harder for trees to endure than hunger, because they can satisfy their hunger whenever they want. Like a baker who always has enough bread, a tree can satisfy a rumbling stomach right away using photosynthesis. But, even the best baker cannot bake without water, and the same goes for a tree, without moisture, food production stops. – Page 43
There is research in the field that reveals more than just behavioral changes; when trees are really thirsty, they begin to scream. If you’re out in the forest, you won’t be able to hear them, because this all takes place at ultrasonic levels. Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research recorded the sounds, and this is how they explain them: Vibrations occur in the trunk when the flow of water from the roots to the leaves is interrupted. This is a purely mechanical event and it probably doesn’t mean anything. And yet?
We know how the sounds are produced, and if we were to look through a microscope to examine how humans produce sounds, what we would see wouldn’t be that different: the passage of air down the windpipe causes our vocal cords to vibrate. When I think about the research results, in particular in conjunction with the crackling roots I mentioned earlier, it seems to me that these vibrations could indeed be much more than just vibrations – they could be cries of thirst. The trees might be screaming out a dire warning to their colleagues that water levels are running low. — Page 48
But, despite droughts and climate change, there are times of the year with plenty of water, like a feast day after a fast, or the rare friend who checks in on you:
When you measure water pressure in trees, you find it is highest shortly before the leaves open up in the spring. At this time of year, water shoots up the trunk with such force that if you place a stethoscope against the tree, you can actually hear it. In the northeastern U.S. and Canada, people make use of this phenomenon to harvest syrup from sugar maples, which are often tapped just as the snow is melting. This is the only time of the year when the coveted sap can be harvested. — Page 58
Here’s an interesting section about roots and how important they are to trees. Roots are also important for human growth as I learned when I reviewed EASTERN BODY, WESTERN MIND by Anodea Judith. Here’s how Peter put it:
The root is certainly a more decisive factor than what is growing above ground. After all, it is the root that looks after the survival of an organism. It is the root that has withstood severe changes in climatic conditions. And it is the root that has regrown trunks time and time again. It is in the roots that centuries of experience are stored, and it is this experience that has allowed the tree’s survival to the present day. – Page 81
Last month, I thought I had deep roots in the town where I spent the last 25 years of my life. But now I see, eh not so much anymore. It seems like this is a sudden realization, but I look back and see that my spiritual journey has been leading me to this understanding for the last four years. Time has a way of moving at different speeds, I guess. Peter explains that there’s a big different between trees and animals:
in the amount of time it takes to process information and translate it into action. Does that mean that beings that live life in the slow lane are automatically worth less than the ones on the fast track? – Page 83
I think not.
The clichéd lightbulb went off for me when I read this section on lightning:
During a thunderstorm, it rains, and the water that sheets down the wrinkle-free surface of beech bark creates a continuous film. When lightning strikes, the electricity travels down the outside of this film because water conducts electricity much better than wood. Oaks, however, have rough bark. The rain water than runs down their trunks forms little cascades and drips to the ground in hundreds of mini-waterfalls. Therefore, the flow of electricity from the lightning strike is constantly interrupted. When this happens, the point of least resistance becomes the damp wood of the outer growth rings, which the tree uses to transport water. In response to the energy surge from the lightning strike, the sapwood explodes as though it has been shot, and years later, the scar bears witness to the oak’s misfortune. — Page 206
My mind flashed to an event which I didn’t share on social media yet because, well, you’ll see. On August 12, I didn’t want to let a little thunder storm stop me from my first trip to the beach at Fort Fisher. (I thought it would be a short storm.) So, I’m listening to the Jerry Garcia Band and driving across Snow’s Cut Bridge to get to Carolina Beach. It’s raining hard and thundering. As I get near to the other side, out of the corner of my eye, I see a big flash of light on my right, simultaneous to that I felt a sting or a bug bite on the outside of my upper right thigh. The next thing I do immediately, while driving in a rain storm is desperately try to find the ant in my pants that bit me. There was none to find. Meanwhile, I kinda sorta noticed that the car ahead of me pulled over as soon as they got across the bridge. I continued driving and looking for this ant, because I couldn’t possibly have been struck by lightning. Never found an ant.
Early the next morning I saw a new story about lightning striking two houses on Carolina Beach on Sunday morning. Yup. Somehow, I was hit with an offshoot of lightning. It went in through my foot on the gas pedal and out through my thigh leaving a tiny scar that faded in a couple of days.
I’ve come up with three possible messages in this sign from above:
1. Don’t drive in a thunder storm if you can help it, idiot.
2. Nature is your calling. Advocate for nature and the healing of your environment.
3. It was a taste of Pentecost. As in, it’s time to go. You’re needed elsewhere. And, oh wait, here’s some bonus emphasis: ZAP!
I didn’t understand it when I was zapped, but it’s time for me to go. I don’t know if I’ll end up in a forest or another shoreline. Somehow, either would feel just right.
Maybe there’s a forest out there which drops off into the sea. Or maybe, I’ll end up in a less rugged, mosquito-repelling tree garden:
Walnut trees have compounds in their leaves that deal so effectively with insects that garden lovers are often advised to put a bench under a canopy of walnuts if they want a comfortable place to relax in the garden, because this is where they will have the least chance of being bitten by mosquitoes. Page 156
I savored THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, and I connected to Peter Wohlleben in his hope for the future, love of nature and storytelling, and his recognition of our ability to create a positive reality via the energy of our imagination.
At this point I usually write a line connecting my subject to a tasty recipe, but, I hesitate to encourage the eating of our leafy friends. Thankfully, Peter writes:
Not to put too fine a point on it, we use living things killed for our purposes. Does that make our behavior reprehensible? Not necessarily. After all, we are also part of nature, and we are made in such a way that we can survive only with the help of organic substances from other species.
That means it is okay to use wood as long as trees are allowed to live in a way that is appropriate to their species. And that means that they should be allowed to fulfill their social needs, to grow in a true forest environment on undisturbed ground, and to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. – Page 242
And with that permission, and in honor of our majestic forest friends, let’s bake:
MAPLE WALNUT COOKIES
Warning: Ingredients include blood, skin, and embryo (sap, bark, and seeds) of trees. Just so you know, just so we’re clear.
2 sticks (1 cup butter) room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Grade A Dark 100% Real Maple Syrup
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon maple extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream butter with electric mixer.
Add sugars. Blend.
Add maple syrup, eggs, and maple extract. Blend.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Slowly add dry ingredients to mixing bowl. Blend.
Add walnuts. Blend.
Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 for about 11 minutes (ovens vary), until edges are golden brown.
Cool on baking sheets for two minutes, transfer to wire rack for at least another five minutes before serving.