Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Listen to the Trees, and read about them, too.

Laura Miller's writing on books for Slate is always engaging as well as thoughtful, informative, and even surprising. Her latest piece on all the trees in books lately is a perfect example of this:

In the penultimate episode of Ted Lasso’s second season, junior coach Nate is feeling shirty, complaining to his co-workers that Ted, the head coach who gave him a chance when everyone else overlooked him, is taking credit for Nate’s brilliant ideas. Coach Beard looks up from the book he’s reading and remarks, “We used to believe that trees competed with each other for light. Suzanne Simard’s fieldwork challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community. Trees work in harmony to share the sunlight.” Coach Beard’s choice of reading material—Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures—is partly an in-joke. (In an earlier episode, Beard accidentally got high on mushroom tea.) But it’s also a nod to the role subterranean fungi play in linking the roots of forest trees to one another, forming what one of the first journals to print Simard’s research called the “Wood Wide Web.”

From this fun introduction, Miller dives headfirst into the myth and reality of the wisdom of the trees ... and perhaps the Lorax. But this piece also scrutinizes the claims and thoroughly investigates the messages from the many popular books touting anthropomorphism of the world's tallest inhabitants. And she arrives at a satisfactory conclusion with a bit of her own personal insight and experience.

As someone who takes a walk in the woods almost every day to get a break from all that, I’ve found that the thing I love most about trees is how different they are from human beings. They are still, slow, unfathomable, quiet. What a marvel to share the world with beings so alien, whose experience, if it can even be called that, I’ll never truly grasp. I find their otherness calming, it’s true, but I don’t expect them to teach me anything. Just getting this chance to coexist with them is a blessing worth fighting for. And besides, what’s the point of looking around you if all you really want to see is yourself?

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