Tag Archives: Peter Wohlleben

Earth’s Second Chance

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

“A culture is no better than its woods.” W.H. Auden

 

Even in fiction, trees seem to be leading characters in every book my friend, Diana, and I are reading lately. One book runs into another, no, it grows into another and gets passed back and forth. I see no end to it. We are on a tear, Diana and I.

The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

The Living, by Annie Dillard

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

 

You have to remember: one third of the earth’s land was once forested.

Many of us have a tree we remember from childhood, when trees really were main characters in our lives. It was an apple tree for me in Connecticut. Its branches were as familiar as the fingers on my hands. Being up in the tree was nothing less than Swiss Family Robinson in my mind, until I was called down for dinner.

Two trees in particular captured Diana’s imagination growing up in Pittsburgh. One was a neighbor’s large mulberry tree with branches reaching into her yard. She and her friends constructed tents, “sort of girl clubhouses,” by hanging sheets from the branches. “Late in the summertime, there would be blue/black mulberries all over both yards, and we’d always have stained feet and shoes from running around back there.”

“The other personal tree was a tall fir in front of my grandparents’ summer cottage in Slippery Rock. As a young girl, I used to climb high into that tree, and just perch up there. It smelled like Christmas, and I loved being up in that tree. Nobody knew where I was, nobody could see me up there… my own private getaway.”

Decades later, Diana is once again fortunate to have a certain tree in her life, known as Grandfather Tree. “What can I say about him?” she asks. “Well, it starts with thinking about how long he’s been here, keeping watch over everything… It’s weathered storms and heat, it once held a treehouse where kids played, it survived the awful chainsaw “trimming” of limbs, it’s a favorite perch for bald eagles when they are in the neighborhood, it’s got families of ants running up and down its trunk all day, and it just feels sacred to me.”

In white hands, most of our trees were cut down east to west and on both sides of the US/Canadian border. With a few old-growth exceptions such as Grandfather Tree on island, most of our woods today are second-growth. Today we respect our forests as we do our gardens, but the early twentieth century woods witnessed unbridled logging much like whaling at sea.

“When a colonist looked at a pine tree he saw a ship’s mast; in an oak he saw barrel staves.” (Michael Pollen, Second Nature)

Native Americans knew how to look at trees, how to live with trees, and love them. “The Indian landscape was animated by all manner of spirits, and trees were thought to possess venerable souls one was careful not to offend. In the shade of certain trees one found insight. Trees had feeling, eyes, and ears… and you did not cut one down unless absolutely necessary. Even then,” continues Michael Pollen, “you took the trouble to explain your reasons to the tree and beg its forgiveness.”

Second-growth forests are earth’s second chance, so to speak. And another opportunity for us to recapture, as my friend has, what we knew when we were young.

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Filed under colonists, logging, Native American

What Makes Us Human, What Makes Us Good

moon-over-forest

Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and value, wildlife.

Consider the whales in the sea and the trees in the forest. Consider the elephants if you please.

Strong mother-child bonds characterize the Orcas whale as well as the elephant. Offspring often stay with their mothers for life. And upon death, Orcas keep vigil, actively mourning the passing of one of their own.

“They’re not killer whales, they’re lovers,” writes reporter Hayley Day in “Wired for Orcas Love,” published online, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, 2/14/17.

Ken Balcomb, Founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, suggests, “They may be a superior species actually. They’ve certainly been around longer than us. They may think ‘those monkeys’ on the beach have almost whale-like intelligence.”

Or not.

Turning now to the trees, I am realizing from the beautiful little book I am reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that the forest is another remarkable social network. Trees too are social beings, and a solitary planted tree would be hard-pressed to enjoy the benefits of those in the forest. Growing near each other, like families, trees support each other, share nutrients, and care for their sick and elderly. They communicate through both roots and leaves, warn each other of dangers—such as insect infestations, and accommodate for one another’s growth rather than crowd each other out. Together in a forest, trees create a hospitable climate that one tree alone would be incapable of achieving.

My woods here is full of deer, but continents away from the Puget Sound elephants tell a remarkably similar story to the trees and the whales. Elephants also form close family bonds particularly between mother and offspring, and live in a complex, matriarchal, social structure. Elephants greet one another, work in teams, and exhibit emotions such as crying at birth and death. They grieve, bury their dead, and frequently return to revisit the body. Elephants care for each other’s orphaned offspring, sharing food when it is scarce. Capable of enormous empathy, elephants do not do well in isolation.

Whales, trees, or elephants, there is resistance in numbers. We must remember this.

Only four weeks into the Trump Administration and the future for wildlife—wild animals, fauna, flora, mammals, fish and birds–looks bleak. And with it, would go our humanity.

Climate change is locked in denial by the very man chosen now to lead The Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fired off multiple lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil, gas, and coal industries. Long an adversary against regulation to control pollution, can’t you hear them all laughing in the fossil-fuel board rooms now?

What did the American people expect? A developer looks at a forest and sees a golf course, hotels, casinos. He sees trees for cutting down. To him, an ocean is for skimming his yacht across. His sons trophy hunt in Africa, like Colonialists out of the 19th century.

And we, the monkeys on the beach, are rendered less healthy, less humane, and less human for this.

 

 

 

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