This was one of these books that I had been meaning to read for a really, really long time and just never seemed to get around to because there was always another book at hand. Then, of course, when I finally did read it, it took weeks (months) to actually get around to editing and publishing the review (which you’re reading now. Huzzah!).
Here’s the thing: this book is brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. You can really tell that the author has spent his entire life in and around forests because his passion for trees just leaps off the page (ironic, reading a physical book about the majesty of trees).
The thing about The Hidden Life of Trees, though, is that once you’ve read it, you’ll never look at or think about trees the same way again. They move so much closer to the current concept of sentience once you know they have family groupings. Once you know that a tree’s neighbours will feed it if it can’t produce enough food on its own.
The author uses this example in the book that really drives this idea have. The story goes that he was out in the forest and came across what locked like a mossy boulder or something. Getting closer, he realized it was the moss-covered remnant of what had once been a huge tree.
Age and time had covered the remaining tree stump with dirt and moss, making it look like a big old rock. Now, by all rights and the author’s experience, that tree stump should have been dead, an ossified chunk of local history.
But it wasn’t.
When he lifted a section of bark, the wood underneath was still viable. The tree, with no trunk nor branches nor leaves to synthesize food, was still alive decades after being cut down.
Eventually, he discovered that the surrounding trees had been channelling food through their own root systems into the tree that had been cut down, keeping it alive down through the long years since the original injury.
Imagine that for a second. For decades, trees in the local group had been producing enough energy not only for their own survival, but to maintain the life of the remains of the leafless, branchless, trunkless neighbour. Not sufficient energy for new growth, but still enough to survive.
Didn’t think trees were capable of that, did you?
Neither did l.
You also learn about the value of the different parts of the tree and the functions that they perform. The root systems, as mentioned above, form a communications and exchange network. They pass along energy, and messages (like danger signals). And when you think about that you look with burgeoning horror at plant nurseries that trim root systems to the extent that the tree is forevermore, for all intents and purposes, disabled, and bonsai trees, which turn essentially social creatures into little islands of loneliness.
I feel so,so much worse about my teenage attempts to maintain bonsai trees now! Worse because the guilt of summarily killing any plant l ever attempted to grow was already too real. My family are not exactly green thumbs.
All things considered, I can honestly say that this was one of the best books I have read in a really long time. l’ve already convinced both my mother and my hairdresser to read it. Verdict: I’m unpopular for recommending a book that made them cry, but it was well worth it.
Five star read, people.