The Hidden Life of Trees – Book Review

You will discover wonders great and small in a forest.

Surely, a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate would draw the interest of anyone who admires trees.

Trees have always fascinated me. I was a tree hugger (literally) long before I became an environmentalist. I observe trees and wonder about things like what it is like to live in the same spot for hundreds of years or to have another tree fall on you during a storm and stay there.

I came across The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben while browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table during a break at the Central Coast Bioneers conference last November. The title was intriguing. After flipping to the table of contents and scanning the names of the chapters, I smiled and bought the book.

Book Review

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees will give you an opportunity to get to know trees and forests up close and personal. Wohlleben delivers his observations comingled with science facts in easy to read chunks of 12 pages or less over the course of 36 chapters.

Prepare yourself to be entertained and informed, maybe even amazed by some of the things you will read about in this book. I was.

The Hidden Life of Trees Book Cover

For instance, do you know that when a predator starts nibbling on its leaves some trees will begin pumping toxins into their leaves to discourage the nibbler? In addition, the tree under assault will release a scent to warn nearby trees of the danger so they, too, can pump toxins into their own leaves.

Are you aware that fungal networks connect trees to other trees allowing them to share nutrients and information or that they perform other services like filtering out heavy metals in the soil and protecting trees against bacterial attacks? In return, the fungi receive food from the trees in the form of sugar and carbohydrates.

Have you ever considered the challenges facing trees planted in parks and next to streets? These trees are not only separated from their family members, their roots must navigate around concrete, pipes, and other obstructions, and they are constantly in danger of having their limbs cut off.

Wohlleben reinforces the interconnectedness of nature and the importance of biodiversity throughout the book and gives a realistic view of what actually occurs in a forest.

“The forest ecosystem is held in a delicate balance. Every being has its niche and its function, which contribute to the well-being of all. Nature is often described like that, or something along those lines; however, that is, unfortunately, false.”

Did you see that coming?

“For out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes from the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there are safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics: an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.”

Hmm, perhaps humans could learn a thing or two from trees.

The Bottom Line

Peter Wohlleben is a German forester who has written several books about trees. To my knowledge, The Hidden Life of Trees is the first one translated into English making it accessible to millions of people who cannot read in German, including me.

Wohlleben writes in a lyrical and engaging way. As you are reading the book, you can imagine yourself strolling with him through the forest conversing about tree parents and their children or sitting on a tree stump talking about how trees act as carbon dioxide vacuums.

One thing that you will notice as you are reading The Hidden Life of Trees is that Wohlleben writes about trees as beings with thoughts and feelings. Attributing human characteristics to non-humans is called anthropomorphism. A familiar example is treating your pet like a family member.

Apparently, some people believe that anthropomorphizing plants and animals detracts from science or maybe they just think it is silly. To me, that is a shortsighted view.

I believe that Wohlleben’s use of anthropomorphic terms to describe trees and other forest denizens probably contributed to the book becoming a best seller. By writing a book that is easy for people to relate to and fun to read, he has made learning about trees and forests appealing to a wide audience.

Perhaps after being introduced to trees in The Hidden Life of Trees, you and other readers will be inclined to do some further reading or research about trees, get to know trees in your own community, or take action to protect an old growth forest at risk of destruction. Regardless, you will come away having gained knowledge and at least one interesting tidbit to share with your friends.

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees is a delightful and informative experience you do not want to miss.

Featured Image at Top: Beech Tree Forest Canopy in Germany during the Summer – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ Alexandra Theile

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Being the Change – Book Review

What if burning less fossil fuel made you feel healthier and happier?

Reading Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution will show you that you can hugely reduce your fossil fuel use and have a good time doing it.

Being the Change by Peter Kalmus Book CoverLast November, I was browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table at the Central Coast Bioneers conference in San Luis Obispo, CA when I spotted Being the Change by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. I read the back cover and flipped through the book.

Kalmus’ message seemed to be that you could substantially reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and still enjoy your life. I think many people are fearful of life without fossil fuels because they are worried that it will be all about struggle and deprivation. I liked the upbeat tone of the book so I bought it.

Book Review

In the first part of Being the Change, Kalmus talks about what motivated him to change his life and then provides an overview of global warming. In the second part, Kalmus describes specific changes he has made in his own life on the individual/family level and then wraps up with a review of large-scale actions that we need to take at the governmental and societal level to mitigate climate change.

Part I: Predicament

It comes as no surprise that Kalmus became interested in learning about global warming just after the birth of his first child, which made him look further into the future and beyond himself.

Like many of us, Kalmus’ life ran on burning fossil fuels and he lived enmeshed in the society that constantly urges us to buy more stuff. He decided to reduce his own fossil fuel use dramatically and in doing so perhaps encourage some other people to join him. I agree with Kalmus that small actions do matter and can lead to larger actions. I also concur that trying to make people feel fear or guilt is not a good motivator and that we cannot shop our way out of our predicament.

I think Kalmus did a good job of explaining the science and far-reaching consequences of global warming using mostly “regular people” language. However, I do understand if you find your eyes glazing over and want to skip ahead. This information is really, really important so if you can only absorb a little at a time, read ten or twenty pages and then go do something else or read ahead and then come back to this part later.

“The Earth system answers only to the laws of physics, not to the needs of humans.” —Peter Kalmus

Part II: A Mammal in the Biosphere

Over several chapters, Kalmus tells stories about starting a food garden, converting an old car to run on waste vegetable oil, biking everywhere, beekeeping, and a variety of other actions. He openly shares his successes and setbacks. I see these pages as being more about describing what is possible and encouraging you to think about what changes you can and want to make in your own life versus following his path.

Perhaps because he is a scientist, Kalmus calculated his pre-change and post-change carbon emissions or maybe he just did it for fun. He provides information for readers who want to do their own calculations.

The last few chapters describe actions requiring legislative support like putting a price on carbon, community actions such as participating in backyard produce exchanges, and love.

“When I feel unsure about whether or not I should speak out, I think of the billions of people with no voice on the matter. I think of those who are most vulnerable. I think of my children. And then the decision to speak out is easy.” —Peter Kalmus

The Bottom Line

By day, Peter Kalmus is a physicist and climate scientist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The rest of the time, he strives to reduce his reliance on fossil fuels and live happily with his family.

As a climate scientist Kalmus has the necessary chops and knowledge to write about what causes global warming, how it impacts Earth (and us), and what the future holds (of course, no one really knows what will happen in the future).

I am an avid reader and I have read many books about global warming, climate change, and activism. I think Being the Change provides readers with solid information and practical inspiration. One thing that sets it apart from many of the books I have read is that Kalmus focuses on the joyfulness possible in a world without fossil fuels.

I recommend reading Being the Change to anyone who is planning to continue residing on Earth or who is concerned about his or her children or future people’s ability to do so.

Featured Image at Top: Gingerbread Person with a Smile Peeking out from of a Line of Gingerbread People – Photo Credit iStock/AlasdairJames

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