Life constantly connected to the World Wide Web got you feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Try disconnecting for a while, going for a walk in a forest, where you can contemplate and enjoy Mother Nature’s Wood Wide Web.
What is the Wood Wide Web, you ask? Well, research within the last 20 years by forestry experts, like Canada’s Suzanne Simard and Germany’s Peter Wohlleben, has proven that trees communicate with one another via an electrically alive fungal-root network. Says Simard, “Forests aren’t simply collections of trees. They’re complex systems with hubs and networks that overlap and connect trees and allow them to communicate. And they provide avenues for feedbacks and adaptation. And this makes the forest resilient.”
Wohlleben shares many of his findings, using human – not scientific language – in his book The Hidden Life of Trees, a bestseller in Germany recently translated to English. “Thus,” writes Brian Bethune in a Maclean’s article called Whispering Pines, “(Wohlleben’s) trees are both individuals and social beings: they nurse sick neighbours, lavish love and attention on their children, and even at times take care of their dead – keeping stumps alive through a sugar solution delivered from their roots to the stumps. The trees ‘talk’ to each other, warning about pests and changes in the weather; they learn from experience and feel pain when injured.”
Whoa. If the practice of clear-cutting bothers you at all, well doesn’t that just make you want to run outside, hug trees, make it stop? Simard checked up on how Canada was doing in 2014 and discovered that we’re guilty of the highest forest disturbance in the world, a rate she considers four times the sustainable rate. She likens the loss of “hub”, or mother, trees to rivets on an airplane. The loss of one or two? Okay. Too many? The system crashes.
And Simard criticizes our reforestation practices by saying, “Simplifying forest complexity by only planting certain species makes trees vulnerable to infections and bugs.”
In her TED Talk How trees talk to each other, Simard offers four great solutions:
- Go back into the woods. Become involved and gain knowledge of forests at a local level.
- Save our old-growth forests, which means less cutting.
- Be conservationists. Save the legacies, the mother trees, the ones able to pass on wisdom to the next generation.
- Regenerate our forests with diversity so that Mother Nature has the tools to self-heal.
Hidden Life author Wohlleben, who started his career having to follow normal logging practices – clear-cutting, machine logging, spraying insecticides – has come up with a couple of good solutions himself. Writes Bethune, “(Wohlleben) became fixated on the way nearby private forests, in operation for hundreds of years, were not only run with ecological sensitivity, but made more money, because their trees were older and larger, and their operating costs so much lower.” He convinced his bosses to change their practices and now all trees harvested are removed by horse power, as heavy logging machinery is damaging to the forest floor.
And to save trees? Charging for burial plots now offsets the cost of fewer trees being felled. “We now have 4,000 urns in the forest,” says Wohlleben, “with room for another 20 years of demand.”
Quite likely life in the fast lane for us humans makes it difficult to relate to life in the slow lane for trees. “It’s hard to accept,” says Wohlleben, “that helping means keeping our hands in our pockets, letting all the ugly, slow death and messy regrowth go on for 500 years.”
I figure an organism that can grow way taller and live way longer than me must be wiser, so deserves a ton of respect. And regularly tapping in to the Wood Wide Web sounds way more calming and healing than being constantly connected to the World Wide Web. In this area, with tree initiatives like One Million Trees, Trees Ontario and Carolinian Canada Coalition, there are many ways to contribute financially or physically to saving our forests. Look for a way to keep the Wood Wide Web connected in your community.
Website picture is of an exhilarating connection I made to the Wood Wide Web in North Vancouver while visiting two of my children in May.