Ever since a consensus emerged that trees and, by extension, their ecosystems, were both vastly interesting and badly threatened, great tottering logpiles of books about woods or individual tree species have seen the light of day. Of these books, one of the most influential has been The Hidden Life of Trees (2018), written by Peter Wohlleben, who for many years has looked after a forest in the Eifel mountains in Germany.
I read that book with interest, and needed no persuading that woodland trees form, in effect, a community, both as a result of the scents they give off and the interactions between their roots underground. And the book contained a timely plea that we should think much harder about the importance to the planet of long-established old-growth (as opposed to planted) native forests and woodland.
However, the author’s attachment to the Pathetic Fallacy (the titles of chapters included ‘Friendships’, ‘Social Security’, ‘Love’) made me so frantic that I could sometimes cheerfully have thrown the book across the room. I recognised that my anthropocentric thinking about trees required a considerable shift, but I could not go so far as to ascribe to trees consciousness, or a moral value to what he depicts as choice. (I should say that, over the past 25 years, I have planted a ‘shaw’ of 400 native trees at the end of my garden, and this work ranks among the more worthwhile things I have done in my life.)
Now the inquiring Wohlleben has turned his attention to what woodland can do for us. In The Heartbeat of Trees he explores humanity’s past relationship with woodland and, building on that, all the ways that we can again connect more closely with trees — for our benefit and theirs.