When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come in the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry
Long before I had heard of Shinrin Yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing, I was familiar with the transformative and healing influence of the forest. The calm and quiet that comes from being there opens up an inner space that recognizes the forest, welcomes it, knows it. There among the trees I am in the companionable presence of loved ones.
When reading Peter Wohlleben’s wonderful new book, The Hidden Life of Trees, it felt as though a curtain was being pulled back on an amorphous sense of knowing, giving words and insight to the experience many of us share on our forest excursions. In his many years of research in an ancient forest in the Eifel mountains of Germany, Peter Wohlleben has come to some stunning findings about the life of trees. His book is beautiful and moving.
Peter Wohlleben describes how trees nourish, protect, and care for their forest family and community. They communicate through a complex language of olfactory, visual, electrical, and auditory signals over great distances. ‘Mother trees’ care for their kin by nourishing them, protecting them, and sharing their knowledge through an extensive network of soil fungi. And as his understanding of the forest has deepened, Wohlleben believes trees hold in their deep and ancient roots a “repository for intelligence, the faculty of memory, and emotions.”
Deep down at the molecular heart of life, the trees and we are essentially identical.
~ Carl Sagan
While our evolutionary split from vegetation happened early on, and our senses haven’t allowed us to understand what is going on inside trees, we have felt their peaceful presence. In ancient and undisturbed forests the trees are exchanging messages, mostly of care and contentment, and these messages are reaching our brains as well. We are registering the friendly chatter of the forest.
Trees live life slowly. Their lives can go on for hundreds of years, and if we measure by the age of their roots, where most of their life occurs, thousands. The movement of their growth is gradual and unhurried ~ the unfurling of a leaf, the growth of a new shoot. We have been invited to find our place in this quiet and unhurried world.
When the world weighs heavily upon us, we go to the forest, become as still and quiet as the trees, and find solace there. We sit at the feet of ancient trees ~ welcomed and embraced ~ and listening to their soft murmuring, our hearts open, and we find the lost pieces of ourselves once again.