Book review by Rodney Wood
This is the title of a new book, subtitled ‘uncovering the wisdom and intelligence of the forest’. It was published in May 2021 by Allen Lane. The author, Dr Suzanne Simard, is a Canadian, and she tells a fascinating story of growing up in a logging family and through her love of the forest, becoming a researcher into its life.
The logging companies had a policy of clearing away all growth after a logging harvest so that they could plant their new seedlings in a space free from other species that would compete with them for resources. Her researches challenged this practice and it has taken many years for her ground-breaking work to gain support.
The trees and plants were generally not competing at all, but cooperating. Through underground fungal networks linking their roots, they were communicating: seedlings signalling their needs received support and nourishment from tall, established ‘mother trees’. She found that the mother trees were able to recognise their own seedlings, and also from their reserves give support to surrounding vegetation and so maintain a healthy environment for their seedlings to grow up in.
This wisdom and intelligence of the forest was in complete contrast to the practice of the logging companies with their monoculture and use of chemicals. She found that the interlinking connectedness of the natural forest was actually producing better and healthier crops of trees. The forest was not a chaotic struggle for the survival of the fittest but an organic, cooperating whole through these underground networks.
Perhaps Tolkien was on to something when he had the ‘huorns’, the trees, coming to the rescue in ‘Lord of the Rings’, for Simard’s book comes at a time when we have seen movements both here and abroad that are set on paths of separation, division and competition. The forest challenges us to think again.
The United Nations is one expression of our Christian vision of the Kingdom of God, where richer nations can help poorer ones, much as mother trees support their offspring. When a nation cuts itself off from the international community or receives sanctions from it, it inevitably suffers in consequence, like a seedling isolated from a mother tree.
So this discovery of the interconnectedness of the trees, the wisdom of the forest, comes now to remind us that there is a better way forward than through separation and competition. By cooperating humanity can achieve so much more. The forest reminds us of our interconnectedness in the web of life at a time when international cooperation has become urgently needed if the world is to avoid the looming calamities we now face, such as pandemics, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and migration.