After the torrential downpour we experienced yesterday, walking in the park with my dog, Danny, was a special pleasure today. The woods were full of puddles, some the size of small ponds. The trees drinking up the water shook off the rain and set their flowers and new leaves dancing.
Japanese scientists suggested a few years ago, that walking under the woodland canopy an activity they call “forest bathing” improves immune function, reduces stress levels and promotes creativity.
Cleaner air and less noise and distraction play a part, but some researchers also argue that the trees may give off a mist of “wood essential oils” which have a beneficial effect.
New research recently measured an improvement in cognition after subjects of the research took a 50 minute walk in a treed park. Not only the improved air quality and quiet affected the walkers but the colours and complex shapes in nature seem to be a restorative which encourages reflection and increases brain activity. And these effects can now be measured and compared to the lesser benefits of walking on city streets.
And from the other side of the fence, Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, explores the nature of trees and woods.
Wohlleben started his career as a forester, working in forests where trees were seen only in terms of their value as lumber, but over the years has become a naturalist.
As he learned about the research being done in Universities, he altered the way in which he looked after the woods in his care.
He now manages a municipal forest of beeches, where he conducts tours inspired by his passion for the forest and the ideas he puts forward in his best-selling book.
Biologists have known for some time that trees in a forest are social; they will nurse sick members of the group, warn each other of danger and are capable of learning and remembering.
In The Hidden life of Trees, Wohlleben invites his readers to imagine how the forest trees interact, experience pain, explains their use of a “wood-wide web”, a fungal network which carries electrical signals from tree to tree, gives them characters, refers to the ways in which they communicate as “talking” and how they nurture seedlings as “suckling their young”.
He has said that he uses “a very human language” because “scientific language removes all the emotion and people don’t understand it anymore”. The results are electrifying; he brings to life the forests he loves and many claim that he has changed the way in which they look at trees.
As I walk along wooded paths today, his views enrich my experience of those woods.
Of course, there are many questions still to be answered; Wollebehn writes about European forests and the different characteristics of the beeches , oaks, aspens and willows, which are common there, with only occasional references to the mixed woodland, and boreal forests of this part of the world. So I hope that soon someone will write about the character and life style of maples, pines and firs living in a natural forest.
Wohlleben’s trees are creatures that feel, communicate and act for the good of their community. He indeed, might argue that they talk, translating their ability to communicate into human terms. And perhaps they really are almost “talking trees”, like those of Greek and medieval myths or Treebeard and the Ents in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, whose task it is to guard and protect the forest.
Trees play an important role in many folktales and have inspired many stories
As we enjoy our walks in the park let’s be grateful to the trees for all they do for us and determine to treat them better in our own interest as well as theirs.
Look back at the infographic, “The Story Reading Ape” posted on his blog, Deforestation: Our Disappearing Woodlands the other day, if you still need to be convinced of how important the preservation of our forests is.