Wild Trees

I am re-reading a book called The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. It’s non-fiction about a group of people who study the high canopies of the tallest trees in the world. It’s about how they came together and learned to become ‘sky walkers’, to move through those trees and discover the amazing biodiversity found in those high canopies. I remember the first time reading it and being blown away by the realization that all these habitats exist high in the trees – everything from tiny wetlands to pockets of soil that support life like miniature parks no one has ever seen.

There is one story about these sky walkers hanging tree hammocks over three hundred feet in the air and sleeping up in the redwood canopy at night. One night they are caught in a storm with the wind bending the tree tops, sending their hammocks rocking. They talk about the sounds a tree makes at night in the wind. Not just the external sounds of branches whispering against each other, but the internal sounds of the heartwood.

Have you ever thought about a tree making sounds? It makes sense that it would. It’s a living organism after all. The wood bends and twists and moves and of course that would all make noise. But the author also talks about deep sounds almost below the level of human hearing.

I want that to be the heartwood, beating.

There are other books and articles about trees and how they form a habitat above and below ground. They talk about fungi that creates huge interconnecting pathways of roots that send nutrients to all trees in a grove or forest.

When you walk through a forest, there is so much life under your feet that you’re completely unaware of.

I know there are also books out there that anthropomorphize trees. That attribute human behavior or characteristics to trees. I’m skeptical of those. I don’t want them to be like humans. Plus I feel it’s a bit egotistical to think all life must mimic humanity.

I want trees to be a mystery unto themselves. Think about their lifespans. The redwoods in this book are two and three thousand years old. Not hundreds. Thousands. Think about what it must be like to live such a slow, slow life. All the rushing we do every day isn’t even a blip on a tree’s sense of time. If, of course, it even senses time and I’m not anthropomorphizing.

My sister, before she passed away, told me she could communicate with trees. She told me that the trees where I used to live were aware of me, sensed me, and trusted me. Whether that was true or not, I accepted that as one of the best gifts she gave me.

When I go by there now, I hope those trees remember me. Because I remember them, especially the ones I planted so very many years ago.

6 thoughts on “Wild Trees

  1. I love the Wild Trees!
    My favorite experience with the Wild Trees was backpacking a couple years ago. I was at a place called Dishpan gap which is also the headwaters of the north fork Skykomish. Rowan joined Karen S and I on that trip and he brought the Wild Trees. While we cooked dinner one night I read a couple chapters aloud.
    Great place to read this book. The after dinner discussion was spirited.
    I think that you would love Finding the Mother Tree. It’s about the BC forester who first studied the way that mycelium connects tree roots and brings nutrients to trees. She some intuitive insights to guide her research. Jannie would have appreciated her work, I think.


    • Oh, that sounds like the next book I’m going to read. Rowan and I were talking about the Wild Trees recently and that’s what made me go back and read it again. I’d forgotten how much I liked it. I love the idea of all these secret lives going on in the trees that we have no idea about.


  2. I have read a number of articles on trees — and forest, and fungi, and plants in general — and am blown away, like you, at all we are discovering about that complex ecosystem. It’s truly amazing. Don’t apologize for anthropomorphizing a bit — it’s a door into empathy. One door only, it’s true, but it helps us wrap our minds around things that are out of our experience.


    • There is an old Scottish folk song about an ancient yew tree and all the things it has seen. The song ends with asking about all the things it will see and I loved that visual of the grandfather tree continuing on.


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