“The end of the human race will be that it will
eventually die of civilisation.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The end of the human race will be that it will
eventually die of civilisation.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A few months ago, I saw several posts on social media about how trees communicated with each other. At the time, I didn’t bother to look into it any further, but recently a friend put up a link to a TED talk by Canadian scientist Suzanne Simard (embedded below).
She came from a family closely associated with trees – her grandfather was a logger and when she started work, she also found herself in the logging industry. Fortunately, the relentless destruction caused by intensive logging and clear cutting of forests didn’t rest well with her conscience and she could no longer be a part of it.
She went back to studying and researched a lead into tree to tree communication. She has been able to prove that many species of trees work together, asking for carbon as an example, and other adjacent trees respond by giving it. But not just carbon – many other of the essentials of tree life can be asked for and given in a two-way relationship.
How did I miss this? It’s so amazing, breathtaking and groundbreaking that it should be major news shouldn’t it? As the realisation and extent of what’s happening starts to sink in, it’s really making me think, on a deep level about trees, about nature and about the part humans play, particularly in the destruction and use of trees.
…it’s really making me think, on a deep level about trees, about nature and about the part humans play, particularly in the destruction and use of trees.
Humans have clearcut old growth forests all around the world, and continue to do so right now. Deforestation is not just an issue in the Amazon, it’s an issue in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Borneo, China and so on. When you clearcut, you don’t just kill the trees, you destroy the entire ecosystem that trees are the hub of, so fungi, insects, birds, mammals are decimated often to the point of no return.
And when ‘we’ replant forests, we plant the best thing for humans – cash crops – monocultures of the trees that will grow fastest and tallest and yield the highest profit. No longer do we have the diversity that was once there, and therefore, the mono cultures are prime sites for attack by pests and diseases.
I’m sure I read last week, that Sweden had logged over 95% of its old growth forests (if anyone can verify this, please let me know…). Although we tend to think of Sweden as a country covered in forest, it seems humans have stripped it bare and replanted commercial monocultures. The same is true of Finland according to some of the writing of Finnish philosopher, Pentti Linkola.
So, does the news that trees communicate affect you in any way? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Part of my job involves working with wood. I generally love it – being creative and making something that is highly visual, useful and that people can appreciate the effort I’ve put in.
I started off doing a lot of the work with hand tools, however over the years I’ve moved over to more power tools. Part of the move has been economic – it takes much less time to produce something using power tools – part of it is also accuracy – a power tool can quickly achieve a perfect cut and getting lines straight and true makes a big difference.
But power tools take you even further away from the essence of wood and from the lessons it can teach us. We become so removed that we might was well work with plastic or concrete. Wood has a heart and soul. Wood teaches us to slow down, to look, to feel, to listen to be intuit.
However, there is as aspect that sits slightly uncomfortably with me. Most of the wood I use was grown outside the UK and is highly engineered. I know little to nothing about the origin of the wood, the landscape, the environment – what, if anything, is being done about re-planting? Was the land clear-cut (disastrous for nature) or were trees picked out to allow recovery time? There’s also the fact that my skills revolve only around using pre-prepared wood. Presented with a ‘tree’, I wouldn’t know what to do.
Getting back to the essence of working with simple, minimal materials is something many crave and this lovely short video of the Stone Dahl family from Wisconsin, USA really whets the appetite! Although from the USA (material availability will be very different from the UK or other places), there is much to learn from what they do and their respect to the tree…
Whether we realise it or not, we wield an enormous amount of power over the natural world, and yet ultimately we have to live by its laws. We (‘civilised’ humans) have created machines of mass destruction – capable of ecocide – that we seem to wield without thinking too much.
I appreciate that if you want to dig a foundation for a house or need an area of ground levelled quickly, then a mechanical digger can do in minutes what would be hours of back-breaking labour for a human. But with that power, comes immense responsibility to use it wisely.
Our next door neighbours are having their driveway expanded and covered in tarmac. As part of the improvements, a beautiful Magnolia tree was ripped out of their lawn in seconds. Shortly afterwards, the conifers you see on the right of the picture were gone too.
From a selfish perspective, our previously private lounge, where the view was of green, is now laid open and bare. It’s a shock and one that we’ll adjust to, but probably not accept. We’ll mitigate things by planting a taller hedge on the boundary and regain some privacy, but my heart is pounding with sadness and loss.
Of course I also realise that I am a hypocrite to an extent. Our house sits where there was probably woodland, or at least fields (which would have been woodland at one point in the past). Every time I drive my car, I’m using roads that were built by tearing up the natural world, and even if I didn’t drive, goods and services that I purchase travel the roads or airways and were grown or made in a manner that has caused some destruction.
It’s just a very sobering thought, looking at how much destruction one man and one machine can do in such a short amount of time. In other parts of the UK, and across the world, machines ten times larger than this one do untold damage in our quest for progress and to enable us to have ‘stuff’.
Once in a while I think we all need to stop and consider the consequences of our daily actions, and act with that knowledge in mind.
At the other end of the destruction spectrum is a lady called Emma Orbach. She lives in a mud hut in Wales, without electricity. I’m not suggesting everyone could or should live like this, but she is an inspiration.
I’ve had a lot of feedback since reviewing Rachel Corby’s book, ‘Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature‘ and I’m even more inspired to learn and act on the lessons within the book and to rewild myself, little by little.
From reading the book, I have a head full of questions – in some ways, I wonder whether it’s possible to ‘rewild’ yourself and then go back to an ordinary life? Once you unlearn some of the modern crap we’ve come to accept how could it be possible to step back into what most consider an ‘ordinary’ or ‘civilised’ life? Surely as you rewild, you pass some point of no return? We’ll see.
I’m keen to walk my talk and not just consign the wisdom I’ve learned into a ‘have read’ pile on the floor. I also attending some ‘mindfulness’ classes, and likewise, I want to make sure I take the lessons on board and act on them.
One way I’m thinking is to actually have a plan for the future. I tend to just get on with life on a day-to-day basis and although I’ve changed some aspects of my life, there is no overall plan. Sure, I have goals in my head, but no plans of how to get from here to there.
By chance, I discovered a blog today where the author (Kim) had written a post “What is your true purpose in life“, and as part of that, had listed some aspirations. I hope Kim doesn’t mind me listing an edited few here (do check out her blog for the full list and other wonderfulness: Spiralspun.com)
In fact, there’s very little in Kim’s list that I wouldn’t also add to mine. Some are different ways of looking at the same and could be grouped under similar themes such as ‘live a mindful life’ and so on, but they’re all great ideas.
The one that I’m not completely sure of the meaning is “to live the life of the wild wolf woman inside and open my heart to others to join me” – I suppose for me, being male, it would be to connect on a deeper level with other men, to talk and support each other, to forget about all the competitiveness and bullishness that is often associated with the male aspect and to be able to talk and open up to each other in a supportive manner.
One of the things I definitely want to do is more creative stuff. I already write in a journal, but I want to do more of that. I have also been gifted a good quality pyrography machine. The photo above is my first effort – it’s the tree Ogham, with the centre Ogham of Birch as it was burned onto a birch wood disc. My inspiration is the wonderful book, ‘The Tree Ogham‘ by Glennie Kindred.
Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature is the third book by UK writer Rachel Corby. Here, I’m giving you my personal review of the book.
A few years ago, I was extremely fortunate to have been given a copy of one of Rachel Corby’s earlier books, The Medicine Garden, and from that became aware of her passion and unique immersion into aspects of nature that most people pass by.
Fast forward a few years and the environmental movement is full of talk of ‘rewilding’, led in part by George Monbiot’s excellent and controversial book, ‘Feral’. In essence, George Monbiot says that we have lost all our truly wild places, and suggests that instead of paying farmers to farm sheep in the hills of Wales (as an example), they could be paid let places rewild through planting native woodlands etc., and allowing places just to ‘be’. Through this, we could eventually see the re-introduction of some of the large predator species such as wolves that were once common and a new (to us) ecology would emerge.
So it was with interest that I heard Rachel Corby had a new book called ‘Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature’. In essence, the book is about how to unlearn some of the stuff that distances us from nature, from what we really are – an animal – and helps us connect back to the land in a physical, emotional and spiritual sense.
From the cover of the book:
Over the last millennia or so, as humanity has become more civilised, humankind has found itself increasingly removed from its own innate wildness. At the same time society has found itself beset with ever greater incidences of mental illness, stress, depression and antisocial behaviour. In Rewild Yourself: Becoming Nature Rachel Corby addresses the longing search for meaning, what she calls the dark cries of the soul, that have emerged alongside the human-nature disconnect.
The book starts with a discussion of what rewinding is, but I particularly liked the premise that before we can really contemplate rewilding a place, we need to rewild ourselves first. In Chapter 1, What is Rewilding, Corby writes:
“I believe the first step in reclaiming areas of land and habitat, to saving, refurbishing, rewilding them, is to find the wild place inside, to rewild yourself… By taming the environment we tamed an essential wild part of ourselves.”
There’s a lot accessible science in the book. In an effort to explain how interconnected we are to everything around us, we’re taken on a journey to explore cells, and atoms and even smaller things. We are told about the space between them and how vast that really is. We are made of stars and almost of nothing it would seem. We are made of the same stuff as rocks, trees, water, and so on.
There are practical tips on connecting with nature on daily basis that I really enjoyed. It’s not just about getting out there, but of stopping, connecting, feeling, being. The book teaches us the importance of seeing, not just with our eyes, but with our hearts too.
I can relate to this – years ago, we used to stay in holiday cottages with the in-laws. We’d go to some lovely places and admire a view to two, but it was as if we were looking at a photograph – go there, look and come away. I craved connection to the places, but went along with everyone else as a tourist. Now, I take my time and realise that looking and seeing are two different things.
Corby’s previous book and interest in herbalism shows through as she encourages us to eat wild too by foraging the wild places for leaves and plants that not only nourish and heal us, but act an a conduit to the wildness within ourselves.
Corby also recounts going on a ‘vision quest’, something that many indigenous people do as a rite of passage where you are alone for several days, without food and where ultimately the body ceases to have distractions and you become immersed both in the place around you and into yourself.
If I was critical of the book in any way, it would be that most people are unable or unwilling to fly around the world to undertake vision quests (nor would it be realistic – think of the environmental destruction all that carbon would cause). Whilst it is perhaps harder to be really ‘wild’ in the UK, I think people should try to find the wild within their own country, region and native culture and to experience that rather than one of another place and culture. I am nit picking here, because overall the book is simply superb.
So get the book and immerse yourself in it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can buy it direct from the author, but if you must, you can also try other booksellers and the ubiquitous Amazon too (but please try to support local businesses).
Originally written on 30th June 2015
It’s been a hot summer day. As we walk down a tree-lined path, you can ‘smell’ the cooler air – thank goodness for trees and the welcome shade they provide.
The scent of honeysuckle is in the air as I look directly at the low sun through the trees – suddenly you can see all the insects flitting around.
Around me, I see wild rose, foxglove, horsetail, nettle, holly, hawthorn, hazel and purple clover. The hedges and edge are bursting with growth.
A blackthorn arches over the path as if marking out a transcendental gateway. I wonder where my mind would take me if I mentally stepped through it?
I see the elderflowers are coming to the end of their season, but I can still bathe my nose in that special sweet yet dry scent.
I walk past a low hanging willow and look up at the pale moon in the light sky.
The peace and tranquility is overwhelming. If only I could bottle and preserve this feeling….