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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate
By Peter Wohlleben, translated by Tim Flannery
(Greystone Books Ltd.)
Let me preface this by saying that I always loved Tolkien's Ents (his ancient, painfully slow-moving, yet wise tree people) and that I am a firm believer in and appreciator of the interconnectedness of all life on this planet. There is a certain amount of anthropomorphism in Wohlleben's book although that may be as a result of the translation (from German) and/or the romantic ideology of the author. I'm fine with that; his conversational style is appealing. His career spans many years in forestry and environmentalism and ecological research. He draws on hard science as well as personal observation to back up his thesis and includes groundbreaking discoveries about trees and their relationships with each other and other species, tree communities, and their senses (including taste and smell- although of course they do this differently from the way we do.) I am reminded of one of my previous picks (The Soul Of An Octopus) which encouraged the reader to redefine their definition of intelligence and consciousness. Our nervous systems are not the only model in the natural world and it is unfair and unscientific to try to attribute our processes to other entities. This book is an eye-opener. A wonderful treatise on the forest as a social network and an invitation to walk among the trees and feel it for yourself. Presenting his findings in terms that most humans can understand and relate to-- trees as nurturing parents, caregivers, protectors- make his arguments particularly potent.
The Fog is an entertaining tale about a people-watching yellow warbler on the northern isle of Icy Land (his detailed field notes on human sightings are featured on the endpapers) and his unlikely friendship with a little girl [#673 red-hooded spectacled female (juvenile)]. The Fog is also a modern parable about the importance of taking notice. One day, little Warble’s research is interrupted by a heavy fog which descends upon the island. When the fog doesn't budge, Warble convenes a meeting to discuss the problem. But other birds are in denial or accepting of the "new normal.” Some are distracted by entertainment (Nestflix?); others by investing in adaptive nest technology for the new foggy climate. Gradually many birds begin to forget there was ever a time before the fog. Even Warble’s lonely vigil is threatened by self-doubt - until he spies the little girl. She too sees the fog. Together they send origami messages by sea, asking if others can see it too. When replies start arriving from around the world saying they can, the fog begins to clear, “and it became easier to notice things.” Kyo Maclear’s clever allegory leaves plenty of room for interpretation, but at one level it suggests that in the face of creeping normality, one of the most valuable things you can do is to pay attention. Coupled with the humour and atmosphere of Kenard Pak’s ethereal illustrations, the result is a light-hearted but important ode to mindfulness, ecological and otherwise.
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, the most recent collection from Mvskoke/Creek poet, musician, and activist Joy Harjo, is a beautiful, generous, hopeful, heartbreaking book. Harjo's poems move freely through various worlds and ideas, times and places, the historical past and the present. Music is a big part of Harjo's language and lines, and there is a continuum of rhythm to the poems, many of which are described also as songs. Another continuous thread through the book is relationships: personal, familial, romantic; as well as between the natural world and the corporate/consumerist world. This collection ultimately presents poetry as a healer, applied by a poet who is at the height of her powers.
300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso is an extraordinary, very small, book. Often books of aphorisms can tend towards an obnoxious cleverness, but this one is a book of essays that are distilled to one or two or three sentences. Manguso's observations here cover a lot of ground, and the book can be read as a long poem in fragments, thoughts on writing, a biography, notes on sexual, romantic, and political relationships, and simply a list of wide-ranging, yet succinct ideas. There's a lot to this tiny book - Manguso is part of the pantheon of public intellectuals such as Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson. Read deeply from this short well!