Haskell (Biology/The Univ. of the South; The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, 2012) uses the metaphor of song to capture how the “living memories of trees…tell of life’s community, a net of relations” of which humans are “incarnate members.”
As the author rightly warns, we allow the destruction of the global biological network that sustains us at our peril. Although we live in urban environments that appear to allow us to “step outside life’s songs,” this is a dangerous illusion. There is no fundamental duality between humans and the natural environments we inhabit. Moreover, writes Haskell, our fundamental nature is “as natural and wild” as it ever was. In this engaging and eye-opening narrative, he chronicles his travels in the Amazonian rain forests where the tree canopy provides shelter and food for at least half of the people, birds, and animals that dwell there. In those forests, there are more living tree species than in all of North America. The growth of tree roots communicates information about the rain and soil in different environments, and Haskell illustrates this by a comparison with the forests in Northern Ontario and the birds they shelter. Trees also give us crucial information about our shared environment. Through their roots, they send chemical messages that influence the growth of other vegetation and the behavior of resident animals. The author considers this to be a significant form of communication even though it is not deliberate. Not only do trees shelter us and the animals that contribute to our survival; they also record our planet’s history, and they contribute to the coal and oil deposits that fuel our civilization. On a more spiritual level, the happy voices of children playing in a park give testimony to trees’ importance in our lives in urban as well as wilderness settings.
Haskell’s message is straightforward and important: we are a part of nature, and the trees with whom we share our environment are vital parts of our lives.