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"The Heartbeat of Trees" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

One of the ways many people remained upbeat during the anxious and trying days of the pandemic was to spend time outdoors. Parks and trails were used by record numbers of walkers during this time. It was this observation that drew me to Peter Wohlleben’s latest book “The Heartbeat of Trees.” This well-respected scientist maintains a leisurely walk in the woods can contribute to positive feelings and hope for the future of humans and trees.

The latest scientific findings reveal there is more to the plant world, especially trees, than most people appreciate. In this sequel to his “The Hidden Life of Trees,” Wohlleben writes convincingly about the reciprocal and beneficial bonds that historically have existed between humans and trees but are mostly overlooked today.

Referencing recent research and using logic, reasoning, and a little philosophy, the author encourages the reader to “sit under these giants, run your hands over their barks and feel secure;” experience “compounds” that calm your senses. Wohlleben maintains the amalgams that maples, oaks, and other trees release into the air to communicate among themselves also have a positive effect on the human circulatory system—reducing blood pressure—and altering the subconscious.

In an era when nature is primarily viewed for the income it can generate, and in a time when most people live in densely populated communities, Wohlleben declares there is a deep-seated need for humans to restore their connection to the natural world.

“The Heartbeat of Trees” is an easy-to-read summary about “the language of the forest, the consciousness of plants, and the eroding boundary between flora and fauna.” The 31 essays call readers to dig into the physical, mental, and emotional connections people experience with nature. Beginning with chapters on the five senses the forester author looks at the power trees have over human enjoyment, health, and life.

Later essays explore the emotional and spiritual human responses nurtured by trees. The chapter on walking in the woods with children is a particular highlight of the book. “The Heartbeat of Trees” celebrates these giants of plant life. It reports curious findings such as how bees read electric fields and how older trees “compost themselves” in their later years in order to survive.

This research is particularly timely when ancient trees and diverse old-growth forests are threatened by climate change, drought, fire, insects, and the pressures of industry. Global warming and deforestation are changing rain patterns affecting forests, agriculture, human health, and the availability of water.

Wohlleben leaves the reader with a challenge to visit a forest and reestablish that ancient bond between trees and humans, which has always been there, before it is too late. His latest book is full of astonishing new data and surprising ideas that will fill sensitive readers with awe.

About the author: Peter Wohlleben spent more than 20 years working for the Forestry Commission in Germany before leaving to establish a forest academy which supports sustainable forest management and adult and youth forest education. Greystone Books is the publisher of this 258-page book.

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