Nature’s gifts: The hidden life of trees and the joy of animals

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Renowned German forester and author of “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate,”

Peter Wohlleben says trees are social creatures, they can communicate and even store memories. In Wohlleben’s latest book, “The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature,”  Wohlleben  describes the latest research on how trees communicate and cooperate with each other as if they were family. He also discusses the age-old ties linking humans to the forest, and whether a tree has the ability to heal and to feel.  

“When you walk in the forest, your blood pressure sinks,  your immune system gets better,” Wohlleben explains. “And that is caused because we are breathing in tree communication and our body reacts.” 

Our blood pressure doesn’t actually get better because we are in nature, but rather, it’s the other way around: “When you're going out of a forest in your office, into your home, into the city then your blood pressure rises,” he says. “Being in the forest, it [blood pressure] goes back to normal.”

German forester and author Peter Wohlleben explains how the real brain of the tree is in its roots: “There the tree makes decisions, there the tree stores its memory and there is a lot of communication with the surrounding species in the soil and between the trees of the same, let's say family.” Photo by Miriam Wohlleben.  “Trees are very important for our health and how we treat the forest. It's like a mirror: When we treat forests better, we treat ourselves better,” says Peter Wohlleben, author of “The Hidden Life of Trees.”

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Our fascination with the natural world and our ability to connect with other living species is especially pronounced when it comes to our relationship with animals.  Jonathan Bastian talks with celebrated author and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean about her latest collection of essays, “On Animals.” Orlean describes her instant and endless fascination with animals and why her connection to them — and especially donkeys — runs deep. 

“Part of the nature of the animal world is that we can never fully know or have the capacity to truly understand how they behave and what motivates them,” she says. “That's a lot of what makes them so compelling.” 

Orleans also talks about how animals interact with us — why they behave the way they do, and why some animals work for us when they don’t have to.  

“They're not pets and they're not wild, and we have formed a very interesting alliance with them that is perhaps even more complicated than our relationship to our pets,” she says. “A donkey is in this other space in relation to people. They are not pets … and yet, we've come to some agreement with them, that they will work for us and we will care for them. I find that so fascinating, and that's where this interspecies relationship seems so magical. I mean, why do donkeys work for us?”

“There is a simplicity and purity of relating to an animal that is very satisfying. And it's really different from relating to people,” says Susan Orlean, author of “On Animals,” a collection of essays.  “We're kind of hard wired to find big ears very adorable,” says author Susan Orlean. “They are kind of snack size unlike a horse, donkeys are generally small enough that you can approach them without feeling fear, and just appreciate the look on their face, which to me is utterly endearing.” Photo by Corey Hendricks



Andrea Brody