Out on a Limb

If you read and enjoyed Richard Powers’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory, which I finally got around to and mentioned here in November, then you probably know by now that the Patricia Westerford character in the novel was inspired by British Columbia forest sciences expert Suzanne W. Simard.

Our understanding of soils, roots, and the communication and nutrient sharing of trees is based primarily on Simard’s lifelong work. She’s written papers, given TED talks, and worked as a leader with TerreWeb. Now, with her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (May 2021), she brings her research to the public in a well documented and accessible book that will enhance our understanding of the forest society.

I really don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb when I saw that Finding the Mother Tree will win a Pulitzer Prize.

Considering he impact of forests on our lives, this is an essential book in the world’s library of resources in that it brings groundbreaking scientific studies to a world heretofore posited by mystices, philosophers, and the often-mocked tree huggers.

Excerpt from the Publisher’s Description

Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she’s been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths–that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.

Simard writes–in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways—how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies–and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.

From the NYT Review

This book is a testament to Simard’s skill as a science communicator. Her research is clearly defined, the steps of her experiments articulated, her astonishing results explained and the implications laid bare: We ignore the complexity of forests at our peril. Simard began her career shy, as many who are called to study nature are. Those who seek solitude in mountains and under the shadows of pines often do not wish to command a room. She published her results and spoke at conferences, but did not often directly engage her detractors, the policy silverbacks who ridiculed this young woman and her ideas about trees cooperating rather than competing. – New York Times.

If you love forests, this book is a joy to read and, I would say, gospel.

Malcolm