Healthy and General

NATURE’S TURN: Listen to trees, the forest

3 min read

Branch Tips Meet at forest edge: Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Linger over this portrait on a larger screen than a smartphone, for full effect. Do you get the impression that the leafy twigs of the tree on the left are engaged in excited communication, in energetic contact with those of the tree on the right as they reach the middle of the space? Photo by Judy Isacoff.

July 2-15, 2022

Mount Washington — I am poised on the threshold of the cabin door, looking out to the edge of a stand of Eastern Hemlock trees. Two luxuriously green hemlock branches grow towards each other, creating a graceful double arc, a wave, in the span between their respective trunks that are about thirty feet apart. The leading tips of the twigs of each branch nearly touch. I have the distinct impression that these two trees are communicating with each other.

I sent the photograph that appears above to a colleague who is a student of science and energetic phenomena. My caption, “Trees engaged / relationship / meeting,” and question, “Is there a story here? Does it read?” His response: “I find confusion between aesthetic-bodily-emotional forms ‘reaching’ and natural-scientific solar tropism.” Two days passed during which I gazed at the trees, observed the Sun’s movement in relation to them, and found their communication—and my eavesdropping—as lively as ever. Unsolicited, I received a new message from my confidant, “Seeing on my computer, not smartphone, those branch tips really do seem to be engaged in excited communication!”

Curious to learn more, I approached the trees from a different vantage point. Looking up from the ground, I observed, with quiet fascination, the delicate leading wood of the branch on the right turning toward its neighbor tree rather than outward to meet the sun. The following photograph is an attempt to document that gesture.

Close-up detail of the Branch Tips Meet lead photograph. A branch of the tree on the right curving toward the branches and twigs of the tree in close proximity on the left. Looking up from the ground, the stem is seen turning toward its neighbor tree rather than outward toward the sunlight. Photo by Judy Isacoff.

I have paid attention to trees since childhood, studied them, conducted classroom lessons about them and field sessions in forests and parks. Even though I have frequently stopped to “listen” to trees on some level as one living being to another, and encouraged students to do so, I am heralding new receptivity dawning in my consciousness. Two tree books that have been in my peripheral vision for awhile and that, coincidentally, I had on reserve at the library when I perceived the hemlocks communicating with each other, report pioneering research into plant communication. “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate” by forester-ecologist Peter Wohlleben was published in English in 2016. Research scientist Suzanne Simard’s “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest” was published May 4, 2021. I’m hoping that many of us will be reading them together.