Stand still in the forest, and listen carefully. The trees are talking about you.
Well, perhaps not in quite the way we’d understand that as humans – it’s unlikely they’re passing judgment on your dress code, for example – but they are communicating with one another.
Through their roots and through massive interconnected networks of fungal strands, called micorrhizae, trees and other plants share chemical messages, passing back and forth between them, letting each other know of changes in the environmental conditions affecting them – providing information about their world and the many things that influence it. Instead of simply competing for things like light, water and nutrients, they actually act as a community, sharing resources and supporting one another.
It may not be communication as we usually think about it – using primarily sound and gestures – but it is communication nonetheless. In fact, it is not at all unlike the way our brain cells function to enable coordination and a coherent response to our interactions with the world about us. (For more on this, check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8V0IJ11CoE , one of many).
Of course, none of this is new. Wise people and those closely connected with the natural world, such as First Nations, have, for millennia, intrinsically understood the interconnectedness among living things. The Nuu-Chah-Nulth people on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for example, have a saying: “Hishuk-ish Tsawalk” which means “Everything is Connected.” That includes us. It’s a perspective and a lesson we could all benefit from.
For me, this changes the whole way I think about the forest (and my garden), and when I walk among the trees and plants I do so with a great deal more respect. We may never know exactly what the trees are saying about us, but it’s nice to imagine the possibilities.
A few years ago I had the responsibility and the great pleasure to organize the 14th International Conference of National Trusts. Held for the first time in Canada (in Victoria), this week-long gathering brought together representatives of National Trust organizations from around the world, along with many conservationists and heritage advocates from our local area and from across Canada. National Trusts represent more than 7 million members, in some 50 countries in all corners of the world. The Victoria conference adopted the Nuu-Chah-Nulth perspective – “Hishuk-ish Tsawalk” – as the underlying principle for our discussions and for our quest to find collective solutions to advance our cause of conserving the world’s special places.
It was a principle that was readily and wholeheartedly embraced by the participants. The National Trust movement has learned throughout its 120 year history that true conservation success comes best with a holistic, comprehensive and community-centred approach. It has always understood that providing the opportunity for individuals to step forward and take direction action to protect and care for those special places that mean so much to them is like “tugging on that single thing in nature” – they quickly find that it is connected to the rest of the world, and before long a larger, more comprehensive culture of conservation evolves. This culture of conservation is what it will take to protect our natural and our cultural heritage, and make the world a better and healthier place for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
This is why my colleagues and I continue to work hard to build a proactive, community-based National Trust for British Columbia and for Canada. If you’d like to help us with this, I’d encourage you to become a member, or make a donation. See our website for more details: https://ntlcbc.com/?page_id=20