THE NATURE TOUR: Listen to the trees, the forest

Branch tips Meet at the edge of the forest: Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Linger over this portrait on a screen larger than a smartphone, for maximum effect. Do you feel that the leafy branches 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 space? Photo by Judy Isaacoff.

July 2-15, 2022

Mount Washington— I’m balancing on the doorstep of the cabin, gazing at the edge of a grove of eastern hemlocks. Two lush green hemlock branches grow towards each other, creating a graceful double arch, a wave, in the gap between their respective trunks about thirty feet apart. The main tips of the twigs of each branch almost touch each other. I have the clear impression that these two trees communicate with each other.

I sent the photograph that appears above to a colleague who studies energy sciences and phenomena. My caption, “Trees engaged/relationship/reunion,” and the question, “Is there a story here? Does it read? His response: “I find confusion between ‘reaching’ aesthetic-bodily-emotional forms and natural-scientific solar tropism.” Two days passed during which I gazed at the trees, observed the movement of the Sun relative to them, and found their communication — and my listening — still vivid. Unsolicited, I received a new message from my confidant, “Seeing on my computer, not on my smartphone, these branch tips really seem to be engaged in horny communication!”

Curious to know more, I approached the trees from a different point of view. Looking up from the ground, I observed, with quiet fascination, the delicate main timber of the right branch turning toward its neighboring tree rather than outward to meet the sun. The following photograph is an attempt to document this gesture.

Close-up detail of Branch Tips Meet principal photography. A branch of the tree on the right curving towards the branches and twigs of the nearby tree on the left. Looking down from the ground, the stem is seen to turn toward its neighboring tree rather than outward toward the sunlight. Photo by Judy Isaacoff.

I have paid attention to trees since childhood, studying them, giving classroom lessons about them and field sessions in forests and parks. Although I have frequently stopped to “listen” to trees on one level as a living being on another, and have encouraged students to do so, I announce a new receptivity dawning in my consciousness. Two books on trees that have been in my peripheral vision for a while and which, coincidentally, I had in store in the library when I saw hemlocks communicating with each other, report pioneering research on plant communication. “The hidden life of trees: what they feel, how they communicate” by forester-ecologist Peter Wohlleben was published in English in 2016. “Finding the mother tree: discovering the wisdom of the forest” by researcher Suzanne Simard was published on May 4, 2021. I hope many of us will read them together.

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