We read in fairy tales of trees with human faces, trees that can walk, and sometimes talk. If you listen closely you can learn secrets from the hidden life of trees that will help you survive a pandemic.
A White Spruce Forest
We’ve been St Albert residents for over 30 years yet we’d never heard of the White Spruce Forest until two weeks ago. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? Dr. Peter Murphy, a legend among foresters, lived in St Albert, and cared for this special place until his last day of life. While preparing for his funeral, Peter’s children encouraged me to explore “dad’s forest.”
Always ready for a good walk, Jocelyn and I took up their invitation on a cool Saturday morning in November. We love the forest trails near Banff and Lake Louise and had no idea there was such a magical place in our own neighborhood.
This rare, urban first-growth forest falls on the western limits of the city near Ray Gibbon Drive and McKenney Avenue.
It only took us a few seconds to leave the main trail, follow a path of footprints and become completely immersed in the density of the forest. The beauty of the pristine, snow-covered trees is breathtaking.
It’s easy to be transported to C. S. Lewis’ world of Narnia in the white spruce forest.
Discoveries In The Forest
Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees suggests that the next time you go for a walk through a forest ask yourself what dramas are being played out? Slow down, breathe deep, and look around. What can you hear? What do you see? How do you feel?
When you walk through the forest pay attention to the quality of the tree trunks, the bizarre root shapes, peculiar growth patterns, and the mossy cushions on bark. Every day in the forest is a day of discovery.
Forest air is the epitome of healthy air. People who want to take a deep breath of fresh air or engage in physical activity in a particularly agreeable atmosphere step out into the forest. There’s every reason to do so. The air truly is considerably cleaner under the trees, because the trees act as huge air filters.
The Resilience of Trees
There are trees we walked past today that predated the 1918 pandemic by over 60 years. Trees are the epitome of resilience, some thriving for thousands of years through pestilence, wars, famine, pandemics, floods, and economic depressions.
Trees communicate by passing electrical impulses through their tissues. They also use the sense of smell and taste for communication.
The most astonishing thing about trees is how social they are. The trees in the forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a fallen tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients and so keeping it alive.
Trees need each other. It takes a forest to create a micro climate suitable for tree growth and sustenance.
Together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderate extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment trees can live to be very old.
Look up into a forest canopy to see how trees grow their branches. A tree will grow its branches out until it encounters the branch tips of a neighboring tree at the same height. It doesn’t grow any wider because the air and better light in this place are already taken. Trees don’t want to take anything away from each other and so they develop sturdy branches only at the outer edges of their crowns.
- Trees maintain an inner balance.
- They budget their strength carefully, and they must be economical with energy so that they can meet all their needs. They expend some energy growing.
- Trees must lengthen their branches and widen the diameter of their trunks to support their increasing weight.
- They also hold some energy in reserve so that they can react immediately and activate defensive compounds in their leaves and bark if insects or fungi attack.
What can you learn from the hidden life of trees? Your walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Want to do something magical with your family during COVID? Take a walk in the White Spruce Forest. When you do leave a comment at the bottom of this post and join the conversation.
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