Saturday, October 26, 2019

Humility from Trees

I’m finally reading Peter Wohlleben’s NYT bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees. Having a job that once again revolves around ecology, I find myself sliding back into the field’s writings. I should have always kept an eye on it, but Life pulled me this way and that over the years. I must humbly accept that fact and try to understand what’s been learned in the last 25 years.

As I began reading it, I immediately saw many similarities between Mr. Wohlleben’s observations and my own in my book, Dear Warriors. Specifically: interdependence. Even his cover and the first image I put in my introduction are similar. Both depict flourishing trees in modified cross-section. Whereas his focuses on 3 trees and their roots, I drew a single tree, its roots, and the elements it’s exposed to.

Initially, I experienced an embarrassed flush of nervousness. I worried that my book’s art and ideas would be construed as a copy, even though I hadn’t read Mr. Wohlleben’s work before publishing. I could have easily slipped into a mental canyon of inadequacy, telling myself that my work was yet another example of my lack of originality and hidden it. Instead, I’m choosing to wave it as another support for the veracity of this notion that life is all about interdependence.

My whole point in pulling trees into my analysis of living with type 1 diabetes was to draw an analogy between trees and people. I felt a connection. Mr. Wohlleben’s book focuses solely on the gorgeous details of what trees go through, emphasizing specific ways they relate to both others of their own kind and entirely different species. I would suggest reading his book first, then mine. If you can learn to believe that trees aren’t independent and self-contained, then you can be open to the notion that no human is, either. You can also learn to believe that our daily activities can reflect that we’re stronger together, as I tried to state in Dear Warriors.

We’re stronger together, whether we’re talking humans or trees.

I titled this essay Humility. Humility and being humble are vital to our best lives, in my opinion. With them as our foundation, the ego can’t take over. We cannot become engrossed by the “wonder” of our own ways and thoughts and act as though other humans are enemies.

The science behind Peter Wohlleben’s work shores up his claims about trees- ideas that many might find fantastical and easily discounted if they were not being tested and corroborated by others around the globe. If we’re open to seeing deeper truths. To me, they prove one thing: we cannot believe we know everything about this world we live in. We have to be open to “if”.

We must humbly admit that we are not omniscient.

The networks that trees appear to thrive best in reminds me of other networks being uncovering and studied in recent years. For instance, take the human microbiome. has a great timeline review and specific deep-dive information on this expanding field of study. Over half the cells in and on our bodies are not human. They all can affect how we live and perhaps we can adjust our living to maximize our relationships with these other entities to improve how we feel and how well we live. Can we humbly admit that we need some of these other species and encourage them? Can we accept that they may need us and we might do best by allowing them to coexist with us?

Can we accept with humility that we need other humans and other species to survive and thrive?

It can be an uncomfortable shift in thought. But, it can also be comforting because we’re capable of seeing truths and falsehoods. We’re capable of testing to confirm. We’re capable of failing and trying again. We can move forward, even if the steps are painful.

I’m looking at trees a bit differently of late. I knew I thought of them in some sort of kinship, but Peter Wohlleben has given me some substance to firm up those feelings. If their bodies are linked to many others and if our bodies are linked to many others, then how far does this linkage idea go? It fills me with hope, wonder, and a sense of place.

Neither a tree’s life nor a human’s is idyllic. Both eventually come to an end. But I can pat a tree’s bark and consider its journey, as I can my own, with humility and kinship and smile.

We can be stronger together.

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