Into the woods

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Where the Wild Things Are is how I learned about the forest. Actually, let’s be more specific. It’s how I learned about escaping to the forest. So in a way, Maurice Sendak is the reason I love trees as much as I do.

The first tree I loved was the apricot tree in our backyard growing up. I have pictures of me as a kid climbing it and happily perched on its branches. I remember sitting in the shade it provided, reaching up every now and then to pluck a ripe apricot. My dog, always nearby, would wait patiently for any scraps. Later in life, that tree would get sick and need to be cut down. The backyard looks and feels so different without it. Not as welcoming.

I also loved a tree on my university campus. She was beautiful, although I admit that I have no idea what kind of tree she was. The internet was barely a thing back then (stop laughing) and I never bothered to look it up at the library. But I sat under that tree with my books almost every day. I fell asleep. I had lunch. I was sad to leave her when I graduated. I can only hope she is someone else’s tree now.

There’s a tree in the village my father grew up in, on the island of Crete in Greece, that stands in the town square in front of the church and kafenio. The tree is enclosed, protected almost, by a circular wooden bench. I used to sit on that bench when I was a kid, with a bottle of Coca-Cola or an ice cream. As a moody teenager, I sat there reading Anne Rice novels while pretending not to enjoy myself. And as an adult, I’ve sat under the tree because its where the wifi signal is strongest.

I’ve lived in the city for about a decade, but that doesn’t mean that I never get to see trees. Hundreds of different kinds of trees grow in Toronto. Treepedia gave us a pretty decent Tree View Index of 19.5%, and the City of Toronto is actively trying to increase its tree canopy from 27% to 40%.

But there’s something special about being in a forest. Being surrounded by trees is very different from quickly walking by a few that are taking up space on the sidewalk. And as much as I appreciate every single park this city has to offer, there are times when only a walk in the woods will do. But seeing as I can’t take a nature hike whenever I want, I’m turning to a book for help.

You may have already heard of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees since it was a pretty massive success when it came out. But the new illustrated edition has selections from the original along with truly gorgeous photographs of trees from around the world. It’s a coffee-table book for cottages and cabins, for sure. But also for condo owners who like to daydream.

What I really appreciate about this book is how the author brings a sense of wonder to the subject. So not only do you learn something but you’re sort of charmed at the same time. (If you enjoy Peter’s writing style, I’d also recommend The Inner Life of Animals, which I wrote a review about for the Toronto Vegetarian Association.)

The most interesting part of The Hidden Life of Trees was Chapter 4: Strategies for Survival. As someone who has grown up experiencing very distinct seasons, I’ve always been fascinated by trees at all different stages. Their transition from summer to fall is stunning, but fall to winter is impressive. Particularly when you’ve witnessed all that winter can throw at you: wind, snow, rain, ice. The photographs of trees in the snow or covered in a layer of crystal from freezing rain are truly beautiful, as are the descriptions: “Fine drops of moisture immediately freeze wherever they touch a branch or a needle, making them look as though they’ve been sprinkled with sugar.”

In the same way that taking a walk in the woods gives you a sense of appreciation for trees, The Hidden Life of Trees also manages to get you to look at the trees around you in a new way. And not just the special trees you might see if you’re lucky enough to visit an exotic destination. Wohlleben refers to trees that grow in urban areas as “street kids” and doesn’t overlook them. I’m going to leave this book out on my coffee table, maybe with a copy of Where the Wild Things Are. Seems like the right fit.

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