The Heartbeat of Trees - Embracing our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature by Peter Wohlleben (2021 hardback 258 pp Greystone Books $32.95)

German forester Peter Wohllenben introduced me to Suzanne Simard in his first book, the runaway bestseller Hidden Life of Trees, and he put me onto Emanuele Coccia in this book, with a hilarious description of the academic descending on his forest in suit and tie. That’s kind of the way with Wohllenben: he takes you to the sorts of people you need to meet.

Here he continues with the thesis that trees make decisions, favour their relatives, and consciously experience the world. There’s been a lot of criticism of Wohllenben out there, because he supposedly lacks scientific rigour. No, he’s not a scientist, he’s a forester, he writes of what he knows in a way that has connected his millions of readers back to those forests that are near to them. Just fine by me.

One of those he introduces us to this time is František Baluška, a biologist at the University of Bonn, who has long been a proponent of plants feeling pain - why else would they produce substances that suppress pain? Baluška discusses his new area of research: a South American vine (Boquila trifoliolata) that changes the shape of its leaves to faithfully mimic those of the tree or shrub it’s climbing on. The vine can see, Baluska argues, in fact, it’s conceivable that all plants can see.

Wohllenben writes from the front lines of forests under threat in Europe and, in one case, in Canada. He went to Kwiakah First Nation where we meet Chief Steven Dick and learn of the massive increase in timber harvesting in the nation’s territory in B.C. Clear-cuts were everywhere. The band wants selection cutting - a process called Plenterwälder in Germany, in which commercial forestry takes place around stands of old growth. This, the Kwiakah say, will protect the rivers from runoff that kills the salmon that are the basis of the food chain up to grizzly bears and bald eagles. (And fosters destructive wildfire and leads to mudslides.)

“Nowhere else on my journeys had I felt such strong ties between people and nature than I did when I was with the band,” Wohllenben writes. I emailed the band manager to find out how things are, three years after the visit. There is progress in the right direction, he replies, although a long way to go, and the threat from conventional logging continues.