If we read books, we get to live a thousand lives. In living those other lives, we acquire new perspectives — we grow as a person.
I thought about the power of books after reading The Overstory, a masterpiece by Richard Powers. This fictional story weaves together the lives of humans and trees.
Being a psychologist I already knew a bunch about humans, including eco-revolutionaries, but I learned plenty about trees from the book. I confirmed the information with online searches.
I learned that trees communicate with each other above and below ground through chemicals – and through fungus highways. The trees warn of new threats such as pests. They also help each other by sharing resources — particularly with their own young growing nearby.
I learned about the suicide tree of Costa Rica. It grows in areas crowded with trees. It flowers only once, creating a chance of reproduction. Then it dies, apparently to create an opening in the canopy for its “children.”
I also learned about various trees amazing in their own ways. There is the baobab tree, with its hugely thick trunk. Australia has some of these oddities. And there’s the strange-looking dragon blood tree that seems to bleed when it is cut.
The book describes how trees are being slaughtered in the millions by clear-cutting, logging, and various pests. Humans use a lot of wood — for houses, boxes, paper. Pests include certain boring insects, moths, and beetles. Nature can be brutal, with or without human involvement.
The Overstory includes a character based on an actual scientist — Suzanne Simard — who became famous by proving trees communicate with each other. She says trees are smarter than they look.
Then the book pointed out that humans and trees share a common ancestor — from a time over a billion years ago.
When I built my house, one of “my” trees, a gum, was cut to a stump to allow room for building equipment. Over the past few years it has grown back and developed a new trunk.
I am not ashamed to tell you that I have hugged a tree on occasion. Now my affection for trees is so great that I kissed my gum. I also reduced my use of paper.
Reading the book gave me a sense of living a life as a tree.
Has reading a book ever changed you?