“When I talk of the forest, I’m talking about a community.”– Peter Wohlleben
Think about taking a walk through your neighborhood. There’s always more to it than meets the eye, and if you’re walking with a newcomer, you may find yourself pointing out obscure details, like the garden gnomes peeking out from your neighbor’s shrubs or that bushtit nest in the maple tree down the alley. Now imagine taking a walk through the forest with someone who knows its secrets, who sees the details so easily missed at first glance. Reading Forest Walking is just such a journey, and by the time you’ve finished, you’ll have the tools to uncover the hidden treasures of your own local forests.
Peter Wohlleben—German forester, conservationist, and author of The Hidden Life of Trees—has partnered with local author and naturalist Jane Billinghurst, who has translated several of his books. Together they take readers on walks through some of the major forests in North America, sharing observations and experiences large and small. Billinghurst lives in Anacortes, and her appreciation for the Pacific Northwest’s forests is richly documented here.
Wohlleben begins with some techniques for immersing yourself in the forest. Using all your senses is key to decoding forest mysteries, and he weaves practical tips with engaging details to illustrate the importance of slowing down and paying attention. “As you walk through the forest, many eyes will be watching you. If you take the time to stop and listen, every once in a while, you might discover some of the creatures that have you in their sights.”
As you journey through the book, you’ll find yourself following many different paths of inquiry, not ploddingly presented, but ignited by the knowledge and passion of the authors. Whether it’s pondering the importance of tree roots (did you know they breath oxygen like we do?); decoding the twists and turns of a tree’s life through its growth habits; or learning about the sky gardens of the giant redwoods (“there are animals in these sky gardens whose feet never touch the ground”), you’ll gain newfound appreciation for the complex, interconnected communities living under the forest canopy.
Two chapters are devoted to connecting children with the forest using hands-on interpretation and activities that feel more like play than learning. There’s even a chapter on exploring the forest at night. Along the way, the authors provide many useful tips, such as wildlife spotting (the variety of woodpecker architecture is astounding!), proper clothing, forest survival (ever eaten cattails?), and a fascinating discussion of which trees provide the best shelter in the rain.
The final chapter offers some strategies for helping our forests survive and mature (most North American forests are less than 100 years old), including the idea of burial forests, such as the one Wohlleben helped create in Germany. Imagine becoming an eternal member of your forest community!
Forest Walking will undoubtedly whet your appetite for deeper exploration, both on foot and in reading. You’ll find a generous notes section and bibliography to guide your way.
You can meet Jane Billinghurst at a free virtual event on June 14th at 6:00pm (co-sponsored by Village Books and North Cascades Institute), and in person later that week when she’ll do a special benefit forest walk for WMTP in the Hundred Acre Wood. Check out our Facebook page and website Events page for more details.
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Lauren Fritzen is a contributing writer for Whatcom Million Trees Project. Lauren is a copywriter/copy editor and has professional experience in marketing, social media, research, and event planning. Having written for Cascadia Weekly, WhatcomTalk and other local publications, she bolsters our blog articles and contributes to our other writing needs.