Last Tuesday, Orion Magazine and Yale hosted the second in a series of author conversations to celebrate their new anthology Old Growth: The Best Writing About Trees from Orion Magazine. Guests included Sumana Roy (How I Became a Tree); Peter Wohlleben (The Hidden Life of Trees), and Jessica J. Lee (Two Trees Make a Forest), and the conversation was skillfully moderated by the Forum’s own Mary Evelyn Tucker.
Since only the first thousand of the many thousands registered for the event were able to access it live, we wanted to share here some of what was discussed, and provide the link to watch the recording.
Mary Evelyn drew out the authors to speak on topics as rich and diverse as slowing down (aka “tree time”); tree and plant communication; tree sentience and sensory interaction with the non-tree world; the ecological and cultural dimensions of trees; issues of anthropomorphization and claims by some of projection of human constructs onto the plant world; and how we are all truly a communion of subjects.
Peter Wohlleben spoke of how trees have chemical neurotransmitters, much like the human body, but the trees pre-date human existence on this planet by several hundred million years. He also shared exciting new research being done on tree sentience that is beginning to show that trees may have all of the senses we do (including studies showing they have sight!), and then some. Sumana Roy spoke eloquently about the need for us to not only have diversity in a racial and cultural sense, but also a diversity of imagination–cultivating completely new ways of thinking about life and the living. And Jessica Lee shared her perspective on how trees are an integral part of our place-based identity–our family of origin.
Survival of the fittest was discussed and clarified, not as competition for primacy over other species, but rather as a process of identifying which species fit best in that particular ecosystem to make it whole and strong. Sumana lifted up how trees and plants do not take more than they need (water, nutrients, etc) and do not know greed–their whole existence is about community and integral co-existence.
We hope if you were not able to watch it live, that you’ll access the recording to hear all of the dimensions of these topics and much more.
This event was hosted by Orion Magazine, The Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale Forest Forum, and Yale Environmental Humanities.