The Alchemy of Science and Storytelling

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Hiking inside the Hoh Rainforest of Washington earlier this summer, I stopped for a moment, remembering Robin Wall Kimmerer’s descriptions of immersing herself in wilderness and taking time to listen. Gradually, my ears attuned to the fall of mist and birdsong around me. I knelt low to observe the tendrils of mosses, droplets of dew, and soft crumbles of soil spilling off glistening mushrooms. My walk among the towering ancient cedars took on new meaning after reading Braiding Sweetgrass, with Kimmerer’s words—like these ones—having seeped into me:

Here in the rainforest, I don’t want to just be a bystander to rain, passive and protected; I want to be part of the downpour, to be soaked, along with the dark humus that squishes underfoot. I wish that I could stand like a shaggy cedar with rain seeping into my bark, that water could dissolve the barrier between us. I want to feel what the cedars feel and know what they know.

Read more about Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and Alan Lightman’s Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine on the Ploughshares blog.

The Story and the Overstory

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I knew it was a matter of time before we would see a novel on the sentience of trees, especially since the publication two years ago of the German forester Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees and the groundbreaking discoveries by Dr. Suzanne Simard and other scientists on tree behavior. Their findings show that trees communicate and share resources to help their offspring and neighbors and even pass on memories of trauma. There is still so much we don’t know about these majestic living creatures, but the possibilities are enough to pique one’s imagination.

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