The drinking, thinking tree

“Of course it won’t rain,” said I as I pressed the lads outside and away from the screens last weekend. And of course we were then caught out with the dog in such a deluge – a rare coastal squall pushed inland just as far as our little strip in the suburbs.

We sheltered in the shed on the oval for a good twenty minutes while rain beat down and watched the drains fill first with clear water and then swell to a small creek choked with leaves and twigs, then churn and turn brown with washed off dirt from the car park.

Just when we thought we might be in mild peril of having to make do for the night trapped in the little shed (I jest) – the shower lifted and we took a soggy dog back through the park in the glowing singing light of sun after rain.

Water was still spilling down through the trunks of the large gums around the park and their smooth branches were drenched with the delicious water. As I watched I could swear the trees were actively drinking with their boughs lifted up to funnel the rain down into small waterfalls from the clefts in their trunks to pool at their feet.

I wrote recently of gifts and a rain shower like this must surely count as one. But another gift I received was Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees.

I hesitated to start reading this book. I like to think of myself as being emotionally connected to trees and I have a physical pain when I see one cut down – as so many are at the moment to make way for the new railway line through to Dandenong – so I didn’t want to take on a book that might bring to mind the relentless loss of forests around the planet.

But after witnessing the trees drinking I couldn’t resist the book any longer and devoured it in a day or so.

Although Wohlleben’s book has possibly been edited or translated to be overly accessible, I would be happy to think that a young person could access the information at any point and start themselves off on a road to discovery about plants, trees, the forests and their ecosystems. For the scientists and botanists amongst us, his offering touches on the science all too briefly before taking us down another track and another observation, yet it does give the reader a sense of being taken on a forest field trip – there is so much to see.

Fortunately the book is overwhelmingly one of hope and a strong message to the current forester and their industry to ‘let things be’. Wohlleben points to the slow northern march of beech forests due to climate change as something they have already done in reverse – having tracked south during the last ice age. And the survival of communities of trees in extraordinary environments around the planet is also something we can appreciate as a fundamental attribute of trees.

Mostly Wohlleben reinforces the message that there is a thinking world beneath our feet; enclosed yet alive and as active as our human brains, humming with electrical impulses and hidden messages, filled with information stored in creatures and subsoil fungi; the hidden world of trees is an impossibly complex environment that our species is only slowly learning more about.


In appreciation I took my notepad and made some watercolours of a group of young eucalypts working their way together in the park. I took more time to notice how they were working out their way to sunlight, thought about how they might be cooperating or competing which as young trees (Wohlleben tells us) they need to do.

Here’s hoping that the promised parkland to stretch under the skyrail will be nurtured as a community of trees and not just a highly tended park of isolated trees – for then we might all learn something from them. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if Peter Wohlleben could travel here and tell us what he hears or thinks our eucalypts might be saying about us?


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Peter Wohlleben in his natural habitat
photographed by Gordon Welters for The New York Times



For another post on trees and all their deliciousness please read Anne Lawson’s blog on her recent journey across the Nullarbor. Anne talks about her love for Melaleucas and their intriguing growth habits.



9 thoughts on “The drinking, thinking tree

  1. Very nice watercolour and post. A couple of months ago I told my husband I felt I needed to stand in a forest. Something deep inside me that I didn’t understand needed that. A few weeks later he announced he had some consulting work that would take him to Tasmania and would I like to do my ‘tree change’ for a couple of days? Yes, please. Somewhere around the same time I became aware of ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ and began reading. By the time I got to stand in the forests of Tasmania a whole new world had been revealed to me and with it my deep appreciation. I’m so glad you’ve written about the book and its author, it deserves to be read far and wide. Best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I do feel that this book does allow us to tap into the primal role of forest and how our ancestors might have experienced them. Tassie – oh my word – that is a perfect place to be – while I was reading I kept thinking of the Huon Pine and our own amazing forests.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your post captivated me, Chas ~ of course! (Thank you for the shout out 😊) Trees are magnificent creatures, and I love your photos. One of the things that strikes me as I move through different environments is how, though individual trees may be quite ordinary, seeing them as part of a whole forest gives them a magnificence. I have seen Wohllenben’s book on the shelves, and now I have to read it for myself!

    Liked by 1 person

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