Book Review: Finding the Mother Tree
By : Sue Harmon, Board Member
You probably know of Suzanne Simard from her famous TED talks about how trees talk to each other, which began in 2014 and have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Simard has now done more than just talk. She’s written a deeply personal book about how her love of the forest, her family life, and her research evolved together to result in pioneering science that documents the ways that trees connect and sustain each other within the forest community.
Simard’s book is a memoir which goes deep into the science of her research (a bit too much in the weeds for my brain), but it was interesting to hear her take on the criticism of her work. However, now it seems her work has gained much wider acceptance in the scientific community as other researchers have confirmed many of her early findings. Many scientists seem to find it bothersome that she talks in anthropomorphic terms about trees. I’ve listened to several interviews with Simard and she says she totally understands this but doesn’t really care. To her, trees are incredible living beings deserving of as much, if not more, respect than people. When you realize how trees have adapted and operated as a community on this planet for far longer than people, it is pretty darn amazing. Humans are totally dependent on trees, but trees have no dependence on humans. In fact, the survival of trees would likely be enhanced if humans were not around! I love this new (to me) take on evolution — that it’s cooperation, not competition, that characterizes a species’ success at procreating and surviving. People could learn a lot from the trees.
Simard’s personal story begins with a childhood in the rain forests of British Columbia, where she was raised by a family of loggers descended from the first hand fellers of the early 1900’s, and continues through the seasons of 2 marriages, raising 2 daughters, surviving cancer, and a life of dogged field research and teaching. Her honesty about her personal struggles and her passion for her work kept me moving through the story of her journey, and left me with increased respect for the natural world and a strengthened realization that we are only just beginning to understand nature’s complexity. Yes, people could learn a lot from the trees. And Simard helps us to hear what the trees have to say.