(Re)connecting with nature and ourselves

"Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness." - Herman Hesse wrote in his beautiful ode to trees. This month, after the hustle and bustle of December, we propose books that can help you find your ground and come back home, wherever you happen to be. This selection is all about our interconnectedness with the world around us and the cyclical nature of life. These books will help you find wonder in the world around you, learn more about it and get inspired... but beware - you'll most probably never see the nature the same way again!

Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Richard Powell’s The Overstory is a sweeping epic that spans centuries and follows nine main characters linked by their interactions with nature and trees. One of the main characters is inspired by Suzanne Simard, who made a breakthrough discovery about the ability of trees to communicate (check her "Finding the Mother Tree").
As we follow the protagonists in their struggle to understand "what the fuck went wrong with mankind", we embark on a philosophical exploration of the relationships among humans and between humans and the natural world. The novel ends, however, with a message of hope... perhaps it is still possible for humanity to redeem itself?

Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees - a classic written in 1957 - is a bizarre and witty tale of isolation and human interaction. The novel tells the story of a child who took to the trees to escape his suffocating family life. Taking a vow to never descend from his newly found home among tree leaves and branches, Calvno's protagonist, however, does not reject society and retains his connection to the community. He becomes one with both nature and society by - quite literally - embracing trees. A funny, deep and multi-layered novel reminiscent of Voltaire and Cervantes.

Written by Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, The Hidden Life of Trees calls to reimagine forests seeing them less as producers of oxygen and wood to perceiving them more as social beings. It is an engaging and easy read that is very likely to spark curiosity about the natural world and change the way you look at trees. Trees communicate, can learn and have memory. They are connected through a fungal 'wood wide web' that allows them to channel nutrients and support each other (also check Suzanne Simard's first-hand account of this discovery in her "Finding the Mother Tree"). This book will make you marvel at nature and will likely change the way you see it.

Strictly speaking, Katherine May's Wintering is not so much about nature per se - it is more about finding joy in low seasons. And speaking of fallow seasons, May does not only refer to that cold and dampness we now witness outside our windows. She also – if not mostly – speaks about facing our own gloomy, sad and moody days. As May puts it, "We must learn to invite the winter in. That is what this book is about: learning to recognise the process, engage with it mindfully, even to cherish it. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how." Reading this book is like slipping under a soft protective cover and finally finding joy in cold weather and slow days. Somewhere in between a philosophical essay and a memoir, this book may be just what you need to get through this low season and maybe, who knows, find joy in it.

Wilding by Isabella Tree is a hopeful book that shows that restoration of our lands and souls is possible. Tree recounts a unique experiment where 1400 hectares of overexploited agricultural land in Sussex, England, were turned over to nature. However, the book is not a simple account of the project - it also gives insight into the history of modern farming and agriculture with its reliance on artificial fertilisers, at the same time, it is a lyrical and poetical ode to nature. "The land, released from its cycle of drudgery, seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief. And as the land relaxed, so did we", Tree writes in her beautiful and lyrical prose.
This inspiring book has been arguing for a new approach to conservation and sustainable farming that focuses on the ecosystems and their ability to sustain and regenerate themselves if given a chance. The book shows that allowing nature to take back the reign and feeding 10 billion people are not contradictory goals. It has inspired new conservation efforts and is likely to change the way you garden – even if it is just your backyard or windowsill.

Finally, Beth Moon's Ancient Trees is this month's bonus book – we are starting a new tradition here, perhaps – that adds stunning visuals to the narratives in this selection. Beth Moon is a U.S. photographer who has traveled the world to capture portraits of our most stunning trees. "I cannot imagine a better way to commemorate the lives of the world's most dramatic trees, many of which are in danger of destruction, than by exhibiting their portraits."
In this large, beautiful book of about 30x30 cm, there are 60 photographs, each with an introduction by the photographer. Most of them are analog and have been taken with a medium format camera. The negatives have been scanned to then produce high-quality platinum prints. This is a special printing process where fine crystals of platinum are embedded into the paper giving a 3D look to the pictures. Due to the properties of platinum, such prints can last for thousands of years. The choice of printing process and paper make this book an art object.

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