Early morning on 4 Jan 2018 I listened to a podcast about the soul and sound of trees. It was an interview of the ABC’ Richard Fidler with bio-scientist, David George Haskell, who has written about his investigations into the life, sounds and environment of twelve individual trees each growing in a different environment, ranging from the Amazon rainforest to in a park in downtown New York.
He used sensitive sound recording equipment to study what sounds the trees generate, and what sounds, smells, sunlight, air movement they experience, including and stimulation and threats from other biological interactions with the unseen micro-species, other flora, fauna, and humans. In relation to the latter, Haskell says, like Australian environmentalist, Tim Low, that the concept of Wilderness should be debunked; that there is absolutely nowhere on this planet Earth where the human modification of the natural environment hasn’t happened to a considerable degree.
The interview prompted me to think about the present life of a particular isolated tree in the middle of a sheep grazing paddock near Borowa in New South Wales, that all three of us, myself, Neil, my son, and Jennifer, my daughter, commented on as Neil drove us towards Canberra for a family Christmas gathering.
It was a very hot sunny day close to midday and most of the sheep had gathered in tightly under the shade of this one sprawling eucalypt. What sounds and smells was that tree communicating to the sheep? What sounds, smells, sap essence, sunlight energy etc. was filtering through it as it stood there so far away from its cluster of cousin species and understory plants in the clumps of forest up hill or along the roadside, none nearer than 100m away? Was it feeling the loneliness or appreciating the sight, sounds, smells of the sheep?
Thanks to Haskell I’ll look at trees differently now, indeed as communities not just species. They are hosts and inter-actors in the ecology around them. Giving them a name is like shutting a captured insect in a shoebox. It diminishes them. They are so much more.
So now I have a short one kilometre walk in Toohey Forest in order to communicated with a selection of large trees that have personality and and history, and that represent a range of ecological communities, ones to observe and write about as things change with the weather and seasons. I trust they will be welcoming to me.