This is a book about trees and somewhat of a memoir of Suzanne Simard and it just blew me away. It starts with her as a student intern working for a logging company in Canada and she is trying to figure out why Fir tree seedlings planted in a former clear cut do not thrive as expected. Why not, they have no competition from other trees, lots of sunshine and water. What is missing? So she starts trying to find out. She designs experiments with help from people from her work and over time she finds out that the fir trees need birch trees. It turns out that to professional foresters birch trees are weeds. They rob the valuable firs of sunshine, nutrients, and water.
Simard eventually rediscovers that birch trees and fir trees are linked by a fungus, a mycorrhizal fungus, that links the roots of birch trees and fir trees and this fungus facilitates the transfer of water, carbon, and other nutrients between the trees based on the needs of the trees. A great part of the book is Simard’s description of the experiments she ran to prove all this. Experiments in the woods are hard. Lots of digging to install barriers to prevent this fungus from connecting certain trees. Lots of exposure to radioactive gases as some of the trees are fogged with isotopes of carbon to help with tracing. Exposure to powerful herbicides when vegetation needs to be killed as part of the experiment. And then the dreary following up measuring how the various trees are growing and then running the data analysis.
And then presenting the data at conferences and trying to get published and getting the cold shoulder and outright hostility from the older, mainly male, foresters who reject her findings outright. It’s a story of perseverance as she slowly gets her message out and government agencies and logging companies start using her recommendation to make replanted forests grow faster and healthier, not just for the trees but for the whole ecosystem.
She writes about birches and firs but the forests are interconnected by all sorts of fungi between all sorts of species. She also writes about mother trees who somehow recognize their offspring and provide these “sons and daughters” extra nutrition and help to survive. None of this is speculation, she has proof that it occurs.
At the end she talks about salmon, grizzly bears, trees in the pacific coast of British Columbia. A major source of nitrogen it turns out in the trees on the coast, extending far inland, is from salmon. (How do they know that, because the isotope ratio for nitrogen in salmon is different from the native ratios in the soil). During the spawning season grizzly bears eat thousands of salmon and leave the carcasses to decompose. The evidence suggests that maybe the fungus network may be able to transmit the salmon nitrogen hundreds of miles underground. No proof yet, but stay tuned.
What makes the book special is not just the science but Simard talks about her own life and struggles with marriage, children, career, and health. She’s kind of my hero right now. Talk about somebody who has a passion for many things and does her best to carry forward.
Tell you what though, I am looking at trees and fungus with whole new eyes. As I hike my favorite trails here in Oklahoma I am looking at the trees and fungus with new eyes. Simard focuses her story the mycorrhizal fungus but there are literally thousands of other fungi out there that form networks between trees and other trees, and shrubs, and grass and every other type of plant you can think of sending nutrients here there and everywhere depending on season and need. It’s all kind of mind boggling.
I visited the Gilcrease Museum here in Tulsa earlier this week. They have a lot of nice exhibits going on but what really struck my eye was a great big cottonwood tree right outside a giant window that was shimmering in the wind so I made a brief video of it and posted it on social media.
A cousin from South Dakota told me that she thought the Lakota Tribe called the cottonwood, the Tree of Talking Leaves. I have googled a lot and have not been able to confirm that that is true but have found a lot of references that the tribe holds the tree sacred and represents a magical time of hope, healing, and transformation.
I have always liked cottonwood trees but never much thought about them until my cousin’s remark and then I thought, you know I have lived all over the west, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and they all have cottonwood trees. I think they may be a symbol of the west, where the west includes the midwest. I just love seeing and hearing their leaves when the wind is blowing.
Late in life, the Cottonwood is now the Talking Leaves Tree to me as well.
This shot is from a few weeks ago during a family hike on Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain. I thought this pair of ragged but tough trees looked a like fighting sisters really going after it. Or maybe they are dancing? But they look too angry to be dancing. What do you think? And yep, there is a sky behind them.
True confessions, this isn’t the streetcar I rode out to Audubon park on.
I’m here in New Orleans at a convention but Monday morning is mainly convention business meetings so I got up and had me a parfait from Starbucks cuz I’m trying to be healthy at least for a few hours and then I walked up Poydras Street from the hotel to St. Charles and caught the streetcar from there to Audubon Park.
I have been to New Orleans several times now but have never set foot on a street car because I was unsure how one paid and where they went and so on and kind of worried about the safety of it all especially since former New Orleans Saint football player Will Smith was murdered in the Garden District just a day or so ago and Audubon Park is in the Garden District.
My first New Orleans geocache in several years. Boy did I take heat on facebook for this. Everybody is going “Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Hey, you take care of you, and I’ll take care of me! Deal.!?
I checked the world wide interwebs and it was kind of strange. People said that despite the New Orleans being the murder capital of the USA, they didn’t feel nervous about putting their garbage out late at night. Whoa, it had never occurred to me to worry about taking the garbage out anywhere I have lived. Should I startt?
Well, I was very brave. I headed out on the streetcar without a weapon, not even a knife or even pepper spray.
Well guess what, Audubon Park is pretty mellow, people walking their dogs, coeds from Loyola and Tulane jogging (how come lots more young women run than men???) old folks walking their dogs. It was a very chill scene (did I say that right? I’m an old guy and I know that I risk making a fool of myself when I pretend that I’m hip.) (Although at this point, I’m beyond caring what people think.)
Anyways I didn’t go to the Zoo. I walked the two miles around the golf course and it was nice. Huge old oak trees.
Lots of them, and I took lots of pics of them. The trees are alive!!
This looks like a former street to me. Trees and lights on both sides. What’s up.
They have paved trails with politically correct divisions between bikers and runners and dirt trails also.
And some dinosaur looking birds which I think are cormorants but I’ve come to find out that there are a gazillion different types of cormorants as well.
So I walked a little over two miles, took a trip out and a trip back on the Streetcar and started the convention in a very chill mood which I have maintained through the whole day.
And so I was able to visit the L.A. Turbines Voodoo Chapel and get rid of some bad ju ju and reinfore good ju ju. I love a vendor owned by a Belgian, don’t you? Especially one who is generous with Belgian Beer.
These trees are in the town of Clinton of Custer County in western Oklahoma. If you’ve ever been to Custer County you might think that trees are so few that might be illegal. The land is dominating by large expanses of wheat and grazing land and there are no forests. Trees are confined to draws and gullys and in parks along lakes and such. So sometimes fence rows. So when you find a big expansive tree like this you take notice.
Umpteen years ago, who knows how many, somebody tied these two trees together at two levels with a very stout and thick cable. Now the trees have grown and the cable is part of the tree. Who knows why? Turkey Mountain is now a popular park in Tulsa but formally it had lots of oil wells, and hardscrabble rocky farms, and by legend alcohol stills. Many relics of its past are still on the mountain, foundations for oil well pump jacks, farmhouse cisterns and foundations, old flow lines and such.
I just love finding clues to its past and wondering what in the world happened.