Talking to Trees
When Avatar had a better idea about the complexities of nature than actual scientists
A Conversation With/About Trees
Humanity is often all too quick to forget that plants are alive simply because they don’t have faces or limbs. Sure, they grow, but in the obvious sense, they don’t really seem to be that ‘alive’ to us - perhaps why we’re so nonchalant about chopping them up for our personal use. However, as the documentary What Trees Talk About shows, there is actually a great deal more to the wooden giants than we first realised, and just because they are not sentient in the way that we are, does not mean that they are not sentient at all.
Tale As Old As Time
The notion of trees talking is as old as storytelling. It has often been used as a fictional device - from the dryads that populated Greek mythology, to the living trees in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, to Grandma Willow from Pocahontas (the Disney one, not Native American history). People seem to have been keen to humanise trees, with them being a universal point of reference for all - from their long, twisting branches as arms, bountiful leaves as hair or rough bark as a weathered, wise old face. Clearly, much of this involves a fictional, fantasy element which is all very well. But perhaps our imaginative suspicions were founded in somewhat of an actual reality.
Obviously, trees are not alive in the sentient, lucid sense. That is not even close to what we are suggesting - the point is that the idea of tree ‘life’ has always been there. And we know hearing that trees live should not be overly surprising either, as we all learned in school that plants technically are alive. The breakthroughs we are talking about, if you can compare it to any fictional depiction, are a bit more like what is seen in James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar.
As one of the most-seen films ever, you have probably watched it and can guess where this is going, but in case you haven’t - or need reminding - the jungles in Avatar have a unique intelligence and interconnectivity with one another. No, the trees are not going to uproot themselves and march around like in The Lord of the Rings or start throwing their own apples at you as per The Wizard of Oz - but trees shouldn’t have to in order for us to care a jot about protecting them.
Many critics have pointed out that Avatar is a sci-fi mish-mash allegory of White American settlers driving out the Natives and evil corporations quite literally bulldozing nature for all it’s worth - and they’re right. The movie’s big takeaway is that “Manifest Destiny is bad” and “humanity really needs to reign it in because it’s not looking good.” And now the evidence suggests that Avatar’s ideas about the connectivity of nature may actually hold some weight.
Facing the Facts
David Suzuki discusses all of the recent breakthroughs about inter-tree communication on What Trees Talk About, and for anyone interested in exploring this topic further, it is well worth a watch. He leads the viewer through the vast Canadian forest and makes it clear to us all that the trees of the forest actually communicate with one another, allying with one another when the elements pose a threat, and even making friends with local animals. We’ve all seen on nature documentaries before when a family of monkeys have a nice tree that they prefer - whoever could have anticipated that the tree might actually prefer the monkey right back? The animals benefit the ecosystem of the tree, and the trees support the life of the animals. It really is the Circle of Life in action - and it puts humanity to shame as a demonstration of what a proper give-and-take relationship with Mother Earth looks like.
The Canadian climate - involving the vast rise and fall in temperature across the seasons - demands much of the trees, and so they rely on one another to help each other get through by transferring energy between one another through their roots in the soil. Like icebergs, trees are thought to spread as big underneath as they do on top. It turns out the forest is as much of a community as the inhabitants that reside within it. Sometimes the trees even team up to starve out creatures like squirrels that are having an effect on the tree’s reproductive processes - they produce less cones one year to starve red squirrels out, and the next year overproduce in order to create more cones than the creatures could ever hope to consume or put away.
The boreal trees also create their own air conditioning for themselves - that fresh pine cone smell we are all so used to. Apparently this iconic scent has a purpose for the trees that make it. These chemicals also enter the atmosphere and somewhat - though by no means totally - have an impact on the weather. The trees are affecting the entire food chain - their nutritious leaves fall into lakes and ponds, feeding fish and other pond life and generally making lakes ecosystems stronger - whether they intend to do so or not.
Can’t See the Wood for the Trees
Imaginably, all of this raises some major questions about what this means for the world as a whole if all of a sudden every plant turns out to be much closer to ‘being alive’ in the traditional sense than we thought they were. Would this impact legislation on deforestation - another major issue facing the world today? Do people care enough about living plants to stop butchering them? Where is the line drawn on life - for example, what could a vegan eat at all, if they took this idea of plants being clever enough to be considered alive seriously? While rice and beans are hardly the same as a sheep, it’s a question that needs asking and there is a line that needs drawing.
It also complicates things when we search for life on extraterrestrial worlds - are we pouring a great deal of money into searching for the wrong kind of intelligent life? If fauna can be so personable on earth, then surely it can be on some distant moon of Jupiter’s? Only further investigation can make any of this certain, but we must be open minded and willing to accept any and all research on the topic that may come to light.
Take a Leaf Out of Our Book
SeaPigs take all of this that we’ve learned from research like this on board and seek to apply our learning to our own practices. This is why when we take from trees, we do so in a way that does not actually kill the tree. We take sap from it, and bark that can all grow back by the next season. It keeps the resource renewable rather than just chopping down a forest full of trees. This way the tree will continue to live and do all of its good for our ecosystems and we are able to get perfect produce to bring our products - like the SeaPigs water bottles and SeaPigs Drifters - to you, in a way that provides our fabled ‘guilt-free consumerism’. It’s all about creating minimum impact for the maximum effectiveness.
What We Thought
The SeaPigs team could not believe all of this information when we came across it - surely it’s too out-there to be true? If you need one more things to convince you of any of this, we insist that you Google Image search “crown shyness”. It is an astounding natural phenomena to behold, whereby a forest of trees grows their branches out only so far as to be barely touching one another, leaving a slither of thin lines to let the sun through to the forest floor, in a pattern whereby you can trace around each individual tree. It almost looks like a special effect. In order for something as extraordinary as this to happen, there must be some communication happening between the trees. It’s the only possibility for plants having a concept of personal space. Go and take a look - you’ll believe everything we’ve said.
Over to You
Can you think of any more fictional examples of living trees?
What are your concerns about deforestation?
How many trees to you have in your garden?
What do you think they talk about?