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Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (2021)

by Suzanne Simard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4662345,956 (4.12)21
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER * From the world's leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest--a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she's been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron's Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths--that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own. Simard writes--in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways--how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies--and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them. Simard writes of her own life, born and raised into a logging world in the rainforests of British Columbia, of her days as a child spent cataloging the trees from the forest and how she came to love and respect them--embarking on a journey of discovery, and struggle. And as she writes of her scientific quest, she writes of her own journey--of love and loss, of observation and change, of risk and reward, making us understand how deeply human scientific inquiry exists beyond data and technology, that it is about understanding who we are and our place in the world, and, in writing of her own life, we come to see the true connectedness of the Mother Tree that nurtures the forest in the profound ways that families and human societies do, and how these inseparable bonds enable all our survival.… (more)
  1. 10
    Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane (teelgee)
  2. 00
    Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (nancenwv)
    nancenwv: Beautiful descriptions of the functions and life of trees and plants alternates with her story of her growth as a research scientist. (non-fiction)
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» See also 21 mentions

English (20)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Given Simard's professional background, I wasn't expecting so much of the content to be about the author's personal life. Still, it was fascinating to learn about mitochondrial fungi & their positive effect on forests, along with the progression of Simard's research in a male dominated field. I'm still unsure if her findings created major changes in the timber industry though. ( )
  LowProfile | Nov 24, 2022 |
50. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard
published: 2021
format: 347-page Kindle ebook
acquired: September 5 read: Sep 5 – Oct 24 time reading: 13:35, 2.3 mpp
rating: 4
genre/style: science theme: none
locations: British Colombia and Oregon
about the author: a Canadian scientist who is a professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, born in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia.

A memoir with a lot of real science - with pioneering research tracing nutrient sharing between different and competitive tree species, creating a kind of symbiosis through specialized fungi, and later on how old large “mother” trees support their own young. A theme here is everything is connected and we to manage climate change with this knowledge.

Simard tells in the introduction that she discovered the nature of this fungal connections, which I thought was too bold, except that it's exactly what she did. Her 1990's PhD was published on the cover of Nature magazine, under the headline Wood Wide Web. It was really groundbreaking.

I read this with a new group on Litsy focused on nature writing. Some of the members had discomfort with so much memoir in the book, and with the writing, which was actually very good, feels very honest, but is not a work of literary craft.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this, and I really enjoyed being in this science mindset.

2022
https://www.librarything.com/topic/345047#7966562 ( )
  dchaikin | Oct 31, 2022 |
Perfect for natural science enthusiasts and readers of The Hidden Life of Trees by the German author and professional forester Peter Wohlleben. Suzanne Simard, the author of this book and a contributor to The Hidden Life of Trees, is a Canadian professor of forest ecology and the originator of the concept of the ‘wood-wide web’, the fungal and microbial network that connects trees and other plants in the forest to one another. Finding the Mother Tree mixes the science and research behind her discoveries with a personal memoir that includes her views on humankind’s role in the natural ecosystem as a whole. I did find it to be on the dry side but what I learned from it gave me a stronger understanding and appreciation for several related books such as Richard Power’s The Overstory, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and, of course, The Hidden Life of Trees.

My thanks to the publisher and Goodreads Giveaways for a paperback copy to review. ( )
  wandaly | Sep 30, 2022 |
This volume should stand as the magnum opus text of forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. It's hard to estimate the relative proportions of narrative memoir and silvicultural science here, in part because one of Simard's themes is to challenge mechanistic-exploitative science divorced from narratives recognizing the agency of trees and forests.

The book's most obvious theme is cooperation as a paradigm for forest growth and health. Simard communicates this idea very effectively. Despite her decades of efforts to get this perspective to inform policy and industrial practices, she still struggles for it to have traction in forestry management. She has been more successful among academics and the general public. It's clear that there are actual elements of competition in natural ecology, but the conceptual exclusion of cooperative mechanisms is a debilitating fault that Simard's work has consistently sought to address. (She doesn't much bother to explain, but it is hideously obvious, that this feature in her field is derived from industrial capitalism and entrenched in neoliberal outlooks that create analogous damage on many other levels as well.)

On the philosophical level--again, inextricable from the memoirist content--I was reminded of Haraway's Staying with the Trouble, although the emphasis here on unrecognized complexity and interdependence strikes me as more sophisticated than Haraway's slogan of "Make kin, not babies." Simard's trees seem to understand that they need to make kin (in Haraway's sense) in order for their babies to thrive, and to make babies in order to perpetuate their constructive relationships with their kin.

The key (but far from only) scientific takeaway of the common mycorrhizal network as the material stratum of a forest's collective intelligence is pretty thrilling. In other venues, she has referred to this collaborative vegetable-fungal matrix as an "underworld." It is easy for me to imagine cultural evolution of local humans to appreciate this reality without the benefit of the sort of alienating experimental science that Simard has needed to use in validating and justifying her hypotheses. She claims that First Nations lore tallies with her discoveries.

After reading the book, I watched one of Simard's successful TED Talks on YouTube, where I saw her rehearse some of the powerful anecdotes included in this book. She's an adequate public speaker, although she confides in writing that she finds it an unpleasant ordeal. What holds the attention is the awareness she has to impart, and for me, the book medium was more effective. Not only did it supply a fuller explanation of the scientific ideas, but it also put her personal stories into the context of a life arc of professional challenges, intimate relationships, personal survival, and family affections.
1 vote paradoxosalpha | Aug 13, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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Suzanne Simardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blair, KellyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
But man is part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. -- Rachel Carson
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For my daughters, Hannah and Nava
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For generations, my family has made its living cutting down forests.
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NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER * From the world's leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest--a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery Suzanne Simard is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; she's been compared to Rachel Carson, hailed as a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls of James Cameron's Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide. Now, in her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths--that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complicated, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own. Simard writes--in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways--how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies--and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them. Simard writes of her own life, born and raised into a logging world in the rainforests of British Columbia, of her days as a child spent cataloging the trees from the forest and how she came to love and respect them--embarking on a journey of discovery, and struggle. And as she writes of her scientific quest, she writes of her own journey--of love and loss, of observation and change, of risk and reward, making us understand how deeply human scientific inquiry exists beyond data and technology, that it is about understanding who we are and our place in the world, and, in writing of her own life, we come to see the true connectedness of the Mother Tree that nurtures the forest in the profound ways that families and human societies do, and how these inseparable bonds enable all our survival.

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