Every Tree Needs a Forest

- Written by Ayla Mullen, Springhouse Faculty and Adult Programming Participant -



In The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate-- Discoveries from A Secret World, Peter Wollheben describes the hidden networks of communication, connection, and mutual support which carry messages, nutrients, and energy-giving sugars between trees in a healthy, undisturbed forest ecosystem. The root systems of the trees are interwoven underground, and recent studies have uncovered the way the forest will support a sick or injured tree to aid its recovery, or spread warnings to defend against insect attacks. Commercially planted forests lack this web of direct interconnection, and their resilience to weather storms, pests, and draught is much less than their healthy, undisturbed counterparts.


These descriptions of a healthy and unhealthy forest struck me immediately, and one of my first thoughts was: “This is what Springhouse Community School is doing!” - working to re-build the networks of interconnection, communication and mutual support that underlie any community’s resilience, health, and wholeness.


I have ascribed to the values of individualism and independence for as long as I can remember and lived much of my life stubbornly trying to “do it all myself.” Not only have my successes and achievements been lonely, but my times of struggle have been overwhelming and extremely challenging. I was one of the “antisocial” trees, as Peter Wollheben calls them - cut off from true community and the stability that comes with connection. My involvement with Springhouse, starting with the Well Program, could be described as the slow growing and entwining of my root system with that of the forest that is my community. I am learning how to connect with love, trust, and honesty to the people and places in my life. I am learning how to lean on my community and ask for support when I need it and how to give my own skills and gifts back to my community, to strengthen the networks of connection that we all depend on, and to support and nurture others when they ask for help. Sometimes being part of community can feel extremely vulnerable to me, but in community I also feel the most alive.


There is a difference between surviving and living. An antisocial tree can survive for many centuries, shaped and gnarled by the struggle against storms, pests, and the limitations of nutrient and water access. But a healthy forest ecosystem thrums and gurgles with life for generation upon generation. Mature adult trees nurture and feed their seedlings, who are too small and shaded to feed themselves through photosynthesis, through their interconnected root network. Trees growing in water or nutrient-rich conditions share their abundance with their struggling neighbors. The stumps of long-dead trees are often kept green and alive for hundreds of years after they stop growing their own leaves, because their neighbors and community provide them with energy and nutrients root-to-root. The forest thrives, and individual trees within it live long, healthy lives. I believe the work that Springhouse does is actively re-generating this invisible web of interconnection between us, building a vibrant, resilient, whole community of people who can live and work and celebrate together. After reading Peter Wollheben’s book, I now picture the Springhouse community as a forest, where each individual tree can delve deeper with its roots, and reach higher with its trunk and branches, because of the strength and support of the forest as a larger whole.


Published on February 11, 2019

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