Finding The Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
Recent developments in forestry have radically changed our understanding of how forests work. Suzanne Simard has spent a lifetime working out the truth about what happens underground, and her book is a revelation.
Finding The Mother Tree opens with a description of her childhood, spent deep in Canadian natural surroundings, mostly forested. It soon becomes clear that she is attuned to nature in a way most people aren’t, partly through sensitivity and partly through her family’s circumstances in British Columbia. As her life reaches adulthood however, it’s obvious to all that forestry is her passion and her academic future.
Simard’s discoveries seem trivial to some, and through her life she’s had many detractors. In a nutshell, she has proved that a vast network of fungi acting through mycorrhizal filaments works to allow all sorts of trees to pass water, nutrients and other substances to one another. In showing this (via an exhaustive set of fiddly experiments), she’s overturned the traditional view of forests operating via competition. In fact, they act through cooperation.
As the book reaches its conclusion it’s very clear that traditional means male, competitive and destructive, while her view emphasises cooperation. Simard is a trailblazer for women working in male institutions, and it’s a tribute to her that she’s done so much against such stubborn, ignorant opposition. What really stands out is how male foresters simply apply their boys’ view of the world to forests, assuming that competition for resources is the key to their commercial operations. When Simard proves them totally wrong they don’t like it, and do what they can to stop her. It’s only recently with the new generation of foresters that glimmers of comprehension are beginning to filter through.
Through the compelling story of how she makes her scientific case, Simard weaves the tale of her own life. I usually don’t much care for this type of approach, but in the first half of the book it is vital, relevant background. I have to say though that the second half could do without the personal stuff, which becomes increasingly off-putting.
This is a fascinating, important, timely book. Highly recommended to all those who value nature as it really is, not how men in particular have characterised it.