Book Reviews - Summer 2021

Deep-Rooted Communities

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Our woods are connected by a hidden underground network

By Miranda Weiss | June 1, 2021
Suzanne Simard discovered how trees exchange nutrients, water, and chemical messages. (Diana Markosian)
Suzanne Simard discovered how trees exchange nutrients, water, and chemical messages. (Diana Markosian)

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard; Knopf, 368 pp., $28.95

I took the death of the spruce tree outside our kitchen window personally. When we bought the house a decade ago, it was only as tall as our first story. Now it reached up to the second. But a string of warm, dry springs a few years back fueled an epidemic of spruce aphids—invaders from Europe—that infected our tree, along with scores across our seaside town. It was the only spruce on our property, filling the entire frame of the kitchen window and serving as the occasional perch for a great horned owl. When its needles turned brown and then dropped, I felt a small order of devastation as we gave up hope that the tree would revive. We decided to cut it down.

Many of us look at the trees around us with special affection, even measuring their lives in the context of our own. But there likely isn’t a person in the world whose life is as intricately entwined with trees as Suzanne Simard, an ecologist whose work has transformed our understanding of forests. A researcher at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Forests and Conservation Sciences, she has dedicated her career to unraveling forest mysteries through rigorous experimentation. And beyond her work, all the major events of her life have been tied to trees—from her near drowning at age 12 to her marriage, divorce, illness, and experience of motherhood.

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