Reading for Our Fourteenth Meeting — THE LIVING PLANET


For this meeting we will read THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben.


The vegetable world surrounds us and sustains us. What is our relationship to it?

We admire its beauty, and we benefit from its nutrition. But aren’t there more ways we can experience it than those?

Can we ever hope to communicate with it? (What does communication really mean, anyway?)

What is the line that separates animals from plant-life? Is there one?

Do we have moral responsibilities to the living world around us? What can we learn from trees? From roots? From rain?

In addition to THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, other readings and sources may come to mind on this rich topic. Please email me any suggestions you have for supplementary materials (an excerpt from Thoreau or Whitman or one of the nature poets? A video, a piece of animation, a painting?). As they come in I will add them.

For now, I happened to see this the other day. What do you think? Isn’t it amazing that merely changing time scale changes our perception of the living planet so drastically?


Setenay sent in this poem:

The Silence of Plants

Our one-sided acquaintance
grows quite nicely.

I know what a leaf, petal, kernel, cone, stalk is,
what April and December do to you.

Although my curiosity is not reciprocal,
I specially stoop over some of you,
and crane my neck at others.

I’ve got a list names for you:
maple, burdock, hepatica, mistletoe, heath, juniper, forget-me-not,
but you have none for me.

We are traveling together.
But fellow passengers usually chat,
exchange remarks at least about the weather,
or about the stations rushing past.

We wouldn’t lack for topics: we’ve got a lot in common.
The same star keeps us in its reach.
We cast shadows based on the same laws.
We try to understand things, each in our own way,
and what we don’t know brings us closer too.

I’ll explain as best I can, just ask me:
what seeing with two eyes is like,
what my heart beats for,
and why my body isn’t rooted down.

But how to answer unasked questions,
while being furthermore a being so totally
a nobody to you.

Undergrowth, coppices, meadows, rushes-everything I tell you is a monologue,
and it’s not you who listens.

Talking with you is essential and impossible. Urgent in this hurried life
and postponed to never.

–Wislawa Szymborska

She also sent in a link to a book, “What a Plant Knows” (click here).


Richard sent in a story by John Muir about climbing to the top of a tree in the Sierra-Nevada during a ferocious storm (click here for pdf).


The opening two stanzas of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), in which the poet beckons the reader, in erotic language, “undisguised and naked,” to embrace the living planet:

And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.          5
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it;   10
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;   15
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;   20
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;   25
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.

One thought on “Reading for Our Fourteenth Meeting — THE LIVING PLANET

  1. Sorry for the form of these notes….

    I did not have time to detail them for these 2 great books for tomorrow:

    Two great books!

    1) Eloge de la plante /Francis Halle

    Brief summary:

    We can learn more from plants : we have not touched that almost!

    (reminds me of Idriss Aberkahn: nature is a giant library and we have not touched it yet: we have just been in the library looking at the titles…)

    During centuries: zoocentric approach of biology..
    Botanics was almost just scientific observations and full descriptions but without understanding the mechanisms!

    All Animals: moving volumes (horizontal )
    Plant : vertical architectures

    We learn from the shapes: with a slightly different gravity on earth we would have total different shapes (and architectures for plants: see examples!)

    Biochemical virtuosity of plants compared to animals!

    Fully explain the roles of plant perfumes/ aromas :
    Different from all “stinking” animals

    No waste problems with plants : huge! Learn from that,

    Living and dying together,
    See examples,
    Learn from that

    Plants: just beeings: lasts much longer than Animals

    Eater/eaten relationship

    Creating lanscapes

    A vegetal cel : more sophisticated than an animal cel

    Most beauty comes from them. More than beauty.

    We are just starting to explore and understand them.

    2) Baptiste Morizot
    ” les diplomates”
    See the world with wolves eyes

    Re- definition of ” diplomatie” (fold in two , latin root) link between living beeings, expose the world from the one ignored by the other.
    With its specific codes.

    Borders between animals themselves,
    Lucy King works

    Ethologie cognitive

    Delicate understanding of the world

    Elephants with bees example

    As a consequence:
    Chamanism with animals interesting to study
    Cosmologies animistes

    Imagine differently our relation to the living creatures (ALL)

    Rosa di castro

    Ancestral Hunters or fruit collector: their way of living forces them to put themselves in the animals feets.

    Dave Housebend (Montana) has proved that:
    Wolves able of perspectivism
    Thanks to ” smelling borders”

    Bio frontiers

    To Influence eachother instead of “controlling” the others
    Role of aromas again

    Isabelle Stengers



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