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Listening to Trees

An Interview with David Haskell

Watercolor of tree in cupped hands

Tree of Life by Malin Mossberg

We interact with trees as strangers because we don’t know their stories. When we listen, we “unself” ourselves— and open to great beauty.

In his first book, The Forest Unseen, David Haskell returned again and again to the same square meter of old-growth Tennessee forest to discern some of the stories that were present there. His new book, The Songs of Trees, uses the same approach with particular trees located in radically different environments—to see how some of the themes in our relationships with trees play out across the world. We spoke with Haskell recently about the practice of listening to trees, why it’s important that we humans understand ourselves as part of the natural world, and how all of life is embedded within networks of relationships that become clear when we “unself” ourselves. S&H: How do you listen to trees? David Haskell: Listening involves paying attention to the acoustics of the tree itself—the sound of wind in its leaves, the sound of rain in its leaves, and so forth. These sounds reveal the form of the tree. A maple tree is going to have a very different sound in the wind than a pine tree, and in different seasons the tree will have different voices, revealing some of its physiology and nature. …

Sam Mowe is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. His interviews have also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and The Sun. He is also the editor of Lineages, a publication of the Garrison Institute. Sam is a regular contributor to Spirituality & Health. 

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