Synchronicities keep happening, but such vague and tenuous links nowadays that you could put them down as coincidences. Luckily, the older I get the harder I find it to believe in coincidences.
Recently I’ve got into TED videos. Everyone probably knew about TED talks a long time ago; it takes me a while to catch up/catch on. They are short talks, around ten to twenty minutes, from all manner of people on all manner of subjects, and they’re free. They are filmed at TED conferences which take place all over the world, but mostly in America and Canada. It astounds me that a person could get up on a stage at all, with all those people staring at them, let alone pace up and down, tell stories, put forward their wacky or not so wacky ideas, dance, expound, bewilder or make people laugh.
Recently I have enjoyed ‘TEDs’ on finding beauty in imperfection; a visual history of social dance; why you should talk to strangers; the art of human anatomy; not worrying about being fat (not that I am that fat – hasten to add – but it was an entertaining talk); how the making of masks can heal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; blind soccer teams in Argentina; cosplay; and men ballroom dancing beautifully with men – a system for fluid changes of lead so that neither partner is permanently ‘him’ or ‘her’. Honestly, if you haven’t watched you ought to. You can learn so much.
Anyway, the latest talk was called ‘How trees talk to each other’ by a forest ecologist called Suzanne Simard who has spent the last thirty years studying communication between trees in Canadian forests. She explained how trees talk to each other underground, passing carbon, water, hormones and chemical warnings and information from one to another. Not all trees – some species communicated all the time whereas others seemed to be isolated. How could I have lived this long and not known this?
If one tree has stopped growing for the season it may begin to pass more nutrients/ messages to its neighbours. And the flow can be reversed – other trees in the network may feed it when it starts growing again. A dying tree will pass on chemical “advice” to others. A tree may broadcast a “warning” to other trees. A mother tree will preferentially supply chemical help to her own saplings that have taken root nearby. A tree can distinguish her own children from those of other trees! They share their surplus, and one way they do this is via a web of fungus roots. Fungi grow in the spaces between the trees and their roots tangle with the roots of trees. They live off the trees but the trees use them to connect with one another, chemically. So a forest is not just a collection of trees, it’s one whole, vast, communicating organism. Some trees are greater contributors to the network than others – a bit like servers as opposed to desktop computers, I suppose. You can cut down one and the system will recover, but if you cut down too many of the wrong ones a whole patch of forest can just – wither.
Something about this reminded me of the film Avatar. Wasn’t there something called the Hometree in that? This led me to wonder – vaguely, as is my wont – whether the writers of Avatar might actually have had this Canadian lady’s research in mind when they wrote the film.
And then I picked up my current read – Neil Gaiman’s 1996 dark-ish young adult fantasy novel Neverwhere. And lo and behold, another internet – this time a connection of sewers and secret doors, and messages passed from pigeons to rats to humans. Or are they human, these strange semi-Victorian characters going about their fantasy business underneath modern-day London – London Above, as they call it? If you like fantasy and you’ve never read this one, go for it.
And get the TED app. So much entertainment for, in one case, nothing, and in the other the price of a second-hand paperback.
Featured Image: Within The Roots, by Janet Hoffman