Mother Trees In A Wood Wide Web

Suzanne Simard

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Elders fill a special role in any community, having earned the respect of the tribe for their life-long wisdom, knowledge, and teaching. They help link individuals to the broader community as a whole, and connect the past with the future. Not all old individuals are elders, nor are all elders old. In my family, grandmothers and grandfathers usually filled the role of elders, although certain individuals, like my daughters, were born with wisdom beyond their years, connecting the family through the ages. This wisdom emerges from lives lived before them over many generations. 

In my life’s work in the forest, I have learned that elders of many species, including humans, also connect the forest, providing an adaptive genetic scaffolding for change and resilience among the whole community. In the forest, the foundational species are the trees, and the elders of this foundation are the biggest and oldest trees. Elder trees provide an anchor for the diverse structure of the many-sized trees in their neighborhoods. These elders are important not just as habitat for the many plant, animal, fungal, and microbial creatures that live in the forest, but also the people who depend on the woods for their cultures and livelihoods.

A single elder Douglas fir tree, for example, can be connected to hundreds of other trees, either of the same or different species, by the sheer magnitude of its massive root system and diverse fungal community. These subterranean connections form a mycorrhizal network, now known colloquially as the “Wood Wide Web,” with a topology similar to that of neural networks, stream networks in watersheds, and the internet. In the Wood Wide Web, trees can be thought to serve as the nodes of the network, while fungi act as the vertices.

The Wood Wide Web is a busy network, where [...] elder trees are able to recognize neighbors that are genetically related, or that are kin, and they can send more or less resources to other trees to either favor or disfavor them, depending on the safety of the environment. I have taken to calling these elders “Mother Trees” because they appear to be nurturing their young. Mother Trees thus connect the forest through space and time, just like elders connect human families across generations.

Suzanne Simard is a Canadian scientist, professor and author various books. Excerpted from this article.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the connecting and nurturing role of elders, be they humans or trees? Can you share an experience of a time you became aware of an entire ecology beneath the visible nodes? What helps you be a nourishing elder that sustains others?

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8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Oct 16, 2021 Debbie wrote:
    Totally Agree! Our Sustainability Book Club read your book for our Sep meeting. We all loved it!

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    On Oct 8, 2021 Gururaj wrote:
    Elders or elderly qualities , I see now, tap into the life force in a wise way which makes them flourish. They inspire that in others and a supportive eco system forms.
    One such system that has influenced me is Yoga. A great master worked sincerely on himself, built institutions, which created expert instructors and one such instructor is coaching me well over more than a year. Health and peace spreads over all practitioners and , I trust, in some way it redounds to the glory of that original master.
    Of course, weeds and noxious plants ( and inner impurities) also flourish, especially when the "elderly" forces are weak.These negative forces support each other and often become big forces - both externally in the world and in our psyches.
    But maybe ( I trust) it's the innate love , wisdom, cleansing force of nature that eventually tips the evolution towards itself and the noxious things are kept in check.

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    On Oct 5, 2021 Megan McKenzie wrote:
    I learned so much of what you speak from old growth Coastal Redwoods on the Northern Californian coast.

    There is one area you do not mention that I particularly treasure. The tall old elder trees showed me that they are receptors of cosmic energy and channel it into the earth.

    The redwoods are a true elder community. Their roots are connected underground and above ground they frequently support each other with massive ingrown limbs.

    They alsosupport a network of rare and endangered small species that are born on the tree and spend their entire life on that one tree.

    The trees depend on fog for 90% of their water needs. It cannot possibly be pumped 200 ft.in the trunk. They truly are amazing miracles and gifts. 

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    On Oct 5, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Trees of course have no sense of human gender, some even carry the "male" and "female" together both physically and spiritually. We have given our trees names for the purpose of conversing with them, but again, gender looses its meaning when conversing with trees. Why even giant Aidan, the 300+\- year old Oak is certainly a "mother tree" having nurtured both humans and animal neighbors for three centuries.

    }:- a.m.
    anonemoose monk

    1 reply: J | Post Your Reply
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    On Oct 2, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    If elders is defined as those having "lifelong wisdom, knowledge, and teaching," then elders are very likely to provide a valuable connecting and nurturing role,being of great benefit to everyone. I very much listen to and respect such elders. It's too bad our society doesn't produce more of them. It's fairly recently that I became aware of an ecology beneath the visible nodes, and now I see that there is one ecology that is beneath all life and includes all life. What helps me be a nourishing elder is life experience and learning from it, years of learning from elders past and present, being open, getting old, caring, healthy detachment, and wanting to make a positive contribution to the ecology network of which I am a part.

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    On Oct 1, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I like the difference between oldindividualsand elders as shown by the author Suzzane Simard. As the author says not all individual are elders nor all elders are old. The marking sign of an elder is wisdom, not just knowledge. People may have knowledge but not wisdom. Wisdom grows like a Mother Tree connecting, nurturingand protecting the young plants. As an elderly and old member of the family and my community I help the young members of my family and the community at large when they need guidance from me. My heart gets richer when I help, guide and nurture those who need help and support. As I was growing up I needed help, support, empathyand emotional nurturingin my life. I was blessed to have some elderly folks in my life to provide guidance, empathy, love, and nurturing. The elderly people provided shade and support I needed to survive and flourish. They taught me by theirliving example how I can go through the thick and thin in my life. They were my great teachersand they have l... [View Full Comment] I like the difference between oldindividualsand elders as shown by the author Suzzane Simard. As the author says not all individual are elders nor all elders are old. The marking sign of an elder is wisdom, not just knowledge. People may have knowledge but not wisdom. Wisdom grows like a Mother Tree connecting, nurturingand protecting the young plants. As an elderly and old member of the family and my community I help the young members of my family and the community at large when they need guidance from me. My heart gets richer when I help, guide and nurture those who need help and support.

    As I was growing up I needed help, support, empathyand emotional nurturingin my life. I was blessed to have some elderly folks in my life to provide guidance, empathy, love, and nurturing. The elderly people provided shade and support I needed to survive and flourish. They taught me by theirliving example how I can go through the thick and thin in my life. They were my great teachersand they have laid the foundation of living wisely. I am very grateful to them.

    My experiencehas the been a great teacherfor me. Only conceptual knowledge is not enough. Deep knowledge comes from living the knowledge, by practicing and wisely applying that knowledge to real life situations.It is organicteaching and organic learning. I have learned thatit is not how long we live but how well we live that matters.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave



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    1 reply: Aj | Post Your Reply

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