I am trusting that you love trees. It is not a difficult assumption; we all love trees. Even when we cannot name the species of the trees around us we still feel their magnificence, their power, their presence. We know that the world would be a less wonderful place if we no longer had towering trees to walk under, but we don’t often think about what we would lose along with the trees.
A world of fascinating organisms depends on the trees for their survival. Some are familiar to us— such as the birds that flit across our yards— but others are more mysterious. What biologists understand about these forest-dwelling organisms is often difficult to learn because it is published only in specialized science journals.
When I walk through the forest I see a magical web of relationships. I want to share my perception of these webs with you. I want to preserve forests filled with old trees not only so you and I can walk in their presence, but to keep the whole web intact, alive. If you set out to learn about what goes on in a forest you will never be bored. The stories go on forever, and I have included just a few of them here.
Interwoven with the facts and the stories here is the poetry— mostly the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, which, like the forest, is a continuous source of new revelations to me. His “Ninth Elegy,” which I quote from frequently, is printed in its entirety in the appendix.
This book is called Teaching the Trees because I teach many of these natural history stories in my biology courses at Salisbury University. But, of course, the trees are still teaching me too.