Listen: Pulitzer Finalist David George Haskell's 'Songs of Trees'

Apr 17, 2017

The idea for Tennessee author/biologist David George Haskell's new book The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors came from an almost offhand remark he made while teaching at The University of the South in Sewanne. 

"I teach a course in ornithology," he said, "and we'd go outside and learn songs."

 He asked his students, could they identify birds by ear?

 "In doing this particular practice, I came to realize myself that the trees will also sing. They had different voices. Each species has its own voice. In the spring, in the summer, in the fall, in the winter."

 Almost as a joke, he then told his students, "Well, now you've learned all these bird songs. Learn to identify trees by ear. And the minute that came out of my mouth, I knew, okay, I've just set myself a task. And so from then on I tried to attend more closely to the sounds of trees in the wind as the rain falls onto them."

 The Songs of Trees is his second book. His first, The Forest Unseen, was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist for General Nonfiction.

 His new book not only describes trees' 'songs'--it also explores the idea of life itself as a network of organisms, rather than lone, living individuals on Earth.

 In a recent article for NPR, Haskell wrote:

 ...a leaf is a community of fungus, bacteria, protist, alga, nematode, and plant. Just as diagrams of human skin or gut usually omit the microbes that are essential components of human bodies, our images of plants, seemingly so objective, missed the essential nature of a leaf. A "maple" is not an individual made of plant cells, but a community of cells from many domains and kingdoms of life. Microbe-free plants likely do not exist in nature and, if they could be constructed, would quickly die for want of the vital connections that sustain life.

 Haskell will be in Chattanooga on April 18 at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. 

Hear renowned author, David Haskell talk about his new book, "The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors" on Tuesday, April 18 at UTC's Benwood Auditorium. Get your $10 tickets ($5 for students) at www.trgt.org/events. All proceeds benefit the Tennessee River Gorge Trust.

Thank you to UTC's Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Science and Chatt About Science for including us in this event.