Translated from German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Time to turn more pages from my favourite German forester. You may remember his The Hidden Life of Trees was my book of 2018, so my sense of anticipation was high …
The first thing to say is that this was not the book I expected it to be. I had expectations of virtual walks in identifiable places, resulting in an itinerary to be followed whenever I next walk on German soil. Well, it is not a tour guide; it is so much more.
Wohlleben has spent more than 20 years working for the German forestry commission during which time he has had to implement policies he’s less than happy about. He now manages an environmentally-friendly woodland, parts of which serve as a burial forest. He is encouraging other parts to return to its primeval state, at the same time at caring for the wild animal population. Walks In The Wild, therefore, contains his considered and often impassioned thoughts and arguments on the policies and politics (past and present) of sustainable forest management. This endows the book with a thought-provoking gravitas, but one which avoids preachiness or overwhelming the reader who comes to the book simply to enhance their knowledge of the forest.
There’s a lot for the enthusiastic novice to learn here. In 28 relatively short chapters (the whole book is only 256 pages long), Wohlleben covers many aspects of plant and wildlife. The what and where. How to identify and track critters, large and small. How to identify and conserve the tree population. There are a handful of really useful chapters on how to negotiate your way around the forest in less than idyllic conditions, how to find your bearings if you’re lost without watch or compass, how to survive if you’re lost for days without food and water …
(Note to self. Remember to shelter during rainfall as close to the trunk of a conifer as you can. I think that will be a particularly useful tip in the Scottish woods.)
I said earlier I was hoping for inspiration for my next trip to Germany. I slapped a post-it note on page 104: “Rheinland-Palatinate, here I come!” At this juncture Wohlleben was advocating tree identification not by the shape of leaf or needle but by taste, something he incorporates into his tours for schoolchildren. That’s a lesson that appeals. Not sure I fancy his extreme forest survival skills weekend though ….
Anyway, who knows when the next trip will be? In the meantime, I have many Scottish woods to enjoy and I shall do so with the aid of the four chapters entitled Woodland Walks in February/May/August/November. Though the relevancy of August’s chapter remains to be seen. Its opening sentence reads: “A stifling summer heat hangs over the tree tops” … Stifling? Heat? There’s many a Scottish August when a winter coat is de rigeur ….