Into the Forest: The Secret Language of Trees

Image of Into the Forest: The Secret Language of Trees
Release Date: 
April 5, 2022
National Geographic
Reviewed by: 

“Our forests, like our oceans, are vastly misunderstood and are commonly abused. Hitchcock attempts to increase awareness and build better relationships with the forest entities that make our planet habitable.”

Forests have been getting a lot of attention lately, not all of it encouraging. Commercial deforestation and unprecedented wildfires have turned trees into headline news. Collectively, our hearts break when we watch the clips of before and after scenes showing once thriving swaths of old growth green rendered into massive zones of apocalyptic devastation. But many forests are alive and well. Their life-giving capabilities are becoming more recognized, and the ways in which they are being protected are expanding. Hitchcock’s Into the Forest demonstrates just how valuable forests are and chronicles both their mystic majesties and their scientific magnitudes.

It’s almost inconceivable the amount of biodiversity that is alive and kicking in a forest ecosystem. Microscopic and macroscopic grandeurs easily overwhelm the human sensory systems. The numerous benefits of keeping a forest intact far outweigh the one-dimensional short-term quick buck of chopping down trees. Yet it is still so easy for industry to shrug their shoulders and rev up the chain saws and bulldozers. Into the Forest takes a decidedly pro-forest-protection stance and encourages folks to get out into the forest and “fulfill our obligations to care for the trees . . .” and learn to see forests as the living entities that they truly are.

The six sections of Into the Forest each highlight critical components of forests: Tree, Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Forest. Beauty and splendor, of course, grace each page through stunning photograph after stunning photograph. But there is also some rich commentary covering a wide range of topics pertinent to plants, trees, ecosystems, nature, communities, exploration, adventure, politics, medicine, spirituality, law and more; clearly a tree is more than just a tree, and a forest is more than the collection of trees standing in it.

“the forest is not just a green canvas of trees and plants but a complex system that also includes mammals, birds, amphibians, fungi, microbes, and more. These creatures work together to make the forest whole, and in so doing provide us clean air to breathe, cool water to drink, nutritious food to eat, medicines to heal, and a place to soothe spirits. Our health and our world depend on the forest.”

Earth, water, air, and fire also work incessantly to keep the forests humming along. They clean it, nurture it, heal it, protect it, unite it. Hitchcock takes these complex themes and sorts and sifts them into brief but astute insights into why all this matters for humans. The health and well-being of our trees and forests matter. They are critical components much like our hearts and lungs, without which there would be no other forms of life. This is not an exaggeration. This is one of those great inconceivable yet accurate statements.

While most of the writing in this book is strong and substantial, the narrative sometimes flirts with an edge of kumbaya cheesiness. There isn’t a specific instance of Hitchcock’s voice turning platitudinal, yet from time to time the reader may encounter a strange vibe as they ebb and flow through the book. This feeling can be attributed to the shift in word choice from factual to interpretive.

Part science, part prose, part opinion, and part call to action, there is somewhat of a mixed personality within the pages. The target audience for Into the Forest is a bit murky. It contains fodder for forest activism, and yet it is at its core a coffee table book chock full of visuals.

Speaking of visuals, for a publisher renowned for its adventure and nature photography it was surprising that the illustration credits came from Getty Images, Stocksy, Shutterstock, and other stock photo platforms. For some readers this may dilute the prestige of owning a National Geographic publication. As striking and beautiful as they are, there is nothing special about these images, they abound on the internet.

Our forests, like our oceans, are vastly misunderstood and are commonly abused. Hitchcock attempts to increase awareness and build better relationships with the forest entities that make our planet habitable. This book is visually stirring, scientifically fascinating, and communally encouraging. Like with the forests themselves, Into the Forest seeks a balance between awe and practicality.