The translator and editor of “The Hidden Life of Trees” believes that a forest is so much more than a landscape—it’s a place where life happens all around us.
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Jane Billinghurst first started working with legendary German forester and “tree whisperer” Peter Wohlleben in 2015. She was the editor and translator of his best-selling book, The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books, 2016), which fundamentally changed the way many people—including Billinghurst—think about forests.
Combining their forces more deliberately this time, the pair coauthored a new book, Forest Walking: Discovering the Trees and Woodlands of North America (Greystone Books, 2022), which blends Wohlleben’s professional and scientific expertise with Billinghurst’s awe and wonder as a nature lover and master gardener. Billinghurst shares how to walk, hike, and wander with more attention—and intention.
What was a walk in the woods like before you and Peter started working together?
I live in Washington State, and I belong to a hiking club. We’d go out every week in the forest, and the idea was always to get from point A to point B. I mean, obviously, [we wanted] to enjoy the surroundings and be out in a wonderful forest, but mostly we wanted to get a workout. And I thought that was great. Working with Peter, I thought: Wait a minute, there’s a lot going on out here!
I learned that the forest is so much more than a landscape to walk through. It’s a place where life is happening all the time, sometimes very gradually and sometimes on a minute scale. I discovered that if I slowed down, I could catch glimpses of a complex world I had never noticed before. Over time, I have discovered I still like to get from point A to point B, but now I hike more slowly, which gives me time to scan my surroundings.
What do you mean by “scan”?
I realized that if I kept a slow, steady pace, constantly looking to either side of the trail, my eyes would begin to pick out what I was looking for. Now, as I’m walking, I look up and down and turn …….