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Editors’ Picks Issue 10

The Editors


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sad man sitting on park bench

Poem: An Apology for Vivian

I am afraid, Vivian, that my words will find themselves alone, shivering cold on a park bench as evening slows, solemnly draped over the brownstones and the parking meters and over you, Vivian...

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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

Peter Wohlleben

It turns out, biologically speaking, that humans aren’t all that exceptional. We finally decoded the genome, only to discover that we share 97 percent of it with the field mouse and 60 percent with the common fruit fly. A recent spate of pop-science books sets out to remind us not only that we are descended from fish and apes but, yes, that animals are people too. We now know that few of the things we thought made us special – language, technical ability, social and emotional complexity, a sense of time – are unique to our species. Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel brings us dolphins and elephants that grieve. In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, zoologist Frans de Waal implies that most zoologists preceding him were not, devising tests for clever bonobos and gibbons unjustly biased toward a human skill set. And Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds shows how much we have underestimated the bird brain. To anyone who’s ever had a pet dog, none of these discoveries come as a great surprise.

Now this. Trees, too, may have feelings, and seemingly complex social lives as well. They love, grieve, talk, warn each other of danger, share resources with struggling neighbors, nurture their offspring, and support aging parents. When German forester Peter Wohlleben stopped going by the logging textbook and started listening to what his trees were trying to tell him, a whole new world opened up.

For one, the beeches native to his Central European forest actually want to grow closely together. If one tree is diseased or struggling on poor soil, its neighbors pass it nutrients, banding together to maintain the canopy that keeps sun and wind out and precious moisture in.

Each species competes ruthlessly with other species, and each has its natural enemies. Yet trees also enjoy a host of mutually beneficial relationships with fungi and insects. If attacked by a particular caterpillar, the oak releases a scent to summon a specific wasp to lays its eggs in the pests. Oaks and beeches throughout a forest can conspire to withhold their seeds for several years at a time to starve deer and boar populations that would otherwise eat all the acorns and beechnuts. When giraffes come to browse, umbrella thorn acacias start producing a foul-tasting toxin in their leaves. They also release a gas, ethylene, onto the breeze to alert nearby trees to start producing the same toxin. (The giraffes have learned to skip a few trees or move upwind.)

When it comes to how trees “think” or where their “brain” or “memory” resides, Wohlleben veers into speculation. He notes that not unlike our own neurons, roots have been overheard transmitting electrical impulses – at 220 hertz – to which other plants react, and that scientists now believe these communications are facilitated by a “wood-wide web” of fungal mycelium. Whether or not such comparisons to human intelligence are overblown, Wohlleben’s fascinating book is a good place to start to recover a sense of wonder toward the created world around us.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben The Hidden Life of Trees



Where are unchurched millennials hearing a gospel-informed perspective on society, politics, and culture? Many are likely getting it from Lecrae, the hip hop artist who is proving that violence, profanity, misogyny, and bling are not the only values that can top charts and win Grammys. (Watch his “Welcome to America” for starts.)

For more than a few chapters of his life – and of his recent memoir, Unashamed – Lecrae Devaughn Moore was a mess. Of course this makes his Christian testimony all the more compelling. Here’s someone who, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, overcame fatherlessness and sexual abuse, the pull of gangs, addiction and rehab, promiscuity and an abortion, racism and self-hatred, an unsteady relationship with religion, and some basic misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian. He became a Christian celebrity, making Christian music for Christian audiences, until he felt a call to break out of the Christian ghetto.

“There is no such thing as Christian rap and secular rap,” LeCrae says now. “Only people can become Christians.” He’s had some degree of success in crossing the divide, though he senses that he’ll always be an outsider in both worlds. The title track of his 2014 hit album, Anomaly, ends, “And they say we don’t fit in / But I say, we are exactly who God created us to be: anomalies / The system didn’t plan for this.” Not a bad place for a Christian to be.

Unashamed by LeCrae Unashamed

Where the River Bends: Considering Forgiveness in the Lives of Prisoners 

Michael T. McRay

Not every story of childhood trauma ends happily. The overall effect of these fourteen profiles of prisoners is devastating.

McRay studied peacemaking with visions of addressing the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but felt as an American he had to do something to put his own house in order first. This led to a four-year stint as a volunteer chaplain at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, the sort of place we as a society have sought to put a festering wound “out of sight and out of mind.”

The first part of the book maps out the complex topography of forgiveness. It comes off a little dry but provides a helpful framework for the rich stories that follow, which McRay lets the prisoners tell for themselves. Seven men and seven women, they take responsibility for their actions and express remorse, but as perpetrators cannot demand forgiveness of their victims. They are left struggling to forgive themselves. Some can’t, such as the mother whose child died of neglect while she had postpartum psychosis; she refuses to appeal her sentence because she feels she deserves to stay in prison.

No story starts or ends the day of the crime. Almost inevitably, the victimizer was first a victim; the abuser was abused. Often their own inability to forgive horrific childhood or domestic abuse led them to perpetuate the cycle.

These are hard stories to hear, because they reveal as much about us as about the people we lock away. Jacob Davis, thirty-six, has served seventeen years of a life sentence for shooting a high school classmate. He asks, “Are we still human? Is there any forgiveness, any redemption for those who have truly repented? If not, what does that say about us all?”

Where the River Bends: Considering Forgiveness in the Lives of Prisoners by Michael T. McRay Where the River Bends