Thursday, June 9, 2016

Night in the Forest

Evening shadows arrive like cloaked ninjas descending silently into the treetops. Soon all light dims into non-existence, consumed by the night.

The forest is a different world in the dark. Anything living or travelling in it must tune the senses to night-time frequencies. Sight, the primary human sense in daylight, gives way to hearing, smell, and even touch. 

There is an increased awareness that things you cannot see are seeing you. You hear them move and you wonder. What is moving and where is it going?
A forest fact of life is that anything moving is looking for something to grab and eat. Or, trying to avoid being the something grabbed and eaten.

A research group now tells us that movement in the forest does not come from just from animals. They say their research has shown that trees move as they go to sleep at night and as they awaken in the morning.

The researchers used terrestrial laser scanning to measure the night movements of silver birch trees in Finland and Austria. The laser equipment scanned tree canopies and branches from sunset to sunrise, making intricate measurements of movement undetectable by the human eye.

Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) is a method of collecting complex geometric data from buildings, machines and other objects, including trees. It has become an important modern tool in surveying.

TLS data collected in both Finland and Austria showed that branches hung as much as 10 centimetres lower at sunset than at sunrise. The sagging was measured over several hours, ruling out the possibility that wind moved the branches.

Some researchers believe that tree branches relax and droop at night because of a decrease in a tree’s internal water pressure. During daylight hours photosynthesis converts sunshine into energy. With no photosynthesis after sunset, water pressure decreases inside the tree and the branches relax.

The TLS studies are being used to help determine whether this is true or whether trees are simply following their own body clocks in the same way we humans do.

This kind of research sounds esoteric. However, it could be useful in understanding how trees adapt to changing environmental conditions, especially those resulting from climate change.
For anyone interested, the Finland-Austria TLS studies were reported in Frontiers in Plant Science, which can be found at

My interest in when trees sleep is much less esoteric. I wonder if I should tiptoe when walking through the woods at dawn.


A friend in Edmonton texted me Sunday afternoon with the news that Canadian singer Bobby Curtola had died. I was saddened but shocked later when I watched the evening CTV National News, which carried not a word about Curtola. Much about Mohammed Ali, shark attacks in Australia etc. but nothing about the Canadian kid who was an international sensation in the 1960s, and continued to entertain and to help others long after his star began to fade.

I don’t watch the CBC National anymore because of its pathetically poor news lineup. I am told, however, that it had an extensive segment on the singer and his life.

I found snippets about him on Twitter and other Internet sites but generally I thought national news media coverage was skimpy.

He deserved better. He had 25 Canadian gold singles and 12 Canadian gold albums. More importantly, as noted in the Canadian Encyclopaedia, he  established the first coast-to-coast music touring circuit in Canada. He also was the first to prove that it was possible to be an international pop music star living in Canada.

He did much work for charities, hosting telethons to raise money for groups scattered around the world.

Best of all, Bobby Curtola was a genuine person. I know that because we were classmates throughout high school. (He got better marks than I did despite the rising pressure and demands as a newly-discovered teen idol).

I saw him a few times over the years and fame changed him little from the nice guy who pumped gas at his dad’s gas station in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay).

He was a natural person and a natural singer who lived a natural life. And, I imagine that unlike many entertainment stars, he died a natural death.


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