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Learning to Be Better Lovers: Forest Thinking in a Forest City

Tree alphabet 2.png

Learning to Be Better Lovers: Forest Thinking in a Forest City

Katie Holten

What is the language we need to live right now? How can we learn to be better lovers of the world? Where can we enter Tree Time?


Together, as citizens of a forest city, let’s explore all that is political and poetical about trees. Let’s learn to be better lovers by embracing our non-human neighbours. Trees breathe out: We breathe in. Let’s work outside with the trees. Let’s graft ideas as well as trees, unearthing the rhizomatic potentialities of plants, and ourselves. 


London is a forest city. With over eight million trees, there is almost one tree for every person. We must listen to the trees, the weeds, swooping birds, lichen; All life forms. Together, let’s take some time to crack open our human-centered language and invite in the non-human. What can we hear/see/sense when we stop and listen? Together, let’s explore the possibilities for multi-species storytelling. The trees will be our guides as we explore the city, excavating language ecosystems.  


My book About Trees can be a starting point. The collection of stories, old and new, can help us unearth forgotten stories, expose invisible stories, and create new stories. The book takes readers on a journey from ‘primeval atoms’ and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500 year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to Emerson’s language of fossil poetry, unearthing a grove of beautiful stories along the way. As a species, we need to remember and share our creation stories. Do we have a common story?  We can’t love something until we name it. Can we create a common language of love? Let’s read aloud together outside.


Shall we create a London Tree Alphabet? Tree alphabets create a pause, forcing us to slow down as we read, and reread, what we think we know. What other ways can we give voice to the non-human? Let’s explore the primeval past, hidden wildwoods, commons, edgelands, and heartwood(s) of the forest city. Let’s learn to love. 


Activities might include:

- READ extracts from About Trees (and many other texts, see reading list)

- DEEP-DIVE into the (hi)stories of the ABC and our Latin alphabet 

- VISIT the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum 

- DRAW your own alphabets (Tree, Stone, Bird, Water, Traffic, Wind, Lichen…)

- WRITE your own creation story (What story would be on your Rosetta Stone?)

- WALK the streets (Eyes closed, alone, in groups, time travel, read fossils, get lost…)

- EXPLORE the London Forest (Pick your favourite tree, write a day in the life…)

- FOREST BATHING (Once a day, once a week, alone, together, listen to the trees…)

- COLLECT sounds and things (Create a London Symphony from found sounds?)

- DRAW inspiration from the heartwood (Lots of possible drawing activities…)

- CREATE a new alphabet (Together, shall we create a London Tree Alphabet?)

- SHARE a message to the future (Who are you addressing? How are you communicating?)  



Our toolbox is simple. A canvas tote bag with notebook(s), pens, pencils, eraser, sharpener, phone/camera, home-made snack, water in a non-plastic container, raincoat, fingerless gloves, hat, a battered copy of About Trees if you have one, and/or another book that you can read but also lean on if needed. (COVID-19: Maybe we’ll also need masks, a zip-lock bag to store an extra mask, hand sanitizer, proof of vaccination…)

Some of my own words on the Tree Alphabet:




Trees Breathe Out: We Breathe in


Why I Made a New Irish Tree Alphabet

My Reading List

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