A Word from Cori:
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about trees. In part, I think it is the time of year. One of the most joyous experiences is watching the transformation of trees in the spring and early summer as they wake from their winter sleep and bring all shades of green back to our world. Riding through a brilliant avenue of green as I go home at the end of the day always begins pulling me into a state of calm and relaxation. As we slip into summer, I am also anticipating taking my hammock out into the forest with a stack of books and reading while listening to the wind whisper through the branches and leaves. They are such a huge life giving force in our world and exist just about everywhere in the world. So, perhaps it is not surprising that they are surfacing regularly as a topic or character in the books I’ve been reading and finding. I wanted to share my thoughts and discoveries so you can add to your own TBR (To Be Read) List. You might be thinking to yourself, “I only read fiction (non-fiction).” Okay, I get it. But, I highly recommend you stretch yourself a bit and explore something outside of your usual comfort zone.
Peter Wholleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate was transformative for me. There’s a reason this science based book is a bestseller. Wohlleben writes in a conversational way that makes plant botany approachable and fascinating. After reading this one, you will begin to see trees as communities instead of individual organisms. It is filled with beautiful drawings, and each essay can be a stand alone read. In fact, I would recommend taking your time with this one to allow information to be absorbed.
In Search of The Canary Tree by Lauren E. Oakes references the idea of the canary in the coal mine which was intended to warn miners of the increase in toxic gas. Oakes, a conservation scientist, heads to Alaska to study the tree equivalent for climate change, the yellow-cedar. Weaving together others’ research and her field experience in Alaska, she creates an interesting and relatable narrative about one of our most pressing world issues.
There are some crazy (and maybe brave) people in the world who like to climb really tall trees for a living. I cannot even imagine embarking on such adventures, but I sure do like reading about other people doing it! The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston was an excellent page turner that is both character driven and filled my head with cool information. This was the perfect fusion of nature writing and biography. Preston’s character development is spot on as he introduces you to Marie, Steve, and Michael and shares their journey up to the point where there lives intersect and when he met them. With a story about scientists and tree climbers going to the top of 30 feet story California coastal redwoods, you should anticipate some scary and tense moments. Multiple times, I found myself holding my breath and anxious about what was to happen next. Amongst their stories, you receive a fascinating and intricate botany lesson about the amazing and minimally explored ecosystems that exist hidden in the canopies of these majestic trees. If you still need to understand why people climb trees, James Aldred wrote The Man Who Climbs Trees: The Lofty Adventures of a Wildlife Cameraman as a memoir about his experiences. This one provides you a behind the scenes peek at how someone gets those amazing pictures of wild animals and birds in their natural habitat and describing his tree climbing experiences.
Annie Proulx’s Barkskins is a commitment at 717 pages. However, it was highly recommended to me by someone whose taste I trust. Set in North America, this is a sweeping historical novel that begins in the late 17th century and ends in 2013. “Barkskins” was a name for the wood cutters that early logging companies hired to clear the trees in this newly claimed world. This is a look at where colonization and deforestation has lead us to today. Currently, The Overstory by Richard Powers is getting all the buzz and has been hanging out on bestseller lists for weeks. In some ways, it has some similarities with Barkskins as a multigenerational saga and a story about the interactions between humans and the natural world. With a more experimental structure, Story introduces nine characters who have a connection in some way to trees. Their stories are nested amongst each other and progress through the book. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it seems readers either love the structure or hate it.
If you would like something a bit lighter and easier to follow, I will wrap up my recommendations with one of my top 2019 reads. Yes, we are only half way through, but I am confident it will still be on my list on December 31. Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane is absolutely enchanting. Trees are a secondary, but significant character in this book. Our protagonist, May Attaway, is employed as a university gardner. A graduate writes an award winning poem about a yew tree that May planted. The university awards May for her role in this by giving her a month of paid leave to use however she likes. She decides to begin a quest to understand what friendship means for her, how to be a better friend, and reconnect with the four people she has identified as her closest friends. May asks herself, what would have happened if The Odyssey’s Penelope had left? What kind of traveler, friend and guest would she be? Armed with hostess gifts, Emily Post’s guide to etiquette, and Grendel (her suitcase), May takes us on a journey that will fill your heart and make you laugh as she shares her funny, awkward, and mostly spot-on observations about 21st century connections and friendships. Additionally, her widowed father periodically leaves her sheets about different trees accompanied by gorgeous drawings by Edward Carey. The trees seem to serve as a way for him to both communicate information to May as well as suggest ideas for which tree to plant in memoriam after his death.