It’s Arbor Day, so let’s revisit three books we’ve looked at previously at borg that remind us of the fragility and wonder of the magnificent tree.

If the Scots abandoned Scotland to nature, it would be the birch that would be the first tree to seize its chance, and a birch forest would walk the streets of Edinburgh.

Thomas Pakenham was referring to a gigantic pioneer birch tree in Rothiemarchus, Scotland, but he may have well been writing about the Ents, the grand, wise, old leafed characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  In his book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Pakenham reproduces his real-life journey across continents meeting some of the oldest inhabitants of the planet, even if they never actually “walked” the Earth.  In beautiful photographs and stories, he introduces readers to the most noble of Earth’s elders, a chance to marvel in awe at their enormous height, or breadth, of their obvious beauty or strikingly twisted, meandering, slim, or expansive forms.  Pakenham, the 8th Earl of Longford, an Anglo-Irish writer, historian, and tree enthusiast, selected trees “mostly very large, and mainly very ancient, and all with a strong personality,” highlighting the unique qualities unique to each remarkable individual.  His folksy speech and storytelling is refreshingly regional, providing an herbivorous mirror to fellow Brit James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.

To visit these trees, to step beneath their domes and vaults, is to pay homage at a mysterious shrine.  But tread lightly. Even these giants have delicate roots.  And be warned that this may be your farewell visit.  No one can say if this prodigious trunk will survive the next Atlantic storm–or outlive us all by centuries.

Thomas Pakenham’s photograph of the great Fredville oak, named “Majesty” at least as early as 1820 when it was sketched by artist Jacob Strutt.

And, indeed, even some of the trees pictured in Meetings with Remarkable Trees are no longer around, having succumbed to storm or man-made destruction.  Pakenham’s tome is something profoundly sacred or spiritual.  It’s peppered with historical references, literary allusions to specific trees, and including some very famous trees, whether a thousand years old or more than 200 feet tall.  It seems preposterous humans travel the globe to see manmade creations when we could be on pilgrimages to commune with these ancient living beings.  Sixty trees are grouped by personality: Natives, Travellers, Shrines, Fantasies, and Survivors.  Once you’ve met Pakenham and his craggy acquaintances in this book, you’ll want to move on to accompany the champion of trees on a year in his life in his book, The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest.

A different approach to individual trees can be found in photographer Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees (a preview is below).  Some ancient and many not so ancient, the trees in this book include 50 selected from five continents and identified for their historic or inspirational stories.

From Luna, the Coastal Redwood in California that became an international symbol when activist Julia Butterfly Hill sat for 738 days on a platform nestled in its branches to save it from logging, to the Bodhi Tree, the sacred fig in India that is a direct descendent of the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, Cook and Jenshel reveal trees that have impacted and shaped our lives, our traditions, and our feelings about nature.  There are also survivor trees, including a camphor tree in Nagasaki that endured the atomic bomb, an American elm in Oklahoma City, and the 9/11 Survivor Tree, a Callery pear at the 9/11 Memorial.  All of the trees were carefully selected for their role in human dramas.

Here is the preview from Abrams Books of Wise Trees:

If you’re thinking about how you can change the world for the better this Arbor Day, one step in the right direction would be reading writer/artist Rachel Ignotofsky‘s latest science book, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Ecosystems, an easy to understand guide to the elements of science that converge to tell us about the inter-relationships of all life on Earth.   Ecosystems and organisms, wastelands to deserts and the oceans, from lichen to predators, with some -isms to learn or re-learn (like commensalism and mutualism), concepts you might learn in grade school natural science and geography, high school biology, and college geology and environmental studies. In a word, it’s what everyone should know about Earth’s ecology.

Readers will examine some benefits of particular ecosystems (and threats to them), including the Redwood Forest, the Mangrove Swamp, the Mojave Desert, the Amazon Rainforest, the Atacama Desert, the Pampas, the Andes, the British Moors, the Alps, the Siberian Taiga, the Mongolian Steppe, the Himalayan mountains, the Congo rainforests, the Savannas, the Sahara, the Great Barrier Reef, the Tundra, and more.  The classification of lifeforms and cycles of life are detailed, including the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorous cycle, the water cycle, and plant cycle.  Deforestation, invasive species, desertification, and pollution are identified as just some of the threats the Earth faces.

Writer/artists Rachel Ignotofsky offers through her unique style charts, diagrams, and pictures, all as explanations of how the world’s piece parts interplay to create the global ecosystem.  Key to all of it is how humans can act to protect the planet.

Take a look at this preview from Ignotofsky’s book, courtesy of Ten Speed Press:

The book includes sources, resources, and places for further information, and a glossary.

It’s a great introduction for kids from K-12 or adults who may not have learned this information before.  The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Ecosystems is perfect as a text for your school’s ecology club, for a book club, and for anyone interested in natural science.  It is available now here at Amazon from Ten Speed Press.

Whether you’re looking to commune with ancient residents of Earth or more recent leaved celebrities, you’ll find these books as good reminders to protect these great living beings any way possible.

Thomas Pakenham’s Meetings with Remarkable Trees is available from Random House here in paperback and here in hardcover.  Diane Cook and Len Jenshel’s Wise Trees is available now from Abrams Books hereThe Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Ecosystems is available from Ten Speed Press here.

And don’t forget to include planting a tree in your future plans, or make a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

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