This time of year blog writing is all about color. Trees, bronzed and burnished by the sun, are semi-permanent fixtures of this autumnal show, but how often do you really look at trees other times of the year?
When trees are showcased in the media, it’s their ability to resuscitate our damaged atmosphere most often highlighted. I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, and I remember ecology, a word which has evolved into other terms like sustainability or “being green.” For our own breath of life, trees are our most important resource, but humans cut down old-growth forests in record numbers throughout the world unabated for a time. Over my lifetime, I’ve noticed much of the clear cutting has slowed, and there is a renewed respect for trees on much of the planet. In the last four decades we’ve developed an appreciation for how trees help us breathe, but we’ve forgotten how cool they are–up close and personal.
I discovered this when I went to college at the University of Oklahoma and stumbled into a Botany 101 class. I needed a biological science to fill my transcript, and it was an open class. My professor turned out to be the head of the department, and his teaching inspired me to take every botany class OU offered while I pursued a journalism degree. Lucky for me, journalism students were encouraged to branch out into the humanities and sciences. At the time, botany seemed a bit random, but as with all seeds, the fruit became visible only with time.
I still love the microscopic structure of plants.
So, when I was at the Garden Writers Symposium in Indianapolis last fall, and I passed the Timber Press booth, I’m not kidding when I say I was awestruck by Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, by Nancy Ross Hugo, and lovingly photographed by Robert Llewellyn. The cover photo of the bright, baby leaves of Ginko biloba, shaped like tiny Chinese fans, made me catch my breath. Their fan shape always makes me think of one of my favorite books, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Plus, the photo transported me back to all of those botany drawings I sketched for class so many years ago. All of these thoughts and feelings in an instant from one photograph.
That’s what a great book will do.
Looking at the depth of information and photography for ten, classic trees of North America, helped me fall in love with old favorites along with those I don’t often see unless I venture out of state. On the prairie, we love trees, but we don’t have many so we love the ones we have and admire those back east.
I was amused by page 140, a showcase of Juniperus virginiana, the Eastern redcedar, a tree I loathe for taking over much of Oklahoma by force. I realize this tree isn’t invasive in other states, but here, it truly is a menace. Oh well . . . I understand why it is profiled, and since it is so common, it is often overlooked by others. I do like the blue berries which are actually fleshy cones. I learned that fleshy cone part from the book.
Fagus grandifolia, the American beech, on the other hand is so beautiful closeup, I want to frame its unfurling leaves. The same for Acer rubrum, the red maple which has fairy-parasol blooms just like that of the Japanese maples I grow.
The photographic introduction of each tree shows it standing stately in a field, stretching its limbs to sun and sky. Subsequent pages take your closer and closer to the tree until you’re looking at its fruit in true macro fashion. Simply lovely. In the video below, Llewellyn explains how he captured these images something I found fascinating.
The words of the text are also beautifully written, and Hugo makes the experience of each tree personal. It’s not so scientific to lose the reader, and yet, the science is all there like vegetables hidden in a classic, spaghetti sauce.
If you love books and nature, this is one to own for reference and to ponder during the long winter months. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to plant a tree in your yard, your neighborhood, or at your child’s school or at church. Trees should not just be planted because of what they do for us, but simply, because of what they are.
In accordance with FTC disclosure rules, I want everyone reading to know, I received this book for review free from Timber Press, but I would have bought it anyway. If I haven’t convinced you how beautiful it is, then please watch watch Hugo and Llewellyn’s video below showing how they created the words and images. Thank you.