Book Report: Finding the Mother Tree

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My excuse for not finishing this one sooner is that I was trying to catch up on magazines, thanks to all the “subtle” hints that I have too many piles of them. I did at least get all the horse and decorating magazines finished, so last night I got myself to the end of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (2021). What a journey this book is!

If this doesn’t make you go hug a tree, nothing will.

I got the book the minute it came out, which is no surprise given how many books on trees, how trees talk to each other, and forest ecology I’ve read in the past couple of years! Simard wrote it in an interesting way, where autobiographical sections are interspersed with some pretty hard-core science content. If you just like stories, you can skim the science; if you just want to know exactly how trees communicate with and support one another, you can bypass the story of her life (but you’d be missing out on an interesting life!).

Simard was born, full of curiosity, into a western Canadian family full of loggers and tough woodland pioneers. It’s no wonder she ended up as a biologist. And she, too, is a pioneer. She had a very hard time getting anyone to listen to her as she explained the effects of clear cutting and re-planting as it was practiced at the end of the 20th century. I really came to admire her tenacity and conviction that she was right.

Mother tree I saw at the horse competition.

Of course, it helped that all her data backed her up, and that eventually she got enough grad students and fellow researchers to make it clear that trees help each other and need each other to survive. I’m glad she did, because her findings are fascinating. Different types of trees are connected, and certain ones use different kinds of fungi help different kinds of trees in their connections, too. It’s all complicated, as one would expect, but fascinating.

The highlight of the book is when Simard talks about “mother trees,” which appear in healthy forests. They are very old, and very well connected. They give their energy to new seedlings and distressed neighbors. It kept making me sad to read about them getting cut down, but I have to credit Simard for acknowledging that we need wood; we just need to be careful with managing forests so they can keep giving us wood!

I know the tree I have pictures of here is or was a mother tree. Just look at her beautiful roots.

Forests that are managed and have all the trees the same age, planted in rows, don’t get the advantages of having mother trees, nor of the diversity of companion trees and understory plants necessary for optimal health, resistance to pests, and protection from diseases.

I’m so glad scientists, and now foresters, are listening to Simard, and that she has passed her work on to her daughter. This woman is an amazing role model for us all.

A Well-Timed Garden Visit

Since we are all rested and wanting to see the eastern part of the USA, Lee and I decided to go to Pawley’s Island and Brookgreen Gardens today. I just had a hankering to see the island, since I’d read about it a lot, and you know, they make hammocks therethey make hammocks. Sure enough, it was small and cute, and consisted mostly of vacation homes that were quaint and nice. I enjoyed looking at the estuary and the marshes surrounding the island, but there weren’t really any places to get out and explore.

We instead found a nice little hamburger stand, and enjoyed a delicious burger and fries that were not fast food at all. That got us strengthened enough to head down the road to Brookgreen Gardens, where we hadn’t had a chance to go last year. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to charge my watch, so I missed 6,700 or so steps. Dagnabbit.

I never saw so many different types of Japanese maple in my life!

That did not deter us from having a wonderful time, though. Just driving into the place we saw a cool black-headed squirrel and a brown thrasher. A real highlight though, was a brand-new exhibit in their galleries, which was devoted to American sculptures and other art featuring wildlife and domestic animals. You don’t see many sculptures of good ole dogs, so it was a real treat.

There were also beautiful sculptures of horses (they have LOTS of horses), birds, foxes, otters, and all sorts of animals, plus some great drawings and paintings. We enjoyed the small gallery of items from the people who had owned the land when it was three rice plantations. I was impressed to see a few depictions of where the enslaved people lived, and that they were labeled as such. And I give credit to the families who deeded the land to everyone to enjoy.

That’s a powerful horse

The outdoor part of this garden is immense. It’s certainly too big to see everything on the property in one day, so it’s good your tickets can be used for a week! We will come back later to see the zoo, labyrinth, and other areas we missed as we wandered from beautiful spot to beautiful spot, finding little hidden sculptures in niches, and grand sculptures in beautiful settings with ponds and fountains.

This is the 90th year of the gardens, and you can tell, because there are lots of imported and exotic specimen trees that have grown huge. There were many evergreen trees I’d never seen before, plus a couple of deciduous ones, like a very, very large swamp chestnut oak, festooned with gray Spanish moss. You could live under that thing.

I can see why this garden has won so many awards. It’s designed to provide new vistas everywhere you turn, and must be spectacular when azaleas and camellias are blooming. I found one camellia blossom.

Artistic camellia shot

It was funny how I kept flipping back and forth from wanting to take photos of some of the pretty cultivars of decorative plants to wanting to take photos of the views and native things. Thus, there are a lot of photos in this blog post.

There was wildlife, too! We found turtles, an alligator, geese, a very friendly cardinal, a black-and-white warbler, plus brown thrashers. We heard even more birds. This place sounds fantastic, so blind people could enjoy it (by the way, it is also very accessible for people using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs).

Of course, my favorite part is what they call “beyond the wall,” which is a creek and swamp where the rice fields used to be. I’m so fond of swamps, that my heart got racing as I found sedges, rushes, wild irises, and beautiful cypress knees. The path was just perfect for a swamp lover like me, but, I realized when I ran into a fellow using an electric wheelchair, that it was totally accessible to all (if you’re careful)!

After a quick trip to the gift shop, where I got a t-shirt and commemorative mugs, we headed to shop at Publix, which is kind of like a tourist attraction for people from the South. It’s just the nicest grocery store chain. I got some flowers for our room and the vitally important coffee filters for the condo. Whew. We’re all set now!

One lonely hydrangea flower.

Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the beach early, working, then probably relaxing in the evening, but we’ll find ways to enjoy being in a new location, even when working. Since Lee brought his giant iMac, he’s able to record his receipts instantly and keep track of Hearts Homes and Hands’ finances almost as well as he can at home. And I’m all set up, just with my laptop screen. We can do it!

I hope you enjoyed the photos. They sure were fun to take!

Ways We Cope with Stress: Featuring Plants

Because I’m so darned introspective, I’ve been examining how I cope with stress these days. I find that I can only handle a subset of the priorities I could before, and I avoid duties that appear like they’ll bring on more stress. That’s how I’m coping now, to the detriment of a couple of projects. But, as I look around I realize mine is only one way to cope. I also notice it’s not just us people who cope in different ways, so rather than call out people today, I’ll illustrate my points with how local plants are coping with the stress from Winter Storm Uri.

A perfect example is how some trees have died, some are struggling to come back, and some look fantastic, and this difference can happen in the same types of trees.

Some of us seem to deal with stress as if it’s not there at all. These people are often deeply grounded, have been through a lot, or have lots of support (roots!). These people, just like the Ashe juniper trees, often support others.

Others retreat and focus on one thing at a time, and try their best to do it well, like a rose bush with just one perfect flower.

Only one blossom, but it’s a good one.

There are people, and I know quite a few of them, who not only handle stress well, they thrive on it and so some of their best work when there’s a lot going on. Sometimes doing something is a way of coping and staying busy (I’m guilty of this), while others find challenges energizing. They enthusiastically bloom where they’re planted!

There are those, and who can blame them, who go into hiding, and only begin to peek out when the danger is over. Even then, they go slowly. It takes a lot out of people and plants to get their bearings when a stressful situation begins to ease up.

Stress tends to scatter some folks, too. They try this method of coping, and that method of coping, trying to find one that will actually work and get them through the hard times. I see this a lot in stressed oaks, which start putting out new growth all over, and not just at the ends of their branches. Some pop up along old limbs, and other pop up from the roots (very common).

This motte of oaks is sending out new sprouts all over the limbs and trunks.

When stress is really causing problems in living your usual life, though, sometimes starting again in a new place might help, like the redbud trees I’ve seem who look pretty sad up top, but have vibrant new growth farther down their trunks.

How many of us know people who have no choice to start over, even when that, too, is a struggle. I saw this poor tree with no leaves or other signs of life on its branches, but that hadn’t given up completely, and was starting again, hesitantly, and perhaps slowly. But, it’s still THERE! I count those of us who are in this situation as stronger than they realize.

I’m coming back!

Many of us fail to thrive during stressful periods. And it’s hard to say who’s going to cope well and who’s going to fall apart. One thing I noticed was that often there are two or more trees of the same variety near each other, and one looks great, while another struggles or succumbed to the weather? What’s the difference? You can’t tell on the surface what internal resources a tree or person has. That’s why we need to be patient and not blame people for their problems.

Same tree (an oak), different success rate.

I think flexibility, along with resilience, makes a difference in how we weather the inevitable Winter Storm Uri events in our lives. People who lived very rigid, inflexible lives really have had trouble with pandemic changes, just like a plant that’s been groomed into a stiff hedge with no choice in how it grows may have more trouble in a winter storm.

There are hundreds of these around the office, all very sad looking.

Those of us who aren’t well situated in the first place or already have anxiety issues may cope by throwing things every which way. A lot of the plants I seem seem to be reproducing like crazy, trying to grow, and growing in weird ways, like they’re trying ALL the options to make sure they’re making a good, healthy, happy impression. This has to take a lot of energy, and I wonder how well they’re going to do if they keep all that extra-perky energy up. I’ve noticed some crashing and burning of late…maybe a bit by me, to be honest.

This inland sea oats has come back strong, and has generated dozens of little buddies, just in case things don’t work out.

Now, some of the trees, and some of the people don’t make it at all through intense stress. I know more than one person who seems to be hanging by a thread right now. Some of us are just out of our element, like tropical trees (palms and such) that look pretty awful right now. I can’t fault them, and can only offer support and virtual hugs. And I will honor those we have lost.

We salute you, fallen non-native and non-cold hardy tree.

Looking at all the ways we humans and plants deal with unexpected stress is a good exercise for me. I can easily see the parallels among us, and what’s most clear is that there’s no right or wrong way to cope, nor are we all going to cope equally well. So, I’ll try to be patient with those who are struggling, including those who cope differently from me. I hope you can, too.

Book Report: The Nature of Oaks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Admission: I only gave this book 4 stars because I wanted it to be longer. I dwell on every word Doug Tallamy writes, so I selfishly want more of them. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees is his latest book, and it was only published two days ago. I snatched it out of the packaging and started reading it immediately! I’m really glad Tallamy mentioned this when I heard him speak in February, so I knew to pre-order.

Now, not only is Doug (I’ll call him Doug, because I consider him a friend, though I’ve never really talked to him) my favorite current naturalist writer, but oaks are my favorite trees. How much better can it get?

Oak trees and I go way back. One of my mom’s favorite stories about toddler Suna is that she used to go outside and find me talking to the trees in my yard. I thought there was someone in there, you see. I spent my childhood in something like a paradise for plant lovers, a small cement-block house on two lots, covered with large live oaks, along with a few other lovely native Florida trees. I was, however, not at all fond of pine trees (ironic, since my grandfather worked for a company that planted pines for paper-making). I liked oaks. They always had something going on, with all that Spanish moss dripping off them, possums and squirrels running around, and of course an endless parade of songbirds.

My most recent visit to some of my favorite trees, at the park I played in a child (as did Tom).

I loved those trees like family members, as I followed my dad around helping him landscape the yard and make lovely flower beds around the oaks, all mulched with their leaves. Little did I know he was doing the exact right thing by planting the dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and such under the larger trees to mimic a natural understory. Most important, the leaf mulch supported all sorts of wonderful insects that contributed to the ecology of my little world. Thanks, Doug, for confirming my dad’s innate wisdom!

The oaks and I continued our love affair, and I continued to visit ones I particularly cared about as long as I lived in Gainesville, and I still check to see if certain trees are still there (most are, 50+ years lager). And when I moved to Illinois and then to Texas, I learned about more and more types of oaks, which shed their leaves in the fall like normal trees (not like live oaks, who shed in the spring). My favorite tree in my first yard in Texas was a bur oak we planted, of course with an understory of Texas mountain laurel and native plants. It’s a gorgeous specimen now.

All this background is to explain why I was so happy this book was written. It turns out, I was right, there was “someone” in my oaks! They support more moths and other insects than any other type of tree. They teem with life! I enjoyed learning a lot about the various caterpillars and moths Doug finds in his Pennsylvania trees (he also talks about other areas, too, though).

An oak out in nature in Florida

He also satisfied my curiosity as to what the heck oak galls are, what they’re made of, and who lives there. Well, little larvae live in there, but the galls are somehow inspired to grow from actual oak material by the wasp who lays her eggs on the leaf buds. All sorts of insects want to eat the larvae, but galls protect them well. Then, when they leave, they make a nice hole, which then can be used by certain ants as little homes. I never knew that!

So, there’s just one example of the kinds of things you learn about amazing oak trees in this book. It’s enough to make you want to run out and plant some. That’s exactly what Doug wants you to do. Like to many trees, their numbers have diminished. We need them to store carbon, to support life, and to clean the atmosphere. You’ll find fun information on starting oak trees from acorns, as well as comprehensive lists of the best oak varieties for different parts of the US (by size, too).

You’ll also be sure to enjoy the color photos of trees, insects, and all the denizens of the oak world. I guess Doug’s now famous enough that he gets to have color photographs in all his books. We win!

This little book is a treasure, and I’m so glad it confirmed my bias toward the gentle old trees I’ve loved my whole life. I plan to take the book off its shelf and hug it occasionally. It’s my friend, I guess.

Want to read more by Doug Tallamy? I have a review of his previous wonderful and inspirational book, Nature’s Best Hope that you might enjoy.

The Ranch Resurrection

It’s the time of year when my Christian friends are thinking about resurrection. To me, Easter comes at the perfect time of year, since flora and fauna are coming back to life all over the place. The Hermits’ Rest Ranch is no exception, but this year, after the unusually cold winter, we haven’t been sure if everything was going to come back or not. Every time I look out the window and see a monarch butterfly feeding, I feel grateful that some of them made it here and have food.

Everywhere I look there are monarchs, and I know I have milkweeds out there for them!

I’ve been periodically patrolling the land around our house, checking to see if plants are coming up at their usual times and numbers, and what kinds of insects are showing up. The good news is that most of the old friends are returning, but the bad news is that some are not as numerous and are later than usual.

One plant I’ve been anxiously looking for are the Texas baby blue eyes (Nemophila phacelioides), which only grow in one spot on the edge of the woods near the house. Usually by this time of year, we have a nice stand of them. Today I finally found one blossom, along the fence. I hope there are more of them among the green things in the woods!

Well, that’s one, at least.

The Indian paintbrush that usually covers our front field and the one down the road are nowhere near as numerous as usual, but the fact that there are some gives me hope for future years. The bluebonnets are okay in numbers, but I haven’t seen a winecup yet. The delicate roadside gaura (Oenothera suffulta), however, has managed to come up, in such a pretty stand that I thought they were some other flower.

Usually you don’t see so many together. They turn pink when finished blooming.

I was comforted today to see that the little spring is still flowing, and that plenty of prickly sow thistle (Apache’s favorite snack), yellow evening primrose, pink evening primrose, ragwort, and dewberries are blanketing the ground.

Future food for lots of birds!

And the big, purple thistles, which are a pain in the butt, but good for the soil, are getting ready to bloom.

I finally found a blooming example of one of the plants I’ve been watching, velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora). It’s another gaura, but grows much bigger and has lovely soft leaves. Every year I forget what that plant is until it finally blossoms.

It will be much bigger and more showy soon.

One plant I’d hoped the freezing weather would wipe out is the poison ivy, but I should have known, given how thick the vines are that climb the trees in a certain area, that they’d be back. Sigh. It looks so healthy and shiny, too. The mesquite tree, another one that’s sort of a pain (but also has its good points, unlike poison ivy), is coming back, as is the prickly ash, another Texas thorny tree. Well, at least they break up the monotony of our little wooded area, which has mostly cedar elm trees in it.

Now, I’ve saved the best news for last. As of yesterday, I was sure that the Shumard red oak that we’d planted last year behind out house, to someday shade the chickens, was a victim of the weather. I was not surprised, since it hadn’t had much chance to expand its roots. But, lo and behold, I spotted something red while I was out checking on the roosting hen. Little leaves! It looks like the tree will be with us another year after all. And that is good, which you will learn more about soon, when I report on the book about oak trees I just got!

Brand-new oak leaves!

No fooling, April 1 has been an encouraging day, at least for the plants around here! Our wildlife is returning to life and bringing us joy, in Nature’s yearly resurrection.

Shiny Wonders

What a weird day it’s been. I couldn’t work, because everyone in Austin is having power outages. I felt so cold. I felt sick. Then I felt better! The weather was horrible, but by afternoon, with the sun shining, it felt okay out! The dogs had cabin fever, so we went and played. So you get another post of snow photos.

Penney loves snow. It’s yummy.

We went out and checked the chickens and cows. Everyone was fine, even Springsteen, who was trying to disguise herself as a statue, was sitting with the others.

I just had to take pictures of the shiny trees and happy dogs. It’s beautiful, as long as you have power and the wind settles down.

All the dogs really enjoyed themselves after begging me to go out. Penney bounced and flopped and dug her nose in. She and Carlton ran and jumped in the woods. And Alfred was in his element.

I had fun, too, once the wind went down. The sun was so bright I needed sunglasses, though. I found bunny tracks and could see that the armadillo had peeked out of his hole. And the spring is still flowing in the woods.

Tonight will perhaps be the coldest night ever here. And more freezing precipitation is on its way.

But this is Texas. Warm front next week!

Calming Vibes

I’ve been working hard this week, and there’s some work challenges, but still getting out and exercising in the brisk Utah mountain air. Because the ski area is getting more busy, I’m being more careful where I go. I’m avoiding people as much as possible this week.

Claiming clouds.

Today I was able to head up to the pretty subdivision up from where I’m staying. The houses are huge, and many have beautiful statues and lighting. But I was busy walking, so I didn’t take photos.

I love those colors.

For most of my walk breaks, I was enjoying the clouds and trees, so once I’d hit my exercise goal I let myself stop and take pictures.

Nice fence!

I bet the people in these mini farms and vacation palaces are annoyed by all the construction and timeshares that have cropped up. At least they still have views!

Again. Clouds.

Now off for a meeting for the Cameron business, followed by knitting and football. You know, this break has been a real blessing. I’m glad I’m able to work while I’m here in the scenery. It feels a little less self indulgent!

There’s a barn back there.

How are YOU helping yourself unwind and recharge? What keeps you calm?

Thinking Peaceful Thoughts

Every time I get shaky today, I am thinking of peace, over and over.

My little sign and random stuff from the side of the road.

It’s helping! I’m also keeping busy with work. Thank goodness I have something complicated to think about and people to brainstorm with.

I also took a walk today, and that helped me with the peace. I tried to find the nearest hiking trail, but could not find the start, so I wandered up the golf cart path through the golf course at the next resort. That was a bit of a huff and puff, but I was rewarded with at last being able to look at mountains, trees, and such with no condos in view. Hooray.

Ah. Birch trees, not construction equipment.

I found the trail when I got to the end of the golf course, and decided to follow it back down. It was so pretty, and I got to see more birds and a very annoyed squirrel. And lots of pretty Utah rocks. The path is narrow, so you have to jump off when cyclists show up. Luckily I just had to deal with one.

Heading down the trail.

The only thing that disturbed my peace was when I was almost to the bottom of the trail, and things got muddy and slippery, due to snow melting. Then the path totally disappeared under a pile of snow (manufactured, I am sure). There were no cyclist paths or shoeprints to tell me where to go, so I guessed. I ended up having a lot of fun sliding and stomping in snow. If someone was watching, I’m sure I put on a good show, but it was just what I needed, some goofy time spent right there, in the moment. Goal achieved!

End of the path (ski school is here).

And by noon, I’d met my goals for exercise and movement, so my watch is happy. I’m back to doing meetings requiring concentration for another few hours, then I shall read a book that requires concentration. No, I’m not even turning on my preferred news outlet until later today.

I’ll be thinking of these guys. They’ve survived humanity. So can we.

One more thing, I want to thank all my friends and readers outside the US for the support you’ve been giving during this hard time in the US. It helps with our collective anxiety. Please, all of you our there, keep all of us in the USA in your thoughts, and if you pray, pray for peace.

We are all part of the same earth.

Humble but Lovable, the Cedar Elm

It’s about time I paid tribute to some trees again, don’t you think? Enough of that introspection hoo-hah! Today I was inspired to write a little something about my favorite Texas tree, the cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia), because it just keps showing me how wonderful it is.

Also these beauty berries keep telling me they are beautiful, so okay, I put them in here. There are cedar elm leaves around them.

The cedar elm was the first native tree other than the live oak that I learned to identify. Yes, before the Ashe juniper (the one that’s not cedar, but is called cedar). There was one in my neighbor’s front yard, and it looked so different from the other lucky natives the developer had left that I just had to look it up. Then I got confused. Is it a cedar, or is it an elm? Apparently, it’s an elm. Here, read what something official says:

The common native elm in east Texas where it is planted for shade. Called Cedar Elm because of the rough, cedar scale-like texture of the leaves and because it is often found in the western part of its range with Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), which is locally called cedar. The Latin species name means thick leaf.

Ulmus Crassifolia
Oaks and cedar elms mix at the work patio.

The ranch is chock full of them, which makes sense. We have their favorite terrain: near water, flat, and with a saucy hint of limestone to make them happy. The limestone is why they’re all over the hill country. The terrain is why they are all over Milam County.

Don’t confuse the cedar elm seeds with these inland sea oats. Of course you wouldn’t; this is obviously a grass, right?

Cedar elms are very easy to identify by their leaves, which have sawtooth edges and aren’t very big. Nature conveniently deposited one on my arm today.

Cedar elm leaves turn yellow just before they fall to the ground. Then they turn brown.

They’re deciduous, which makes me happy. That way I see a lot more in the woods at the ranch during the winter. Their leaves are dropping right now, and it’s like a gentle rain.

They make pretty displays.

As the picture above shows, they shed their little fruits and seeds at the same time that the leaves are falling. That’s a rare trait in the elm, and an easy way to know you have a cedar elm. Squirrels will eat them, if there aren’t nice juicy acorns nearby. Check this out!

By September or October, the branches are thick with clusters of flat, oval seed packets called samara. The samara looks much like a tiny green round ravioli, or those dots of explosive caps for toy guns of the past. These are the fruit of the elm tree, with the seed forming a reddish bump in the middle.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm
Here are little branches blown down by the wind that show the seeds and leaf size. Look at all those leaves on the patio (those are just from today, since the building staff obsessively sweeps).

Since these are native trees, they also feed lots of native creatures. Here’s some sort of tent caterpillar or something that has made a home on a cedar elm branch.

Looks yucky, but, yay Nature.

The seeds appear pretty prolific, because they can easily become over crowded. We have some that need to be thinned out, which is always hard for Ms. Tree Hugger. But they can really grow thick, which makes it hard for them to grow tall and strong.

I’m happy to have them, filling the cedar brakes (limestone landscape common in the center of Texas) with something to break up the monotony of those dang Ashe junipers!

Resources

Cedar Elm, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm, by Marilyn Sallee, Native Plant Society of Texas, 2011.

Ulmus Crassifolia, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Book Report: The Overstory

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you know me or have read this blog a few times, you won’t be surprised to learn this, but I’ve always been a tree hugger, and I mean always. My poor mother (happy birthday wherever your spirit is) used to find me as a toddler wandering around the yard talking to the huge oak trees on our property. When I moved away, I mourned the loss of my tree friends around the town, and even now, when I go back I make sure to check in and see who’s still around and who’s gone.

That may explain why I have been reading so many books about trees, forests, and how they work for the past few years. It may explain why I became a Master Naturalist. It certainly explains why I have a hard time with cutting down trees for human convenience, though I am trying my best to be cooperative with other folks’ agendas in that respect. It explains why I bought the parts of the Hermits’ Rest ranch that I did – there were lots of trees, not a monoculture of non-native grass. I was born an annoying hippie tree hugger!

Of course you use your Sierra Club bookmark on the tree book.

So, then, why did I wait so long to read The Overstory, by Richard Powers? It won a Pulitzer Prize last year and everything! And it’s about trees! Anita and I both ordered it this time last year and planned to read it, so I had good intentions.

But, the first chapter was so sad it made me cry. And the second chapter had nothing to do with the first chapter, so I got confused, put the book down, and read all those other things I keep writing about (of interest to no one but me).

I ran out of books I hadn’t read last week (at least ones I could easily locate). I gritted my teeth and picked up The Overstory again. This time I looked at the table of contents, which was quite helpful. There, I saw that the first chapters were all about different people. I figured I’d just need to hold my horses through those first chapters and it would all come together in the gigantic middle section. Spoiler: it does.

Table of contents that makes reading the book easier!

By the way, they aren’t kidding when they say this is the greatest novels ever written about trees and perhaps one of the greatest about anything. There’s nothing I like better than a complicated plot that weaves new knowledge and a much-needed perspective on how to change the world. No, make that a much-needed perspective ON the world, one I share.

That Richard Powers. When I was in grad school, he was already a legend, the topic of many a conversation in the English department. He left just a semester before I got there (I was in another department, but many of my friends were in the English department with my brilliant boyfriend). Probably because I got sick of hearing about him, I didn’t read his first book. I got bogged down in The Gold Bug Variations (about music and genetics) but should probably go back and find that one to read.

Because Powers is such a polymath and so incredibly gifted, he crams a lot into a book. It’s not one of those quick summer novel kind of things. It’s more of a book to read when you are all alone, overwhelmed by real life, trapped by a pandemic, surrounded by people who don’t want to talk most of the time. Hey, that’s ME! I was in the right situation to immerse myself into the interwoven plots, make it through the deep despair the novel can raise in a tree hugger, and come out of it with my personal beliefs validated.

I sort of needed “Do Not Disturb” signs when I was trying to finish The Overstory, because it came right when Lee was in one of his talkative moods. My sometimes elusive goal is to stop what I am doing when he starts talking, so I had to re-read a lot.

Maybe that was a good thing; maybe it drove the message home. I’m finding it very helpful and very comforting to take that message to heart. We are not in charge of the earth. There are other minds and other forces at work, ones our perception of time makes it hard to notice. I take comfort that no matter what crazy Armageddon humanity is hell-bent on driving itself toward, Gaia, the trees, and the deeper consciousness will heal and persevere. It gives me the grain of hope I need to keep a-going.

Anyway, yup, good book. Read it.