"[Animals] are other nations caught
with ourselves in the net of life and time,
fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail
of the earth."
-Henry Beston

A Forest Runs Through it
    The place I call home never leaves me. I am rooted to it. I I think it is the same with all life, but some living things are more rooted than others. With people, I have found, some embrace adventure and make new roots far away, or swept by wind-storms, transplant themselves and throw down roots in unlikely places. We are not that different from the trees.
        -Phil Zuckerman, Publisher's Note, A Wind-storm in the Forests, 2014

A Wind-storm in the Forests
by John Muir
Applewood Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4290-9614-0
$9.95, 32 pp.

Excerpted from John Muir's The Mountains of California (Fulcrum Publishing, $27.95) first published in 1894, A Wind-storm in the Forests focuses on a storm the author found himself caught up by in December, 1874. He describes the experience as "beautiful and exhilarating." Muir was in the midst of exploring a tributary of the Yuba River in the Sierra Nevadas when it occurred. Rather than hunker down and shelter in place, he embraced the storm, seeking ever higher vistas from which to experience it, 'til finally settling on the tallest Douglas Spruce within a group of them "growing close together like a tuft of grass," high atop the highest ridge.

Surround Sound
Muir's writing is addictive. It possesses an eloquence that flows as easily from the page as it does the tongue. His descriptions of the various trees he encountered on exploring the Yuba River lend them personality and sentience of being. Through motion and voice (the unique sounds different trees make when disturbed by wind), an arboreal soundtrack emerges that each species contributes to:

    Nature was holding high festival, and every fiber of the most rigid giants thrilled with glad excitement . . .

    Even when the grand anthem had swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual trees, - Spruce, and Fir, and Pine, and leafless Oak . . . Each was expressing itself in its own way, - singing its own song, and making its own peculiar gestures, - manifesting a richness of variety to be found in no other forest I have yet seen.

Muir succeeds in climbing the one hundred foot Douglas Spruce chosen by him, from the top of which he rides out the storm. He describes the sway of his perch as "an arc of from twenty to thirty degrees . . ." He's caught up in an "exuberance of light and motion," likening the movement of the forests to waves of grain; wind gusts moving over ridge and valley to breakers on a beach. It's a highly imaginative description, but deadly accurate. And in the middle of all this brouhaha, he makes the startling discovery that trees are not the immovable sentinels they seem. Rather, by forces unregulated by themselves, they are moved to creep, fall, or in some cases pick up roots entirely, only to re-establish them down slope of their present position. Trees are mobile.

Note of Caution
While I don't recommend hanging out under - let alone climbing - trees during a gale, I am grateful Muir had the tenacity and lack of sense himself to. What he exposes through his essay is an incomparable peek at the secret lives of trees, that continues to capture the imagination today.

      "Even when the grand anthem had swelled to its highest pitch, I could distinctly hear the varying tones of individual trees, - Spruce, and Fir, and Pine, and leafless Oak . . ."

Applewood Books' American Roots series contains titles chosen for their ability to connect us. Described as "tactile mementos," they capture the passions of America's most celebrated writers, each title personally selected by the publisher.

Trees: A Guide to Familiar American Trees
by Herbert S. Zim, PhD, ScD and Alexander C. Martin, PhD
Western Publishing Co., 1956
Illustrated by Dorothea and Sy Barlowe
ISBN: 0-307-24494-6
$2.95, 160 pp

Western Publishing Co. publishes a series of guides on our natural world. These Golden Guides cover various topics by experts in their fields (geology, ornithology, botany, etc.), accompanied by full-color illustrations for easy identification. Trees: A Guide to Familiar American Trees, by Herbert S. Zim, PhD, ScD and Alexander C. Martin PhD, is one such guide.

First Published in 1952, Trees is enlightening not only for the tree identification it provides (143 North American species), but also for its notes on what the wood of a particular species is suited to. In 1952, the plastics industry was still emerging, and many items that are now mass-produced from petroleum, were not as yet. It's a historical perspective - though by default - lacking in most modern tree identification guides.

Along with their common names, each entry lists identification features such as leaves, bark, buds, flowers, fruit, form, height and the family the tree belongs to. Easy-to-comprehend maps of each tree's range are also provided.

While reading a tree identification guide for entertainment may seem a bit of a stretch, Trees is not. We're surrounded by trees just about anywhere one travels on this planet, yet the average person knows very little about them. Are you aware that some trees are in the Rose family (Hawthornes, Apples), or Pea family (Locusts)? Or that North American Ashes are in the Olive family (except for Mountain Ash which isn't an Ash at all)? I wasn't. Considering the importance of trees in our daily lives for construction, oxygen and the general health of the planet, it's surprising we aren't better educated about them.

Zim and Martin have created an interesting and entertaining guide. That it's chock-full of information is enough, but on top of that is the eye candy provided by artists Dorothea and Sy Barlowe. Their full-color illustrations make tree identification a breeze, turning every page into a visual delight and joy to read.

posted 03/27/22