Even with my deep love for all things tall, green and leafy, I won’t generally pull out a book about trees to read for entertainment. (Give me a good murder mystery for that.) So I’m pleased to report that I have just read two nonfiction books that were thoroughly entertaining, sometimes even hair-raising – and definitely about trees.
In “The Wild Trees” (Richard Preston, 2007), the author takes us deep into the lives and minds of the original redwood canopy researchers – young men (and a few women) who, starting in the early 1990s, were the first to climb into the tops of the largest trees on earth. There they discovered a fairyland of plant and animal species, many previously unknown to science, and galvanized efforts to protect our remaining redwood forests.
This all sounds like good clean science fun, but in fact it requires both Olympic-level agility and astonishing bravery. The early canopy-climbers faced a gruesome death pretty much every day, and shocking close calls abound in this book. Publication of “The Wild Trees“ rightfully made Steve Sillett, the graduate student (now professor) who is at the center of the story, an international folk hero in the ecological community.
The hero of “The Man Who Planted Trees“ (Jim Robbins, 2012) is just as brave and adventurous – but in his own weird way. In 1991, David Milarch - a fiftyish, bar-fighting Michigan tree farmer – had a near-death experience after quitting alcohol cold-turkey. As he relates it, while in heaven he was given an assignment (by an archangel, no less). He was to save the planet from global warming by cloning the world’s oldest trees, which may provide the best genetic stock for reforestation as the climate changes.
Go ahead, scoff – but the man is doing it. Starting with no money, no college degree and no backers, Milarch has built an internationally respected organization that is advancing the art and science of global reforestation. The name of his organization? Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. (Read a 2013 interview with David Milarch here.)
Finally, if you’re not into adrenaline or angels, here are several more good tree reads for Arbor Day, available at DBRL: