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Tree Books

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To Speak for the Trees

To Speak for the Trees

My Life's Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest
edition:Hardcover

Canadian botanist, biochemist and visionary Diana Beresford-Kroeger's startling insights into the hidden life of trees have already sparked a quiet revolution in how we understand our relationship to forests. Now, in a captivating account of how her life led her to these illuminating and crucial ideas, she shows us how forests can not only heal us but save the planet.

When Diana Beresford-Kroeger--whose father was a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and whose mother was an O'Donoghue, one of …

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Excerpt

Introduction

I have always found it difficult to think about the story of my life, let alone tell it. I suffered great traumas as a child. To protect myself, I took my pain and put it down a deep well in my mind. I hid it from myself so that I could function, and I moved through my entire scientific education and decades of research with my eyes always cast ahead, looking for the next question, the next answer, the next piece of understanding and wisdom.

But the person I am today could not exist without that trauma. It led me, as a thirteen-year-old girl, on stepping stones to one of the last bastions of the Celtic culture in Ireland, a place called the Lisheens Valley in County Cork. I arrived in Lisheens in need of something to help hold me together just as the place itself was falling apart. The ancient knowledge of the Druids and the Brehon Laws, kept safe,refined and handed down from one generation to the next for millennia, was on the verge of being lost. Instead, it was given to me, an understanding of the healing powers of plants and the sacred nature of the natural world that remains the greatest gift I have ever received.

The only thing asked of me in exchange for that gift wasthat I not keep it to myself. And though I have shared my ideas and discoveries freely during my fifty-year career in science,I have always held pieces of my story back, keeping the complete picture obscured even from myself.

But now we find ourselves in a special time. On the one hand, climate change poses the most significant threat to our planet that humanity has ever faced. On the other, we are better equipped than ever before to take on that challenge.To do so, though, we need to understand the natural worldas people once did. We need to see all that the sacred cathedral of the forest offers us, and understand that among thoseofferings is a way to save our world.

We are all woodland people. Like trees, we hold a genetic memory of the past because trees are parents to the child deep within us. We feel that shared history come alive everytime we step into the forest, where the majesty of nature callsto us in a voice beyond our imaginations. But even in those ofus who haven’t encountered trees in months or even years,the connection to the natural world is there, waiting to be remembered.

In telling the story of my life and the leaves, roots, trunks, bark and stems that weave all through it, I hope to stir that memory. I want to remind you that the forest is far more than a source of timber. It is our collective medicine cabinet. It is our lungs. It is the regulatory system for our climate and our oceans. It is the mantle of our planet. It is the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren. It is our sacred home. It is our salvation.

Trees offer us the solution to nearly every problem facing humanity today, from defending against drug resistance to halting global temperature rise, and they are eager to share those answers. They do so even when we can’t or won’t hear them. We once knew how to listen. It is a skill we must remember.

Part One

Chapter One

Comfort in a Stone 
My weeping stone sat on the highest shoulder of the valley, where it pointed to the blue above. The stone was way taller than my head, a huge rectangle except for the curve at its crest where chunks had broken loose long ago. Its surface was weathered into rough ripples interrupted by the rounded scabs of lichens. The stone was easily twice the size of the heavy dealwood table in the farmhouse kitchen, big enough that any changes to it occurred on a timeline far too slow for me to perceive, which gave it a welcome constancy.

I called it my weeping stone because I trudged up the hill to be by its side when I felt especially alone. I never really cried. I was beyond tears. Or I repressed my tears, never noticing because I swallowed them whole. I would sit at the stone’s base and lean back against its sturdy flank, ready to slip around to another side and hide if anyone from below called out to me—a reassuring defence, even if no one ever did call.

As I sat there, the slow throb of the Earth settled its calm into my bones. Below me was the farmhouse with its puffs of smoke and, beyond it, the fields of my great-aunt’s farm,each one named in Gaelic like an ancient song. Our neighbours’ farms blanketed both sides of the valley in a patchwork that glowed with a green that seemed to have fire in it. I could watch the seabirds spread open the timothy veil of the pastures and sometimes see the Owvane River, packed with salmon,at the heart of the valley spilling westwards to the open arms of Bantry Bay. If I turned north, I could admire the great sleeping silhouettes of the Caha mountains, colours dancing on their hulking forms. Cnoc Buí—the yellow hill—electrified by its yellow flowers, seemed to vibrate with the chrome of gorse. At times, as I watched the aquamarine of the sea, I wondered about the bolts of bronze that came and went in a silentsymphony of colour. From that vantage point, I could in fact see the entire landscape that had sustained my mother’s family in body and in soul for the past three thousand years. The light playing with the clouds, the salt wind and the rain soothed me.While I never cried buckets up there against my weeping stone,I was a child with no shortage of pain.

On this particular summer day I’m remembering, I had climbed to the stone carrying thoughts of my father. I was an orphan, having recently lost both my parents. I had been lonely most of my young life—separated from most of those around me by nationality, religion and class, just for starters—and I had learned to live with that isolation. But my parents’ deaths struck a blow that I wasn’t sure I could recover from. Months and months had passed and still I felt numb. The daily freshness of their deaths was disorienting, as though the ground and sky had been pulled out from under me. My mourning for my father was constant, the loss so strong that at times I felt winded by its power over me. Some vital part of me was missing and would never come back, because death had closed a door. I just wanted to be small, only a dot, a tiny one. Maybe if I held my breath I could disappear altogether.

I huddled into myself at the base of the stone to survive. The sight of the valley below made me feel both safe and like a tiny dot, as small as the black-and-white cows down there, moving slowly with their pink udders swaying. They were content. I must be, too. And, as I calmed down, I was able to take sober stock of my life.

On my father’s side, I was a descendant of the English aristocracy, the most fragile leaf on a Beresford family tree that included earls, lords and marquises by the branchful. On my mother’s side, I was as Irish as the heather in front of me, the last living drop of a bloodline that could be traced back to the kings of Munster. My dual heritage had inspired resentments, the consequences of which I have borne all my life. As a female child among the Beresfords, I faced the stumbling block of primogeniture. I could not inherit anything of value from my father’s estate other than my bloodline and my name. I was a crossbreed, too Irish for the English and too English for the Irish. My one saving grace in Irish eyes was that I was a femaleand therefore more important than the male. Thoughts that my father’s family would continue to ignore me, as they had since my father’s death, sent me into a panic.But that passed, too, as I looked across the pastures of the Valleyof Lisheens, the handful of square miles of rural Ireland where I would spend my summers for the next decade. I had no inkling yet of the hope that existed right in front of me or of the waysthe land and its people would guide and shape me. I didn’t knowthat the older generation of my mother’s family had already met down at Pearson’s Bridge to discuss my fate. I didn’t knowthat they had already decided to give me the gift of their ancient knowledge, their open secret, and that it would save my life.Or that they intended me to become their “child of destiny.”All I knew, leaning against my weeping stone, was that I was invisible, crushed from too many deaths and utterly alone.

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Nature All Around: Trees

Nature All Around: Trees

by Pamela Hickman
illustrated by Carolyn Gavin
edition:Hardcover

This comprehensive and beautifully illustrated introduction to trees and the important role they play is part of the essential Nature All Around series. The book first explores the parts of trees, their life cycles, the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees, leaf types and the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. Then it takes readers through a year in the life cycle of trees, describing what happens during each of the four seasons. Readers will discover the many ways trees ar …

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Treed

Treed

Walking in Canada's Urban Forests
edition:Paperback

With intimacy and humour award-winning poet Ariel Gordon walks us through the streets of Winnipeg and into the urban forest that is, to her, the city's heart. Along the way she shares with us the lives of these urban trees, from the grackles and cankerworms of the spring, to the flush of mushrooms on stumps in the summer and through to the red-stemmed dogwood of the winter. After grounding us in native elms and ashes, Gordon travels to BC's northern Rockies, to Banff National Park and a cattle f …

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Big Lonely Doug

Big Lonely Doug

The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Finalist, Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, BC Book Prizes
Finalist, Banff Mountain Book Competition
Finalist, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
On a cool morning in the winter of 2011, a logger named Dennis Cronin was walking through a stand of old-growth forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. His job was to survey the land and flag the boundaries for clear-cutting. As he made his way through the forest, Cronin came across a massive Douglas fir the height of a twenty-storey …

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Excerpt

The morning of that day in the winter of 2011 began like any other. Known as cutblock number 7190 by his employer, Teal Jones, the twelve hectares fringing the east bank of the Gordon River a half-hour’s drive north of Port Renfrew was a prime example of kind of old-growth forest that once spanned Vancouver Island from tip to tip and coast to coast. This small patch of trees held black bears and Roosevelt elk, with the possibility of wolves and cougars passing through. It held red-capped woodpeckers knocking on standing deadwood, squirrels and chipmunks nibbling on cones to extract the seeds, and fungi the size of a dinner plate protruding from the trunks of some of the largest trees in the world. New green seedlings sprouted from old fallen stumps. Cronin brushed through the undergrowth, his jeans damp with persistent dew. Mounds of lime-green moss covering a thick bed of decaying tree needles were moist and soft underfoot—absorbing sound like a sponge. For now, the forest was still.

Cutblock 7190 also held great value for his timber company. At roughly twice the size of twelve soccer fields, the flat plateau near the base of Edinburg Mountain in the scope of the valley was a tiny sliver of forest. But it held some towering and valuable trees. The price of timber fluctuates every year, depending on species and market, but that year old growth was fetching between $80 and $100 per cubic metre of wood. (One cubic metre is roughly the size of a telephone pole.) West Coast old-growth forests produce between 800 to 1,200 cubic metres of wood per hectare, roughly twice as much timber as second growth. The gross value of the cut wood in this one cutblock in the Gordon River Valley could yield approximately a million dollars.

Working in tandem with Walter Van Hell, Cronin began the survey at the low side of cutblock 7190, where he could hear the Gordon River thundering on the other side of a steep gorge. Come spring, salmon fry would be wriggling free of the pebbled river bottom and make their first swim downstream to open water; come fall, grown fish would hurl themselves upstream to spawn in the clear waters. He walked the contour of the cutblock. At regular intervals of a couple dozen metres or so, he reached into his vest pocket for a roll of neon-orange plastic ribbon and tore off a strip. The colour had to be bright to catch the eye of the fallers who would follow in the months to come. He tied the inch-wide sashes around small trees or low-hanging branches to mark the edges of the cutblock. “Falling Boundary” was repeated in block letters along each ribbon. The forest practice code stipulated that the company had to leave a buffer of intact forest 50 metres up from a river, especially one that was known to be a spawning ground for salmon. Some engineers keep tight to those regulations to try to extract as much timber as possible from a given area. They fall under the category of what’s known as a “timber pig,” someone who cuts and hauls trees by a singular mantra: log it, burn it, pave it. The sentiment is two-fold: ecology comes secondary to economics and these forests exist to be harvested. But Cronin was often generous with these buffer zones, leaving 60 or 75 metres up from a river—as much as he could without drawing the ire of coworkers or bosses.

Once the twelve hectares was enclosed in orange ribbon, Cronin crisscrossed through the cutblock surveying the pitches and gradients of the land. It was a slow task, clambering over fallen nurse logs and through thickets of bush. His goal was to determine where a road could be ploughed through the forest. It takes a specific skill to see through dense trees and haphazard undergrowth and plot a sure course that could allow for the safest and easiest extraction of logs. Maneuvering over undulating land layered with deadfall and vegetation, he marked a direct line through the forest with strips off another roll of ribbon, this one hot pink and marked with the words “Road Location.” He traversed any creek he came across and flagged it in red ribbon. When he was done, the green-and-brown grove was lit up with flashes of colour.

While working, Cronin was followed by a Steller’s jay—the provincial bird of British Columbia—which took particular interest in his work. “He would follow me around like a dog,” Cronin said. “I would be traversing creeks, taking my measurements and bearings, and he’s hopping behind me picking up the bugs as I stirred them up.” But once Cronin traversed a creek that separated cutblock 7190 with another patch of old growth slated for clearcut to the southeast, the jay stopped. “He would never cross that creek. We would pick him up again when we crossed back,” he says.

The sun broke through the canopy in long beams that spot-lit sword ferns and huckleberry bushes growing from the forest floor. But as Cronin waded through the thigh-high undergrowth, something caught his eye: a Douglas fir, larger than the rest, with a trunk so wide that it could have hidden his truck behind. He scrambled up the mound of sloughed bark and dead needles that had accumulated over centuries around the base of the giant tree.

Dennis Cronin looked up.

The tree dominated the forest; a monarch of its species. A crown of dark-green, glossy needles flitted in the breeze well above the canopy of the rest of the forest, made up of a handful of exceptionally large cedars and firs but mostly younger and thinner hemlock. The tree’s trunk was limbless until a great height, like many of the oldest Douglas firs he had come across in his career. The species often loses its lower branches that grow in the shadow of the forest’s canopy, directing its attention to those that enjoy the maximum of the sun’s energy. Many of these large and old Douglas firs have trunks that grow twisted and gnarled, with clear marks of disease. This tree’s trunk sported few knots and a grain that appeared straight: it was a wonderful specimen of timber, Cronin thought.

He had spent the majority of his life walking through old-growth forests, under the canopies of some of the largest trees in the country. He had seen hundreds of giants, but this one tree stood above the rest. Douglas firs and Western red cedar are the two species in this area that are the most wind resistant, so are often stable enough to outlast storms and continue to grow through several iterations of a forest over a millennium. Still, many of the larger, centuries-old examples of these two species break off at their more fragile tops and their centres, over time, fill with water and rot. They become unstable and prone to blowdown. The timber inside begins to lose its value. The majority of the trees Cronin had flagged over his career, marking them for protection, were ones that he considered to be non-merchantable wood: the trunks were too twisted or too flawed. He could tell by looking at knots along a trunk if there was rot inside. For these trees, Cronin thought, why cut them down? Instead of a timber company deriving little value from these diseased or hollow trees, they can be left standing to serve the remainder of their lives as wildlife habitats.

But when Dennis Cronin laid eyes on the large Douglas fir in cutblock 7190, he could see immense timber value. “I’m a logger and I’ve taken out millions of trees,” Cronin said. “But I was impressed.” The limbless trunk held only a minor twist, and the bark looked healthy. He couldn’t know with one hundred percent certainty, however. “You don’t know until you put a saw into it and by that point it’s too late,” Cronin said. But the tree exhibited few of the exterior telltale signs of rot or disease.

As well as an encyclopedic knowledge of these forests, Cronin could also see through the bark of a tree to its very core and see dollars. “I can look at a tree and tell if it’s got value or not. If it’s not twisted, if the bark is healthy, if the limbs are healthy,” Cronin said. “That one had value.” Encased within the deeply crevassed and corky bark of this single tree lay enough wood to fill four logging trucks to capacity with some to spare. If milled into dimensional lumber—two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and the like—it could be used to frame five 2,000-square-foot houses. At first glance, he assessed the single tree in unprocessed log value as around twenty thousand dollars. But since it was a Douglas fir, with its coveted warm colour and pronounced grain, the tree could be turned into higher-priced beams and posts for houses in Victoria and Vancouver, or shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. The single tree that the logger stood under could fetch more than fifty thousand dollars.

Using his hand-held hypsometre, a device to measure a standing tree’s height using triangulation of measurements, Cronin took readings from the base and the top of the tree and estimated its height at approximately seventy metres—one of the largest he had ever come across in his career—around the height of a twenty-story apartment building. Using a tape, he measured the tree’s breast height girth. It appeared just shy of the Red Creek Fir, the largest Douglas fir in the world, located a couple valleys away. Cronin didn’t know it then, but he had found one of the largest trees in the country. “When I walked up to it, I passed some big firs and some really big cedars—twelve footers, maybe,” Cronin said, referring to the diameter of the trees. But this one fir dominated the rest. “He towered above the forest. He stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Cronin could have moved on, continuing through the undergrowth to finish the job of mapping and flagging the cutblock for the fallers. The tree, with the rest of the forest around it, would have stood patiently awaiting its inevitable fate. The fallers would have arrived months later and the tree would have been brought down in a thunderclap heard kilometres away, hauled from the valley, loaded onto logging trucks, and taken to a mill to be broken into its most useful and most valuable parts.

But Dennis Cronin lingered under the big tree. He walked around a circumference so great it would take more than six people holding hands in a circle to wrap around its base. Cronin had spent four decades working on logging crews and as a forest engineer, countless days working in the forests of Vancouver Island, and had encountered thousands of enormous trees over his career.

Instead of moving on, Cronin reached into his vest pocket for a ribbon he rarely used, tore off a strip, and wrapped it around the broad base of the great Douglas fir’s trunk. The tape wasn’t pink or orange or red but green, and along its length were the words “Leave Tree.”

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Eating Dirt

Eating Dirt

Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
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The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees

What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook Hardcover
tagged : trees

The first of a three-part series investigating the wonders of nature by New York Times bestselling author Peter Wohlleben.

Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients …

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TreeSong

TreeSong

edition:Hardcover

This story tells of silent, unchanging forests and of the life history of one Sitka spruce tree, home to numerous insects and birds. It speaks of First Nations People who honored the land and could hear the singing of the trees. It follows the arrival of the European settlers in North America who broke the ancient pattern of forest life by felling great swaths of trees. Our Sitka spruce, however, continues to grow. But after hundreds of years, it too falls because of violent storms and changing …

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Words for Trees

Words for Trees

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook eBook

In this Ottawa writer’s first volume of verse, there are trees, of coursecatalpas on stained-glass transoms, an ever-present crabappel, nameless species in whose bare branches the winter solstice lurks. There is music, tooawhorehouse tango, a string quartet enthralling a favourite cat, the silky caress of a clarinet along the remembered flesh of adolescence. And visual art, from the Middle Ages through Matisse, is reenacted in vignettes of desire or dereliction.

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