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Tree Books

By kerryclare
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Books about trees


A Book of Trees
also available: eBook
tagged : essays, trees, literary

Shortlisted, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award

Warm, imaginative, and thoroughly original, this memoir intertwines the mysteries of trees with the defining moments in the life of novelist and essayist Theresa Kishkan. For Kishkan, trees are memory markers of life, and in this book she explores the presence of trees in nature, in culture and in her personal history. Naming each chapter for a particular tree — the Garry oak, the Ponderosa pine, the silver olive, the Plane tree, the Arbutus, and othe …

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Singing Away the Dark

Singing Away the Dark

also available: Hardcover
tagged : country life

On a dark winter's morning a little girl has to trudge a mile to catch the school bus. Will she be able to sing her way through the shadows? Lilting rhyming text by Caroline Woodward and stunning paintings by Julie Morstad herald an era when singing away the dark was part of a six-year-old's rural school-going routine.

"This quietly stunning tale empowers all young children -- whether they get to school by snowshoe or SUV -- to overcome fear with imagination" (Q & Q Starred Review)

"Night can be a …

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The Native Trees Of Canada

The Native Trees Of Canada

tagged : literary

A bold reinterpretation of a century-old book

While shopping in the used-book store the Monkey's Paw in Toronto, Leanne Shapton happened upon a 1956 edition of the government reference bookThe Native Trees of Canada, originally published in 1917 by the Canadian Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. Most people might simply view the book as a dry cataloging of a banal subject; Shapton, however, saw beauty in the technical details and was inspired to create her own interpretation …

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Up in the Tree

Up in the Tree

also available: Hardcover eBook

This story about the adventures of two children who live up in a tree is vintage Atwood -- playful, whimsical and wry. The perfect integration of words and pictures creates a coherent and delightful whole.

When this charming book was first published in 1978, there was a widespread idea that it was too expensive and risky to publish a children's book in Canada. And so Margaret Atwood not only wrote and illustrated the book, she handlettered the type! The book was created in the old-fashioned way, …

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The Walnut Tree

The Walnut Tree

tagged : canadian

The Walnut Tree tells the story of the intense journey of Süssel, a young, privileged Jewish woman who grows up in Chernowitz, studies in Prague and Paris, endures the horrors of World War II in Eastern Europe, and ultimately escapes to the peace and promise of a new life in Saskatoon. The character of the older Süssel looks back at her life, accompanied by her alter ego, a Musician, who performs on a grand piano. This powerful, disturbing, and transcendent drama sets the devastating pow …

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Big Lonely Doug

Big Lonely Doug

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

In the tradition of John Vaillant’s modern classic The Golden Spruce comes a story of the unlikely survival of one of the largest and oldest trees in Canada.

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. He came across a massive Douglas fir the height of a twenty-storey building. Instead of allowing the tree to be felled, he tied a ribbon around the trunk, bearing the words “Leave T …

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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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A Novel

From the award-winning author of If I Fall, If I Die comes a propulsive, multigenerational family story, in which the unexpected legacies of a remote island off the coast of British Columbia will link the fates of five people over a hundred years. Cloud Atlas meets The Overstory in this ingenious nested-ring epic set against the devastation o …

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They come for the trees.

To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls.

From the world’s dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort—a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia—to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth’s once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that it isn’t too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it’s Jake Greenwood’s job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them.

God’s Middle Finger

As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning’s group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she’ll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that’s replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she’s already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she’d made an exception today.

Despite the liter of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake’s hungover brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she’s woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction.

“Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral,” she says in a loud, theatrical voice. “You’re standing on fifty-seven square kilometers of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth.” Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they’re fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour.

“These trees act like huge air filters,” she carries on. “Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans.” On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses.

While Jake is free to mention the Earth’s rampant dust storms in the abstract, it’s Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering—the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world’s forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it’s her job (and jobs, she’s aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do.

Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island’s most senior Forest Guide and Jake’s closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn’t command a year’s salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral—which faith’s sacred structures weren’t designed with trees as inspiration?

Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it’s difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: “So how much would a thing like this weigh?” asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. “This reminds me of being a girl,” a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar.

While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir’s bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they’ve paid the Cathedral’s hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can’t escape the burden of how relaxed they’re supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it’s costing them to fail.

The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn’t she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch—the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world’s dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children—yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that’s missing from their lives. They’ve read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for “forest bathing.” They’ve listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they’re here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren’t mired in student debt and hadn’t embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she’d gladly be one of them.

When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed “Upscale Logging Camp” by the resort’s Michelin-starred chef. Today, it’s artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s’mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake’s eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He’s wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can’t afford a screen in her staff cabin—her student loan interest payments don’t leave her enough for Internet access—she seldom recognizes the resort’s famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they’ve forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her.

After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour’s grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: “Many of the Cathedral’s trees are over twelve hundred years old. That’s older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies.

“Like this one,” she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island’s tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named “God’s Middle Finger.” “This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet.” She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She’s laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she’s finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. “Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That’s twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree’s needled crown into the clouds.”

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