Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guest Blog--The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

Over a year ago, I heard Alex Chadwick interview Richard Preston. They were talking about Preston’s new book The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring. As I drove along, I was fascinated to hear about a new unexplored environment hundreds of feet above the ground in a redwood forest. What would it be like? New species of lichens and mosses existed there. Preston said that when you were in the canopy of a redwood you could not see the forest floor or the sky above you. More than anything I wanted to see photographs of this unexplored world.

I spent about 8 months away from home last year and almost completely forgot about both the book and the author. Recently I found it among the new books at Clics. Preston is the author of the bestselling non-fiction book The Hot Zone. He is an experienced writer, and he identifies this book as being narrative nonfiction. The story of the discovery of the world’s tallest tree is without doubt a love story. It is the story of the love and passion of many people who have dedicated their lives to science or to the exploration of redwoods. It is also the love story of scientists Stephen Sillet and Marie Antoine.

The book begins with telling about Sillet’s first climb into a redwood tree in 1987 when he was 19 years old. On a camping trip in the fall, Steve and his friend Marty impulsively decided that they were going to climb a redwood tree. Typically, a redwood does not have any branches to climb on until about 150 to 200 feet off the ground. That’s roughly 20 stories off the ground. The only way into the redwood was to climb a smaller tree and leap from the top of it into the lower branches of the redwood. Needless to say, neither or them had any rope or climbing gear. After yelling frantically at the two climbers, Scott Sillet, Steve’s older brother, resigned himself to the death of his younger brother. He sat on the ground waiting for him to fall.

There was no way that I was going to quit reading. Partway through the book, however, I decided that I needed to see more than the few illustrations by Andrew Joslin. I spent an afternoon searching the web. I started with The New Tribe climbing gear site. When I saw what a tree climbing saddle looked like and other items of climbing gear, the narrative began to be more clear to me. Richard Preston has pictures online of the redwood forest and some of the individuals in the book. An afternoon of reading the vita of Sillet and Antoine and seeing photographs of the redwood forest made reading the book so much more vivid.

By 1978 about 97 % of the redwood trees in America had been cut down by logging companies. As the Congress grew closer to passing a bill that would protect the remaining redwood forests and create a national park, logging companies worked day and night using powerful lights because whatever they had cut down, they could haul away later according to the new law. The tallest redwoods are 2000 years old. Two hundred years from now, today’s seedling will be a very young tree.

At the tops of the redwoods, there are gardens growing. The trees generate soil which accumulates on their branches. Not only mosses and lichens grow in that soil but rhododendrons, laurels, huckleberries and other species do as well. Trees grow in the arms of trees high above the ground.

Preston’s book lags at times, and I was not as interested in Sillet's love life as Preston seemed to think I should be. However, if nothing else, reading The Wild Trees will leave you feeling that you have a responsibility to protect the earth that we have inherited and will pass on to our children and grandchildren.


Blogger said...

It breaks my heart to hear about what terrible things we do to our world. Imagine cutting down forests of 2000-year-old trees.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

This is about the earlier post regarding THE WILD TREES by Richard Preston.

Glad you like most of the book. If it lagged in a couple of spots, be glad that Preston tends to use superlative style.

Most of the book if factual, but the lack of photos for that kind of topic was rather slack.

Anyhow - you want more photos?

Grove of Titans / Atlas Grove"

There you go.

I'm trying to fill a void on the internet because the researchers have been way too stingy with photos of those trees.


M. D. Vaden of Oregon