The Wild Trees, The Story of Passion and Daring

Richard Preston
Random House 2007

I knew oceans are under explored and little understood. Living in the west, I know the secrets of western deserts, mountains, caves and canyons still belong to the intrepid explorer. I didn’t know the tops of the world’s tallest trees, that are within miles of California towns, have a biological diversity that rivals the Amazon, and are also little touched and unexplored. The country that has flown to the moon and developed robots and computers, has only recently developed methods of climbing 350 foot trees.

Preston’s book of quiet excitement that mixes story, science, and personal reflection, is an excellent addition to the genre of creative nonfiction. Twenty years ago this book wouldn’t have been written. Preston would have chosen between being a science writer, a travel writer, or he would have re-imagined as a fiction writer an educated Tarzan visiting the U.S. Northwest treetops.

The reader has to fall into the crevice of enjoying creative nonfiction or he will be disappointed in the spare science, walks through unexplored forests, and story told in passing, but still told with tension building sequence. Preston gently persuades with quiet excitement and supporting backstory that spoon feeds a non-scientist couch explorer who hasn’t any objection to occasional interruptions of love, marriage, divorce, and sex. It is love of trees, curiosity and the cavalier daring of youth, not the staid rules of science, that propels the half dozen people Preston follows as they mature and show results in their exploring and tracking.

I didn’t know the oldest redwoods are dated to be two thousand years old or that branches in the sky hold gardens of ferns, huckleberries and newly rooted trees. I don’t know where I would have looked to understand the differences between tree and rock climbing. Now I appreciate the massiveness of old-growth trees that can  branch off into hundreds of trunks in the sky and not have a taproot that securely holds it upright. Instead it is sitting on a small pad described as felt-like while it gains its life and nourishment from the sky, winds and life among its branches.

Putting this book into mass media will likely attract a few new explorers and scientists, but the book was written with respect to the art of tree preservation and privacy. It is beyond unfortunate that we have lost well over ninety percent of the redwood forests to logging and business interests, and as Preston explains, we may be only now beginning to appreciate and understand the forests we have destroyed and may be gone before long.

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