Tree-Themed Books – Reviewed

“You speak to me whispering/tree-secrets in the language/of lush and leafy greens” – Kate Marshall Flaherty*

Looking for an escape during these recent pandemic lockdowns? Over the years, I’ve read numerous books about trees.  So far, these are my seven favourites reviewed on Goodreads. Each of the authors has inspired me!

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li (Penquin Life 2018) 320 pages

I first noticed the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku on a Facebook post. After losing four large ash trees in my backyard due to the invasive emerald ash borer, I couldn’t believe how the loss permeated my existence. I felt compelled to learn more about the ash trees and in doing so the surviving trees taught me so much about the world around me.

Forest Bathing by Dr Qing Li and Heartwood edited by Lesley Strutt

What can trees teach us about the world? Pick up a book and discover what some researchers and poets have discovered?  Here are two books to get you started.

It didn’t surprise me that for Mother’s Day my family gifted me this book on forest bathing by Dr. Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine. However, what surprised me was that about a third of the way into the book, the author even discussed a study about the relationship between trees and human health as the result of the emerald ash borer’s destructive path through America. In bold letters, he wrote on page 113 “When trees die, people die.”

Dr. Qing Li provides numerous examples of how trees can improve our lives and his book advocates for more green space and trees in our ever-growing urban communities. As some point, I would like to write a blog praising this book: how it is written to attract the general population but also includes study references for those more academically inclined, how scientists have proven the value of forests, how to practise Shinrin-Yoku, how to bring the forest indoors, and how it’s important to think about the future. It’s even illustrated with forest scenes to tempt the reader outdoors.

Originally, I hesitated to give this book 5 stars as I noticed it is one of a cluster of new books on Shinrin-Yoku being released in 2018 and I would like to compare the books at some point. However, for now, the five stars stands for excellence in presenting a topic that all urban planners and politicians should consider when designing healthy living spaces for the future. Perhaps it will encourage another person to plant a tree. Perhaps it will inspire a Canadian developer to create Canadian cities with more forested areas for citizens to practice Shinrin-Yoku! According to a chart in Li’s book: Vancouver is ranked the second city in the world with the greenest space. It has 25.9 percent coverage behind the top city Singapore with 29.3 percent coverage.

And finally, if you’re indoors reading this on your computer, Dr. Li encourages you to shut off the electronics, walk to the nearest park and discover what nature can do for you.

Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees edited by Lesley Strutt (The League of Canadian Poets 2018) 288 pages

“Trees matter,” stated the late Lesley Strutt on the back page of this poetry anthology, “and we have written about them with the windows of our hearts open, breathing in the good air that the forests provide.”

In addition to the 154 tree-themed poems written by League members from across Canada, the book includes photographs by Chuck Willemsen and a foreword by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of The Sweetness of a Simple Life and The Global Forest: 40 ways trees can save us.

A previous blog post about this book appears here. My review of the book will be posted on Goodreads at a later date.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World (The Mysteries of Nature Series #1) by Peter Wohlleben, Tim Flannery (Foreword), Jane Billinghurst (Translator), Suzanne Simard (Greystone Books 2016) 288 pages

A quick and enlightening read! Highly recommended for those with an interest in nature and the forest’s ability to communicate.

Written by an experienced German forester (and translated into English), this international bestseller shares his experiences with such native European trees as beech, oak, poplar, and silver birch. I would have enjoyed hearing more about Canadian trees but that was not the scope of this book.

What fascinated me were the author’s descriptions of the trees’ ability to communicate plus the human and non-human characteristics of the ever-changing environment. Some of the author’s most memorable lines: “Diversity provides security for ancient forests.” (p. 53); “An organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.” (p. 113); “For the dead trunk is as indispensable for the cycle of life in the forest as the live tree.” (p. 133); “Urban trees are the street kids of the forest.” (p. 174); and “Forest air is the epitome of healthy air.” (p. 221). Lots of interesting facts backed up by scientific research.

You don’t need to be a biologist, forester, or scholar to appreciate and understand this book written in a down-to-earth and entertaining style.

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell (Viking 2017) 304 pages

Canadian sound poet Penn Kemp once told me, “if you want a poem to come alive, you need to add some sounds to your work”. Author David George Haskell must also believe in the value of sounds because his non-fiction book The Songs of Trees is not only dense with biological and ecological facts (gleamed from extensive hands-on fieldwork and other research – 20 pages of bibliographic references) but it also pauses to leaf-flutter, tap-dance, and sing with poetic sounds and words. (I would love to read some of his poetry.) This is not a book to breeze through. Through his narrative (and entertaining style), Haskell takes the reader on a journey to over ten different varieties of trees. Sometimes, the material gets bogged down with too much detail for my liking. However, his reflection, insight, and love for his research makes him an excellent authority on this topic. The book is beautifully written, and I highly recommend it for those who love to read about nature and for those who are still not convinced that nature is smarter than expected.

To Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford Kroeger and Treed by Ariel Gordon

Activist Diana Beresford-Kroeger and poet/non-fiction writer Ariel Gordon are two writers who have explored trees in their books.

To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger (Random House Canada 2019) 304 pages

“I want to remind you that the forest is far more than a source of timber, ” writes Diana Beresford-Kroeger. “It is our collective medicine cabinet. It is our lungs…It is our sacred home. It is our salvation.” (p. 3)

I’ve read three books now by Diana Beresford-Kroeger and this memoir is my favourite. Her writing is intimate and magical like a spirit guide yet deep and knowledgeable stemming from her scientific knowledge. Her love for trees is evident on every page. The first part focuses on her life from her traumatic childhood to her healing and motivational present. The second part is a gift to her readers: The Celtic Alphabet of Trees. I found both sections fascinating.

Below are my favourite quotes from this book:

“If every person on Earth planted one tree per year for the next six years, we would stop climate change in its tracks.” (p. 159)

“The beneficial effects of a twenty-minute pine forest walk will remain in the immune system’s memory for almost thirty-days.” (p. 195)

The wisdom shared in this book will stay with me for longer than that.

Trees of the Carolinian Forest: A Guide to Species, Their Ecology and Uses by Gerry Waldron (Boston Mills Press 2003) 288 pages

This is an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about the Carolinian Forest in southwestern Ontario. Although the book was published over 12 years ago, it is still the best regional reference I have been able to find. My favourite section was the detailed descriptions of individual trees as well as information about the habitat in which each tree grew, its wildlife value, the wood quality, propagation, culture and use, problems, and a quick check in identification.

Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forests by Ariel Gordon (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers 2019) 296 pages

Manitoba writer Ariel Gordon loves nature and her non-fiction book Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forest proves it. Pressed like elm and ash and chokecherry leaves between 296 pages are 16 diverse and personal essays rooted in a mulch of rich history, researched facts, and heart-felt emotions. From her opening lines: “I want to go walking in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Forest. I want to go walking in the forest whenever and however I can.” to her final paragraph where she concludes: “I stand and outstretch my arms. I reach for the sun.”, she uses her humour plus journalistic and poetic skills to touch on various tree-related issues such as climate change, invasive species, and even urban sprawl.

At times, her writing feels like field notes, jumping from one topic to another. (Personally, I would have left out the references to Pokemon GO and her menstrual concerns. This may be a generational gap issue.) Other times, her storytelling and passion for studying mushrooms, the elm tree in front of her home, and all the living and growing elements of her neighborhood urban forest and beyond make her words glisten through the changing seasons of rain, snow, and sunshine. She is both observer and guide. I like how her first-person narrative encourages readers to be part of her journey and to walk along beside her.

A keeper for my tree-themed shelf!

Follow me on Goodreads for additional and future reviews of tree-themed books on my to-read shelf

An earlier blog about recently released and soon to be released tree-themed books and submission calls appears here.

*From the poem “Sisters” by Kate Marshall Flaherty published in the anthology Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees edited by Lesley Strutt (League of Canadian Poets 2018) (p. 141) Used with permission by the poet Copyright © 2018 Kate Marshall Flaherty

4 thoughts on “Tree-Themed Books – Reviewed

  1. katiemarshallflaherty

    Thanks for the honour of the opening epigram form my poem Debbie! What a timely list of inspiring tree book for virtual “forest bath” reads, connection and consolation. You are rooting us all in forests’s secret language and inviting us to branch out and listen …


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