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Birchbark Blog

Tree People

Louise Erdrich - Monday, September 03, 2018
I finished reading The Overstory, by Richard Powers, a month ago. Since that time I've thought about the book every day. The Overstory is so jammed with gorgeous information that I had to read it over once I'd finished it. I hardly stopped to absorb the information on the first read through because Powers' stories, of people and trees, are compulsively readable. Dr. Pat Westerford, likely modeled on Suzanne Simard, conducts experiments with trees that reveal how they signal one another.  he concludes that they are "linked together in an airborne network, sharing an immune network across acres of woodland. These brainless stationary trunks are protecting each other." Her discovery becomes the basis of her solitude, and then her solitude is shared and becomes a love story. I don't know how to encompass, or even describe, the interconnected nature of the stories in the book except to say that later on, when a character says that whatever is made of a tree should be as marvelous as the tree, this book comes close. As close as a book can get.

After finishing The Overstory, I walked outside and sat down underneath one of my favorite trees, the white cedar. I wanted to know everything about this tree.  From reading this book, I knew that this tree was aware, in a tree's way, of my presence. Powers uses stories to transmit gorgeous swathes of science but it all comes down to this: If we lose the forests of the earth we lose our place on the earth. His book permits one to despair, but it also contains this profound consolation: the world is deeper, richer, stranger, than we can encompass yet. There is so much to find out.  If we destroy our home, we'll never know its magical truths. 

The Overstory
is the best book I read all summer, and the most important book I've read for a very long time.     

My best of September book is The Winter Soldier, by Daniel Mason, who also wrote the deeply romantic and magnificent novel, The Piano Tuner.  I would pick up a copy as soon as it appears. This book has everything a reader could wish -- a young doctor ready to use the harrowing science of the day (1914). A war in which he resolves to become an experienced surgeon at some state of the art field hospital, only to be hauled into a desperate dumping ground of horror, deep in the Carpathian mountains. An unforgettable woman runs this place, a nun/nurse who has become of necessity a far more experienced doctor than our doctor. 

Oh, just read it. Believe me, you'll read it twice and pass it to your best friend.     

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