Book Reviews: December 2007

Northwest Trees: Identifying and Understanding the Region’s Native Trees 2nd Edition
Stephen F. Arno and Ramona P. Hammerly
Mountaineers Books, 2007, 220 pages

My mother is no fan of pinus ponderosa. In fact, she once told me she hates that particular species of tree, more commonly known as the ponderosa pine. Trees represent place, and for my mother, who left her beloved city of Seattle to move to her less than beloved city of Spokane, the ponderosa pine became a symbol and a constant reminder of the dry, inland region where she lived. Seeing them just made her homesick.

For nearly thirty years, anyone interested in learning about the trees of the Northwest, reached for the classic book, Northwest Trees: Identifying and Understanding the Region’s Native Trees. Now Northwest tree-lovers can upgrade their dog-eared editions with the new, 30th Anniversary Edition of the classic guide. The book profiles more than sixty native species of the “Greater Northwest,” a region, the authors point out, that is nearly twice the size of Texas. The handsome new edition is more than a field guide for tree identification; it captures the character of native trees with a wider lens of perspective.

The book is organized simply into two sections-conifers and broad leaf trees-and each chapter thoroughly examines one of the sixty species. Along with lovely and accurate illustrations by Ramona P. Hammerly, author Stephen P. Arno writes beautifully about the environment in which the tree grows, its appearance, its ecological role and its use within human history. “Although our region has about equal numbers of conifer and broad-leafed species,” writes Arno, “conifers dominate the forests and are among the largest and oldest of their kind in the world.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the history of human’s interaction with them. To the coastal Native peoples, the western red cedar was the “tree of life.” They used it for clothing, shelter, transportation and food preservation. When the early pioneers first came upon ponderosa pines after months of struggling to cross the sagebrush desert they were overjoyed by the beauty and promise of the tree and it’s associated amenities: shade for shelter, green meadows for pasture and a source of lumber for building homesteads. Even my mother would have to be impressed.

Dan Egan


Greg Pahl
Chelsea Green, 2007, 336 pages

I liked this book very much because it is comprehensive in its overview of all the serious issues that we are facing in Global Climate Change, Peak Oil, and what I like to call, the “new” energy crisis. Mr. Pahl covers the myriad of possible solutions, from nuclear power, solar, biomass, wind, hydropower, liquid biofuels, and geothermal energy resources, noting the state of development in each, and importantly giving the advantages and drawbacks of each source of renewable energy.

The author does not in any way minimize the enormous size of the problems at hand, and while he is hopeful that solutions will be found and implemented, he also readily admits that it may very well be too late. He asserts the catastrophic consequences of Peak Oil and Global Climate Change will happen before we are able to retool and readjust our energy, food distribution, and economic systems.

There’s an axiom that all politics are local, and in the world of the future this will be more true than ever. Only local, sustainable systems of food production and economic activity will be possible in a world that must learn to live on a greatly reduced energy budget. It will no longer be economically viable, in the least, for Eastern Washington to pour vast amounts of petrochemicals and petrofertilizers on the land, run fossil fuel guzzling tractors over it three or four times a season, and then ship that wheat half way around the world.

The author is an expert in biodiesel and other biofuels, and that bias shows. Biofuels will be a component of the solutions we need in the future, but a minor one. The most important solution is massive conservation of energy, which, on a positive note, is quite attainable. The US wastes energy in a profligate manner.

I especially liked the relevant personal anecdotes the author included, which helps ameliorate the sometimes mundane topics at hand. The book is extremely well footnoted, and the concluding section about local, community owned energy systems provides a blueprint for the action that we must all undertake to assure our survival in a world where energy will be extremely limited.

Chuck Tingstad



Higher than the Eagle Soars: A Path to Everest
Stephen Venables
Hutchinson, London, 2007, 370 pages
Best Book: Mountain Literature, 2007 Banff Mountain Book Festival

In Everest: Kangshung Face Steve Venables describes the epic 1988 climb through which he became the first Briton to climb Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. Now, in his autobiographical work Higher than the Eagle Soars Venables details how the events of his life lead up to this apex of his climbing career.

As with most Brits, Venables climbing career began with family outings in the mountains of Wales and the crags of England’s lake district. From these humble beginnings Venables attachment to the mountains grew. Moving to the peaks of the Alps as a young man, continuing along the arc of classical British climber, he documents his continued growth. Finally Venables enters the high peaks of Central Asia. First, climbing in the war torn region between India and Pakistan, Kashmir and the mountains of the Hindu Kush and later the high Himalaya.

Ever the scholar, Venables reaches into ancient history to title the book. Mountains in the Hindu Kush of Central Asia were known to the Ancient Greeks as the parapismus drawn from the Persian word uparisena, meaning: “the peaks over which the eagle cannot fly.”

Writing with depth and emotion Venables delves into aspects of his personal and professional life. From raising his autistic son, Ollie, who was stricken with leukemia at age four, to the joy of achieving a remote summit, to the tragic death of climbing companions he covers it all. In the final chapters, Venables returns us to the east face of Everest, the Kangshung face. Placing this experience in perspective Venables sums up the importance of his earlier adventures thus, “Although we didn’t go [to Everest] seeking deliberately and epic near-death experience, it did turn out that way-the ultimate endurance test for which all the previous adventures seemed, retrospectively, to be a preparation.”

Stan Miller

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