Book Reviews: September 2007

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring
Richard Preston
Random House, 2007, 284 pages.

If you were asked to find the least understood of Earth’s ecosystems, where would look? The bottom of the ocean? The polar ice caps? The top of alpine peaks? All likely places but all wrong. Our most seldom seen and poorest known ecosystems exist in the canopy of old growth forests. Once ubiquitous, these ecosystems now exist only where old growth forests remain.
In The Wild Trees author Richard Preston carries us to these little known places. What little is known of the treetop environment has been gleaned by a few small bands of researchers working in forests around the world. Among them is a group including Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine whose work in the last vestiges of the California Costal Redwoods is among the most detailed of the several ongoing projects. Their work is the focus of Preston’s book. Sillett and Antoine along with a small group of amateur naturalists are focused on completely describing the costal ecosystem before it falls victim to the chainsaw.

Some researchers use whirly crane systems, highline cables and even hot air balloons to reach the treetop ecosystems. Much of the interest in Preston’s work derives from the Sillett groups’ approach to the canopy; they climb to it. The book’s title The Wild Trees comes from the many unknown areas of the forest; a wild tree is an unclimbed tree. Preston traces the evolution of research climbing techniques from simply applying “power pole climbing” equipment to trees to using complex climbing sling and rope systems. The Wild Trees also touches on the emergence of tree climbing as a recreational activity and the risks that recreational climbing poses to the fragile canopy ecosystems.

Reading The Wild Trees you will explore the last fragments of the Coastal Redwood canopy ecosystem and gain a glimpse of similar ecosystems in Central and South America, Australia and Europe. You will climb with Preston into a canopy ecosystem as diverse as any on earth.

Stan Miller


The Lonely Planet Guide To The Middle of Nowhere
Jenny Bilos, Editorial & Production Manager
Lonely Planet, 274 pages.

Instead of a standard travel guide of destinations, this book attempts to be the travelogue for a concept. What is the “Middle of Nowhere”? In our age of globalized 21st century tourism can you really find 57 locations that qualify?
Yes you can, and The Guide to the Middle of Nowhere catalogues them nicely.

The format is simple and ingenious: each destination gets three pages, two photos, and roughly a 1,000 words of text. The contributors, are all top notch writers, photographers or both, from around the world. Each chapter is a different spin on the combination of beauty and danger inherent in the geography of the middle of nowhere. And nowhere itself is subjective. Some writers tackle locations that are incredibly barren and remote, others focus on spots populated but unreachable because of war or economic barriers. It’s hard not to be convinced of the grandeur of any of them, and hard not to keep turning the page.

The table of contents is a map of the world. The locations are distributed evenly throughout all regions. When was the last time you considered Heard Island, Southern Ocean? Watkins Bjerge, Greenland? Or West Kalimantan, Borneo? There’s also more familiar names such as Easter Island, the Darien Gap, Yellowstone National Park and the Sahara Desert. What’s it like to visit those places now? This book pulls back the curtain for a brief glimpse.

The Guide to the Middle of Nowhere functions more as a coffee table book than a travel reference, but it does come with an interesting appendix called “Getting Nowhere,” that lists some basic travel info and tips on each destination, including the Moon. (“Don’t go without: Enough fuel for the return leg.”)

This is the perfect atlas for anyone who dreams of visiting another world-on this world we live in. The only question is, once you’re done reading it, do you keep on dreaming or start planning your next adventure?

Jon Snyder


Food Not Lawns
H.C. Flores
Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006, 334 pages.

Trained in permaculture and co-founder of Food Not Lawns Cooperative in Eugene, Oregon, Heather Flores, wants to see us start growing more food-and in the process build stronger communities. By building the “ecological integrity” of the communities in which we live, she believes we will spend less time plugging-in and more time getting to know our place in the world. Flores sees a link between locally grown organic food, more healthy diets, more healthy individuals and more healthy relationships.

Part whole-systems theory and part political manifesto, Flores covers it all. She begins with general discussions around ecology and community, then moves toward conservation of water, reparing our soil, knowing plant culture, preserving seeds, and then on to knowing yourself, your place in the cosmos and how to become an activist in your community.

The book is less about the evils of the lawn and more a blueprint for Flores’ vision of a green utopia. The book is a constant reminder of our dwindling natural resources and our pressing need to become stewards of these resources through a constant conservation of resources. Waste is not allowed in Flores’ vision. She includes numerous statistics throughout, reminding of us of our present wasteful habits such as the following:

– Primitive people used about a gallon a day of water for drinking, cooking and washing. Today in the United States the average person uses, per capita, twelve hundred gallons a day for basic needs such as food, washing and drinking.

– Lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water a week-enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables all summer long.

– Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland.

– Lawns are the biggest agricultural sector in the United States.

According to Flores, a twenty-five foot area has the potential to grow more than a hundred pounds of vegetables a year. There is no need to head out to the suburbs to fulfill her vision-a small urban lot will do just fine. While some of her suggestions might be a bit over-the-top for the non-militant activist type, she offers a plethora of concrete ideas to help turn your city into a “paradise garden.”

Juliet Sinisterra

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