Over the last four or five months, I’ve been reading a mystery series that I really enjoy. When I think, though, about what my favorite book of the last several years would be, the answer surprises me since it’s not a novel, a book connected with religion, or a collection of poems. Instead, it’s Tom Wessel’s Reading the Forested Landscape, a book that came out more than fifteen years ago.
I ran across Wessel’s writing while doing a permaculture course at the New York Botanical Gardens. As I began to think through various permacultural configurations I realized I knew little about types of trees, how to tell which were native to our area, and why they did well in one area but not another. Trying to fill in at least a few gaps, I picked up Reading the Forested Landscape, expecting to leaf through it to find out some basics about trees. Instead, as I read the first chapter, I fell in love with the way Wessels was teaching the reader how to understand the history and current situations of a forested area by looking at various things happening on it. I was fascinated with the reasons why maples may dominate in one spot in a forest while pines take over another area, with the importance that a specific type of bark can have on the survival or decay of a tree, and with the impact of sheep, beavers, and other animals on the trees and plants of an area. When I finished the book, I immediately started reading it again, wanting to absorb as many details as I could.
I’ve read the book two more times in the last three years (something that is unusual for me because I very rarely reread a book even once). It has given me an appreciation when I’m out walking or hiking of the various ways in which the landscapes that surround me have changed over the last two or three hundred years, for the ways in which individual trees grow, for the interaction of forests and animals, for the ways in which, if left alone for years, one type of landscape morphs into a very different type of landscape, and most importantly, for the beauty and complexity of trees and forests.