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Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England Paperback – September 20, 2005
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“Tom Wessels evokes ancient logging roads from the weathered scars on trees deep in the New England forest.....he brings alive the intricate, interwoven, and ever-changing story of his region. I feel grateful for this illuminating and beautifully written book.” (John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home)
From the Inside Flap
Most books and courses on natural history focus on the identification of one small aspect of the complex world outside our doors. We may know how to identify our neighborhood trees but not know why pine are dominant in one place and maple in another; we may notice fungus growing on a beech trunk but not know the devastating impact of blights on our forests over the centuries. Tom Wessels, who has spent more than twenty years interpreting New England's landscape and teaching others to see "the forest for the trees," argues that by coming to a fuller understanding of our home ground, we achieve a greater sense of place.
An intrepid sleuth and articulate tutor, Wessels teaches us to read a landscape the way we might solve a mystery. Each chapter addresses a form of forest disturbance common in New England--fire, logging, and blight are examples--and depicts it in an extraordinary, full-page etching. Studying Wessels's descriptions of forest scenes in conjunction with Cohen's visual portraits teaches us to identify disturbance patterns and, in turn, to take our discoveries outside and read the history written in the character of the land.
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The bedrock of the book is patient, graceful storytelling. At the outset of each chapter, Wessels shows us a simple print of a forest. He asks us to wonder what made that forest, and then he leads us, in unaffected voice, through his thinking as he answers that question. Why is this maple here? Are the trees here fire damaged? Wessels describes the outlines from which we can read a larger story. Each chapter is a little mystery, in a sense. Those little puzzles are fun.
It's apparent how carefully Forested Landscape was crafted. This isn't just a collection of portraits; the chapters progress from one to the next intelligently. For example, you learn how to recognize a fire in one chapter; at the beginning of the next, Wessels starts by asking whether a similar fire has taken place in this new spot. That's a simple transition, but it really helps you stay in the flow of the writing. The author's smart enough to reinforce what you've learned at the same time that he's establishing continuity in the larger story. This book reads through wonderfully.
And there's a bigger picture you're reading toward, too. Each chapter also includes a broader natural history subject related to its particular forest. You've seen a few trees, and you've puzzled out the sort of setting you're looking at; now, by touching on a bigger natural historical theme, you place that forest in the natural world as a whole.Read more ›
Each chapter focuses on a single form of disturbance - either man made or natural - that impacts the region's forests. The chapters focus on logging, pasture abandonment, fire, beaver activity, blow downs, forest blights, topography and substrate and their impact on the plants located near these disturbances.
Each chapter discusses the disturbance and then in a section entitled "A Look Back" the disturbance is related to the site's natural history. This new way of seeing a forest and its history adds to my walks in the woods. I feel a connection, a reverence, an enhancement and an inclusion that was not part of my previous walks. Although most of my hikes are in the Green Mountains of Vermont, I am convinced this process of reading the forest can be applied to any woodland in North America.
Nevertheless, highly recommended!
The author writes with the same love for the land that I have, but with much more knowledge. He really enjoys the wonderful details that exist in a forest, and he illuminates them with clear explanations of how the landscape has evolved. The general tone of the book is one of guided investigation for the curious, so there is a great deal of warmth in it.
I don't know how well it works for those who do not have a basic knowledge of trees. If you are not already familiar with the different kinds of tree, you may want a tree identification book too.
I can't give this book five stars because the illustrations were not as helpful as I would have liked. I wanted color and a better sense of the textures. Illustrations of indicator plants would have been a big bonus in the appendix, and I wish they had been provided.
For a more technical book, see Working with Your Woodland by Mollie Beattie. It contains more information and is geared to the landowner, but it doesn't have nearly as much soul. For example, Wessels' book describes stumps with a keen loving eye. They barely get a mention in Beattie's book, and their significance is lost.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There is so much to learn from this book! I have walked in the woods in Connecticut for 30 years and never understood half of what I saw. Read morePublished 3 days ago by MAK
This book is a Wonderful guide to look at the land and have the history revealed. The curious will have revelation after revelation delivered to them by applying this how to guide.Published 5 days ago by Glenn Bruno
If you ever wanted to read the land where you hike (mostly in New England, New York etc) this book is fascinating. Read morePublished 1 month ago by MT
A treasure for understanding and appreciating our wonderful New England forests!Published 1 month ago by Maureen Curley
Great book with excellent visuals. This was required text for a masters course but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.Published 3 months ago by Regina
Superb! Educational and entertaining. I find myself thinking of this book often while hiking in the woods.Published 3 months ago by S. Cox
Book and author great! Item arrived with dirty edges and smelling like moth balls.Published 8 months ago by bsmsw