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The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 17, 2012
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An Interview with the Author
Q: How did you meet David Milarch, who is featured in this book?
A: In 2001 I wrote a story for the New York Times on Milarch’s plan to make copies, or clones, of some of the biggest trees in the country – the champions. By clones I mean he would take cuttings and root them, the way trees have been copied for centuries. That way, he reasoned, if one of the champions should die, its genetics would live on, since there would be hundreds of genetically identical copies planted in what he called living archival libraries. Not much is known about tree genetics, and so this was a way of preserving champion tree DNA until it could be studied. It was an intriguing idea.
Then, after the story came out, I met Milarch in person and he told me the idea to clone these big trees came to him after he had a Near Death Experience – that is, he had died and returned to his body. I was shocked – I had never heard of such a thing. He told me that he was deeply inspired to clone the trees by spirit beings he met during and after his experience.
I didn’t know what to think of his story, but all of the scientists I spoke with about his plan to clone trees thought it was spot on, a smart idea.
Q: Why did you feel his was an important story to tell?
A: Scientists can’t say that trees are in trouble – there isn’t enough data. But privately they think that many trees and forests are in trouble and things will get worse as the climate warms, perhaps much worse. But Milarch can say trees are in trouble from his unique perspective. So his tale became an important and intriguing way to tell this story. And it’s all backed up with interviews with scientists.
Q. What happened to your own forest?
A few years after I met Milarch the entire 15 acre forest of trees around my house in Montana started dying, and some of the trees were 300 and 400 years old. And they kept dying until they nearly all disappeared, not only on my property, but across swaths of Montana, and across much of the Rocky Mountain West. And it’s far worse in Canada. The beetles that kill trees are thriving because it’s getting much warmer.
The ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on the planet, are also dying. If the oldest, toughest trees on the planet, living on mountain tops in the West, are dying, I thought, no tree is safe. What happens in 10 or 20 or 30 years if it gets a few degrees warmer? Yikes!
It may happen even sooner. Look what’s happening to the weather this year – temperatures are warmer all over the US, and meteorologists say they haven’t seen anything like it.
Telling Milarch’s tale and the story of dying trees became even more urgent after I saw the forest die-off in the West, and in my own backyard.
Q. What is Milarch’s plan for these giants he is cloning?
A. He hopes someday that people will plant one clone of these champions in the midst of hundreds of other regular trees as a way of beefing up the genetics of forests.
Q Why are trees important?
Milarch has often said that trees are more important than we know. And as I talked to scientists and read papers they confirmed that notion: we have underestimated the trees, vastly. They are a kind of eco-technology that sustains our lives here on the planet and that humans can’t duplicate. There is a whole range of ecosystem services provided by trees and forests that many people don’t know about. They filter our water and can clean up the nastiest kinds of toxic wastes. They soak up greenhouse gasses to mitigate climate change, protect us from harsh UV rays, and are a heat shield and natural air-conditioner for cities and suburbs. David Milarch talks about them as the filters of the planet. As we all know, when you take the filter out of your aquarium, the fish die.
Q: What can we do?
As Milarch says, trace back almost every environmental problem far enough and the solution is to plant trees. Trees are hope. But you can’t plant them just anywhere. It’s about strategically planting trees -- the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. The big question we need to figure out is what is the right tree to plant and where.
A Look Inside The Man Who Planted Trees
|Climbing a tree||Climbing a tree||David standing next to a tree||Treetops|
“Absorbing, eloquent, and loving . . . While [Jim] Robbins’s tone is urgent, it doesn’t compromise his crystal-clear science. . . . Even the smallest details here are fascinating.”—Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review
“The great poet W. S. Merwin once wrote, ‘On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.’ It’s good to see, in this lovely volume, that some folks are getting a head start!”—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
“Inspiring . . . Robbins lucidly summarizes the importance and value of trees to planet Earth and all humanity.”—The Ecologist
“ ‘Imagine a world without trees,’ writes journalist Jim Robbins. It’s nearly impossible after reading The Man Who Planted Trees, in which Robbins weaves science and spirituality as he explores the bounty these plants offer the planet.”—Audubon
“Scientists can be confined by their own thinking—they know what they know. It’s amazing for one layman to come up with the idea of saving champion trees as a meaningful way to address the issues of biodiversity and climate change. This could be a grassroots solution to a global problem. A few million people selecting and planting the right trees for the right places could really make a difference.”—Ramakrishna Nemani, earth scientist
“When a veteran science reporter meets an unlikely mystic to whom otherworldly spirits have given a mission—to save the DNA of the world’s champion trees—you know you’re in for a good story. Jim Robbins takes us along on a journey full of discovery, passion, and urgency and shows how one man’s near-death experience may help the world’s forests survive theirs.”—Dayton Duncan, author of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
“This provocative and stimulating look at an emerging aspect of environmental study should serve as a clarion call to those concerned with the fate of the world’s forests as well as of the stately shade trees in their own backyards.”—Booklist
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Since it's a story for human beings to read, it is about human beings as well as trees, particularly about David Milarch, as unlikely a hero to save the planet as you're likely to find, except that he grew up working in the family tree nursery. Don't take his story at face value, but take it as you find it.
Of course, we can't have a story about a man who planted trees without talking about trees. Each one of these chapters is named for a tree, and the love of trees permeates every page. As a person who has always loved trees and whose grandfather and father have always planted trees, I was moved to tears many times in reading this small volume. Though some of the mystical ideas are just not going to fit into my current world view, I don't mind, as long as we get some trees planted!
Like me, you may be moved to tears, but like me, I hope that you are also moved to take action. Even if it's not the right time of year, even if the conditions aren't ideal, even if you can think of any number of other reasons not to, plant a tree! Plant a grapefruit seed in a paper cup full of dirt, if that's all you can do today. More plantings will follow.
I was going to suggest passing this book along after you've read it, but I won't be able to. I expect to find ideas, resources and inspiration in this book for a very long time to come.
I learned that the bristlecone tree is the oldest tree. The existence of a bristle cone trees goes back 5000 years. I also learned that willow trees contain salicylic acid. This can be developed into medicine to treat ulcers, muscle pain and acne. Robbins touches on the fact that the presence of trees can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. This is all facinating bits of information. I wish he spent more time on this, but he does raise my interest in learning about these health issues.
This book is also partly a biography. It is about a man named David Milarch. He has dedicated his life to cloning and planting trees after having a near death experience. Champion trees are trees that are very tall and old. It is interesting reading about how different trees are cloned. Redwood trees are cloned by taking a sample of the needles on the top of the trees.Read more ›
Then Robbins quickly introduces his "French shepherd," David Milarch, a shade tree nurseryman from Copemish, Michigan, near Traverse City. The introduction includes describing all the "warts," and there are a few, including alcoholism, and gang rumbles as a youth. Milarch also claims salvation, and a life-changing experience when his spirit left his body in what is referred to as a "near-death" experience. There are also substantial dollops of mysticism, with trees communicating in ways much stronger than the apparently relatively weak way they resonate with me.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A truly remarkable book for anyone concerned about the health of this planet we call home. You will learn more about trees -- and their role in life and health -- than you can... Read morePublished 8 days ago by Michael S. Gaffney
I'm a tree lover. I took my wife and kids to see General Sherman and Yosemite recently. Now I'm obsessed with the potential of fighting climate change with trees. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Branigan A Robertson
While the book contained some interesting facts on various trees and an OK long form journalistic narrative, it failed to live up to the "plan to save the planet". Read morePublished 4 months ago by J
This book was a requirement for a college student who is a friend of my daughter. After hearing him talk about it I decided to read it and found it incredibly fascinating. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Resie
A little known book that should receive much more attention from those passionate about trees and the environment.Published 10 months ago by Richard H. Daley