Customer Review

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Natural History, July 24, 2000
This review is from: Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (Hardcover)
Reading the Forested Landscape, first of all, plainly deserves readers outside of New England. While the particular forests the book looks at are in the northeast, Tom Wessels' approach and style won't be lost on anyone with an interest in natural history. Give this as a gift to a birding friend, or for someone to keep in their cabin.
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. Forested Landscape does a wonderful job of drawing you into that big picture. How can we look at an eastern forest without thinking of the Chestnuts that dominated there until early this century? Sure, maybe those trees are gone now, but they're part of this story. (The chestnut blight as told here has real pathos to it. You'll feel like doing something to bring them back.)
The patient, graceful, intelligent tone of this book reminded me of Chased By The Light, a collection of Jim Brandenberg photos taken, one shot a day, in the northwoods of Minnesota. I'm from Minnesota, so I took out Brandenberg's photos to look at every once in a while while I read. Buy yourself a collection of local nature photographs, things from your area. Or give the photos and Reading the Forested Landscape together, as a gift. Satisfying.
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Location: Minneapolis, MN USA

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