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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|
“This is a story of miracles and obsession and love and survival. Told with Jim Robbins’s signature clarity and eye for telling detail, The Man Who Planted Trees is also the most hopeful book I’ve read in years. I kept thinking of the end of Saint Francis’s wonderful prayer, ‘And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.’ ”—Alexandra Fuller, author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is in perfect shape, even though being classified as used. It is pristine!
What a wonderful book! If you like trees-even better love them-you will enjoy every page.....heartfelt and important for everyone to read. Small in size, it has much to offer us in our world view....
People have differing views on the causes and effects of the world geting warmer over the last 150 years. I'm not sure myself. Climate studies is a young science where there is still much to learn. But, I do agree that healthy forest are a big part of a healthy world.
This book makes a good case for why trees have great value beyond the wood that we use. They clean our air and water and soil from the pollutants we have been putting into them. Plus, being around them can just make us feel better. This book does contain a good bit of mysticism, and some of the folks in it make claims that seem to be a bit out there for someone like me who tend to be rather (or perhaps over) logical. I would love it if trees do communicate with each other, or act as cosmic antenna. I will be a bit sceptical and I hope open minded about that.
I may not be able to clone the champion trees of the world. But, I will try in my own small way do to what I can. I am a member of our local land trust (Sycamore Land Trust) which has preserved over 7000 acres to date. I am working on improving my yard with more natural landscaping and trees. I recently helped out with the Arbor Day tree giveaway and now have a tiny Black Oak seedling growing in the backyard. Maybe someday it can be a Champion.
There are certain metaphysical events which David Milarch is involved in during his life and journey toward promoting his tree-planting project. Let's just say he got the help he needed from the powers that be. The reader needs to keep an open mind about that. This true, truly non-fiction story is supported with Robbin's solid research and corroborating sources covering all aspects - from metaphysical possibilities to what we know and don't know about trees.
I very much enjoyed this book and am committed to doing whatever it takes to support the healthy, growing forests of the earth. Everyone needs to read this book, whether or not they appreciate trees - the health and balance of life on this planet depends on it.