cover image The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors

David George Haskell. Viking, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-42752-0

In this inspiring but uneven account, Haskell (The Forest Unseen), professor of biology at Sewanee, investigates the myriad connections between trees and their natural surroundings. Trees do not exist in isolation, he notes, and though their “trunks seemingly stand as detached individuals, their lives subvert this atomistic view.” He devotes each of his 10 chapters (plus two interludes) to a particular tree, visiting Ecuador, Japan, and various points in North America. In Amazonian Ecuador, for example, Haskell calls attention to the ceibo tree, describing local hummingbirds, frogs, and monkeys before touching on oil-drilling camps now found in the rainforest. The heavy machinery cannot be ignored; “half of Ecuador’s export revenues and one third of the government’s budget come from oil.” Juxtaposing contrasting images of nature in urban landscapes, Haskell describes the worlds revolving around a cottonwood tree in Denver and a callery pear in Manhattan in lively chapters full of engaging digressions and meditations. But the chapters on a balsam fir in Ontario and maples in Tennessee and Illinois are harder to read, sometimes dazing readers with tangential and obscure references. Despite a few weak spots, Haskell’s study of interconnectedness reveals as much about humans as it does trees. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Apr.)