Be inspired by the written word!
Whether it’s a need to recharge your interpretive batteries at the end of another busy season or a need to escape into the solitude of a relaxing, rainy afternoon, curl up with a modern-day “classic”. Winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general non fiction, The Forest Unseen, is a must read for every interpreter!
The Forest Unseen provides a rich view, through a hand-lens of consciousness, where meditative senses reveal intricate relationships within nature. By exploring one meter of old growth forest, a calendar year’s periodic observations come to life in millennia of natural selection’s evolutionary connections. Haskell’s specimen, akin to a Buddhist’s mandala, unravels scientific mysteries in biodiversity’s wonders. Like the great naturalists before him- Carson, Emerson, Leopold, Mills, Muir, and Thoreau- he blends history and economics, philosophy and religion, and science and culture, into illustrative prose rich with analogies and metaphors. Organized by date, the book traipses through seasonal changes within the mandala’s ecosystem yet throughout its timeline, ecological and evolutionary tenets perpetuate the holistic approach to a naturalistic investigation. From Kepler and Lao Tzu to Darwin and Lorenz; from Leopold and Linnaeus to Jefferson and Lewis and Clark, audiences as vast and as diverse as our evolutionary tree will connect with the revelations of “a year’s watch in nature.”
As the meter’s mandala metaphor implies, a holistic interconnectedness weaves plant physiology, communication, and dispersal mechanics; social constructs, predator- prey relations, and symbiotic marriage; and energy, arrangement, and values into a fascinating journey through complex labyrinths about humans’ affiliation with nature, the biophilia hypothesis, and our species’ egocentric unseeing eye. Haskell’s intimacy with the mandala flourishes within each layer of life. Chemical bonds are broken as individual sand and shale grains separate by transecting fungal hypha rescuing minerals for vascular neighbors. Slope erosion is controlled and air is purified by moss’s microscopic meniscus. Microbes survive oxygenated environs and thrive within anoxic herbivore rumens. Individuality is lost as mitochondria evolve inside into horsepower. And, cooperative farming ventures form unions between algae, bacteria, and fungus on lichen landscapes. Even seasonal adaptations within the mandala, typically escaping human consciousness, create an epic saga within botanical, cellular confines. Haskell portrays these invisibilities as “the engines of decay, keeping nutrients and energy moving through the forest ecosystem” and reminding readers that “unseen does not mean unimportant” (136).
The quest continues with a glimpse into arachnid behavior of blood thirsty ticks. Millions of survivors whisper their secrets within the mandala as natural selection greets mankind’s unnatural manipulation of time intruding on the slow progression of genetic history. The most unobtrusive of daily activity alters nature’s odyssey. Sunflower seed offered as a backyard banquet means less migration for birds of prey. Consumptive behaviors drive short-sighted economic markets expressing utilitarian values diminishing moral fortitude and ethical balance. Science imposes rigid frames on a thriving, changing world sometimes separating self from science and sterilizing society from splendid synergy. By tuning into our genetic code, our evolutionary heritage, and our surviving prodigy, the simple truth of science, self, and the sacred are revealed. Just as Haskell compares a tick to the Knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, so too does he impart the importance of returning to our roots embedded within Wilson’s (1984) learned rules of biophilia and Kellert’s (1996) human values relating to nature.
Ironically, in our emancipated culture, focus rarely falls on the confines within the whole, but Haskell nurtures a moral call to action by saturating our sense of fragile stability into his description of ecological efficiency. Sustainability feeds every layer of life as minerals, nutrients, and energy weave throughout the mandala of our lives. Nematodes beget new discoveries as morning sunflecks illuminate a shadowy future. Haskell’s hopefulness encourages quiet contemplation by inviting sensory stimulation and thought-provoking presence in nature as we rediscover ourselves, our environment, and our heritage.
So, if after visiting Haskell’s mandala, the book-worm within still hungers for the written word, join NAI’s Book Club: contact Emily Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org for upcoming texts and discussion gatherings. Better still- suggest regionally specific “must reads” by commenting on this blog!
David George Haskell. (2012). The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. New York, NY: Viking. 268 pp. ISBN 978-0-670-02337-0.