2 Environment- and History-Related Books

At first, I didn’t see any connection between Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest and Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier. Aside from both being nonfiction books, having extraordinarily long titles, and having sub-titles, what could they possibly have in common?

The answer is the environment and American history.

My Thoughts While Reading Finding the Mother Tree

Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard, affected me in ways I didn’t anticipate. In today’s blog post, I’’’ share what the book is about and the thoughts reading it brought to my mind.

I consider myself somewhat an environmentalist, so I was intrigued by the title of this book. The author grew up in a British Columbian family with generations of history in the logging industry. Although her father chose a different career path than his ancestors, Ms. Simard was drawn to the forest from an early age.

This book had more the flavor of a memoir than I expected. Ms. Simard’s life story and the details of how she learned about and became fascinated by the intricacies of the forest flora was interesting, but at times became a little too into the minutiae for me. I was more interested in what she discovered than how she learned it. But that’s just me.

What we can’t see from above ground is a network of roots, rocks, soils, bugs, moisture, and fungi which all work together to produce and support the trees we see. There is an unseen highway system of sorts that is necessary for a healthy forest.

The crux of the book is about how the logging industry has changed so drastically over the decades and centuries that our ancestors would not recognize its policies and procedures today. In the name of progress and economics, we are now “cutting off our noses to spite our faces” so to speak.

In times past, people had the good sense to leave the oldest trees to produce, nourish, and nurture seedlings so those seedlings could grow up to someday be the oldest and best trees in the forest. Unfortunately, clear cutting has become the trend now. In the process, the oldest trees are removed along with the rich ecosystems they support and maintain. Often, a different species of seedlings are planted in nice even rows equidistance from each other so to better count and, theoretically, easier to harvest. Although most trees are valuable (I’m not convinced about sweet gum trees, although they do produce shade), the single species tree farms do not replace he forests that were destroyed to make them possible.

How my ancestors practiced tree cutting

I couldn’t help but think of my own Morrison great-grandfather and grandfather as I read this book. Logging and hand-tree felling were a dangerous undertaking. My great-grandfather survived the American Civil War, but was killed in 1886 when a limb fell out of a tree he was cutting down for lumber to finish building the kitchen in the house he had built for his wife and four children. My grandfather, who was just 14 years old at the time, witnessed the accident and had to run home to tell his mother what had happened. How do you recover from seeing something like that?

Among other things, though, my grandfather owned and operated a sawmill – another very dangerous occupation in the early decades of the 20th century. As I read Finding the Mother Tree, I could picture my grandfather sizing up trees individually before deciding which one(s) should be cut. No doubt, he had orders for lumber for particular purposes and that played an important part in dictating which trees were cut and planed.

Back to tree farms

The way the system is set up, one gets a sizeable property tax break on the acres he owns that are farmed. The problem with that policy is that there are no incentives to let acreage lie fallow or just continue as woodland. Unless a person is uncommonly wealthy, he or she can’t afford to pay property tax on land that’s not producing an income today or long-range.

The result is that woodlands, meadows, and old fields in our area are disappearing at an alarming rate. Old farmland is sold, bulldozers are brought it, and every tree and shrub are destroyed. Usually, most of the wood is hauled off to demolition landfills. Numerous dump trucks filled with what used to be a forest passed by my house last week, making way for yet another housing development. What a waste! Wildlife are killed or forced to look for new habitats. Their options for new habitats are shrinking by the day.

Back to those property tax breaks

The farming that qualifies land for the tax breaks mentioned above can take several different routes. One of them, if the owner doesn’t wish to raise usual crops or cattle, is to follow guidelines set by the government and turn it into a tree farm. In our area, that pretty much means the land is clear cut and pine seedlings are plugged into the ground at specific intervals in neat rows in order to make counting them and harvesting them easier (in other words, cheaper.)

When the day comes that the land no longer meets the requirements to be designated a farm – or the land is sold, the owner must pay back taxes for six years (I think I’m right) on the property as if it hadn’t been a farm. A tree farm is a 30-year or so commitment.

The system is a Catch-22 situation. The landowner can’t afford to pay property tax on his or her acreage, so they decide to turn it into a tree farm. In order to qualify as a tree farm, the landowner must follow the rules set down by the government. There are schedules that recommend when the trees should be thinned out and dictate when the trees must be harvested. In order to be harvested, the trees must be set in rows of a certain width to accommodate the heavy machinery that will harvest the trees. Once the decision is made to have a tree farm to make property taxes affordable, the die is cast. Goodbye, Mother Trees.

My takeaways from reading Blood and Treasure

Blood and Treasure, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Daniel Boone is one of those icons of the American frontier that carries a lot of myth. People of a certain age can remember the TV series, “Daniel Boone” from the 1960s. As I recall, the opening lines of the show’s theme song were, “Daniel Boone was a man. He was a big man.”

According to Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Daniel Boone stood five feet eight inches tall. That’s about an inch taller than I am. Hmmm.

One of the myths about Daniel Boone is that he always wore a coon skin cap. According to Blood and Treasure, he hunted raccoon and other wildlife and traded in peltry and hides, but he never wore a coon skin cap. Hmmm.

It makes one question everything broadcast on television.

You might be thinking that reading Blood and Treasure shattered my fascination with Daniel Boone, but that’s not the case. In many ways, the book increased my admiration of him while making him more of a human than a bigger than life TV character.

The book is beautifully written. I would describe it as being creative nonfiction. By that, I mean it’s not just a recitation of facts. The writing puts you right there with Boone and his family. I was amazed to realize how many hundreds of miles Boone traveled. He was rarely home, but he and Rebecca managed to have 10 children.

If memory serves me right, two of their children were killed by Indians. One daughter, Jemima, along with two of her young girl friends, were captured by Indians. Boone and a posse of his fellow Yadkin Valley, North Carolina residents tracked them for weeks and hundred of miles.

The book is extremely detailed in telling of Boone’s many long hunting trips and his efforts to lead other pioneers to settle in Kentucky. He was an easy-going man and he tried to live peacefully with the Indians. Of course, that isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re invading someone else’s hunting grounds. Boone was captured by the Indians twice but lived to tell about both events.

But how do Finding the Mother Tree and Blood and Treasure connect?

Both books give a glimpse of how the world used to be. They show how Native Americans held a spiritual reverence for nature. How different our planet would be today if every generation had respected trees and wildlife like some people did several centuries ago.

If economics had never trumped common sense, the “clear cutting” of our forests never would have happened. Once clear cutting is not just sanctioned but encouraged – and in some cases required – by the government (as in the case of tree farms), there’s not much one can do about it.

If you want to know what happens when the mother trees are all gone, just look around any area that used to be woodlands but is now an industrial park or housing development. At least that’s the case in the piedmont of North Carolina.

Progress on my writing journey since my last blog post

I reviewed my list of books I have about the art and craft of writing. I had already prioritized them by topic. Since blogging last Monday, I mapped out daily reading goals. I have 18 books and two workbooks to try to read and work through by mid-February. I hope I’m not putting too much pressure on myself with that self-imposed goal date. This leaves very little time for reading novels, but I’m sure I’ll work some of those in, too.

I’m in the process of writing biographical sketches (again) for each of the characters in my novel manuscript. I’m going into much more detail this time about their backstories. In fact, I’ve thought of so much backstory, I might turn it into a novel to precede the one I’ve been working on for years. It’s been fun. No, I mean it. I enjoy that.

On Thursday and Friday afternoons I got to watch six hours (total) of a free online webinar for writers. It was called “Writing from the Heart” and included 10 presenters who were writers, writing coaches, and one literary agent. I took copious notes which I’m sure to revisit along my journey to publication.

The sections of the webinar I got the most from were the ones about conflict, setting achievable goals, establishing a writing ritual and daily writing schedule that can’t be interrupted, using positive affirmations to squelch that voice in the back of my head that tells me I can’t write a novel, the four core elements of every scene, and 10 scenes that all novels need. It was a lot to take in in two days but time well-spent. The fact that it was free of charge was the icing on the cake.

Until my next blog post

I’ll continue writing biographical sketches for my characters and dreaming up backstory for them. A root canal is on my schedule for this week. I also hope to get to bring my dog home from the hospital. He has pneumonia again, but not as severe as in March.

I’ll continue studying the art and craft of writing fiction. I hope you have a good book to read, too.

Janet

26 thoughts on “2 Environment- and History-Related Books

  1. Thank you, Neil. If you’re like me, your list grows faster than you can read to keep up. Just wait until my blog post the next three weeks about How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great you could see the free webinar! Books: I like the sound of the tree book. Daniel Boone I am conflicted about because of our history in the US of bulldozing First Nations off their land. Oddly, I am related to his wife, so my mom tells me.

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  3. That’s okay, Rebecca. I just thought it was an interesting connection, especially since your name is also Rebecca. In the book, I discovered she put up with a lot. While Daniel was on an extended hunting trip and Rebecca thought maybe he wasn’t coming back, she found comfort in the arms of his brother. When the baby arrived, Daniel knew it couldn’t be his child. He accepted it with sort of an “all in the family” attitude. The poor woman stayed pregnant most of the time. We can’t help who we’re related to by marriage. One of my distant cousins was married to Stonewall Jackson. And possibly worse than that, I’m a distant cousin of Andrew Jackson. Both of them on one side the family!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Janet. I agree we can’t change our family history. We can only change how we wear the name, and our deeds associated with it. Interesting story about Rebecca Boone. People had dozens of kids at that time! You must have looked into genealogy, to know of your relation to the Jacksons. I looked up Mrs. Boone yesterday, three generations back and I didn’t find the connection that was in our family lore. I’ll check again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Janet! I have emailed you before wanting to read your past articles about the Town of Harrisburg’s history that you used to post in the Harrisburg Horizons newspaper. I read the few that you have available on your website but I really want to read more. Any possibility of that?

    Maria.celano@cabarrus.k12.nc.us

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you, Barbara! That critique of my first 50 pages was a kick in the pants. I needed something like that to get my attention and get me back to some semblance of a writing routine. The road ahead is long, bumpy, and crooked!

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  7. Well Janet, I will probably not get to those two very interesting books, I wish I could find the time, as it is, I am way behind in my own project, which is writing my book of poetry. I have started what I think might work and then I still have my artwork and the “business” of art to handle as well as music and blogging, which I’ve tried to get away from but I find myself coming back. So…you are writing biographical sketches. That is a very good strategy. I took some classes back a few years ago in New York on the craft of writing and making sketches of the characters is the most efficient and clear way of getting to know the character and keeping straight the years if years go by in the novel. I think you’ve a lot on your plate as well but I can tell you are very disciplined and I am quite sure you will succeed. I tend to be very disciplined for most of the things in my life but for some reason…maybe I am feared?…I tend to put aside my writing ambition and desires but I am trying to break that pattern. It is so good to hear from you and to read another post on your blog. I look forward to more. Take good care and all the best, and a lovely week to you!
    Francis

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you, David. Yes, I think that critique of my first 50 pages was the wake-up call I needed. I’m sure it won’t be to last such evaluation my work receives, but I’ll keep working at it. Thanks for sharing that samurai maxim. Very appropriate for a writer or any artist to keep in mind.

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  9. Francis, I hope you’ll be able to get back to that book of poetry soon. Life holds many distractions and, if you’re like me, you have to be in a certain state of mind to write. I’m coming to realize this summer that getting out to walk is the best thing I can do to settle my mind and focus on my book. I wrote biographical sketches for these characters several years ago, but the particular book I’m reading now has helped me better understand the reason for going through that process and how to do a more thorough job than I did before. Also, earlier I had concentrated on writing sketches for several main characters and not done a detailed sketch on the minor ones. Now I see the benefit in going deeper into the backgrounds and the emotional make ups of each character, no matter the character’s part in the story. The book has taught me how to examine my own emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs so I can better discern those things in my characters. I’m regaining my self-confidence for writing and I even got my mountain dulcimer out of its case, tuned it, and played it yesterday. I believe on some level my writing and playing the dulcimer (no matter how poorly I play!) are connected. Just as I had avoided working on my book for months, I had not touched my dulcimer. Amid the news from Afghanistan, Haiti, and the pandemic, we all need some good distractions in our lives. I wish for those creative distractions for you this week. Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you Janet for such a lovely thought. I fully agree that one needs to cultivate one’s inner, creative life, with activities such as your dulcimer. I think it adds much to your intellectual as well as to your more artistic side. It also helps to relax, to focus and to separate from the mundane. I have already begun with the poetry book and have written its introduction as well as making the first drawing for its illustration. I just need to get over the fear (of what I don’t know!) and carry on. I’ve done it in the past but it seems like a harder chore now, although something that I love. I think also that what you’ve explained reference characters is spot on as one must fully develop even the most insignificant of characters, and that I learned from my Theatre training. So you are on track there to succeed. Thank you again and best of luck to you, may you enjoy a lovely summer and play the dulcimer to your hearts content! All the best,
    F

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  11. Thank you, Francis. I’m getting ready to turn off the computer for the night and play my dulcimer. Thank you for your always encouraging words. I hope I’m finally on the right track. It sounds like you are for your book of poetry. May you have a productive and satisfying week. – Janet

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  12. How sad about your Great Grandfather and even worse for you Grandfather. I actually think I would enjoy the book and learning about the trees and how everything underground helps them grow. I wish we didn’t have to cut down any trees. I really enjoyed this post Janet, however, you ruined all my childhood memories of the big man Daniel Boone! 🤣 BTW I had to google the song, I hadn’t heard it in decades.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hi, Diane. Sorry about that! Now I, too, have that Daniel Boone TV theme song going around and around in my head. I’ll forever picture Fess Parker when I think of Daniel Boone — coon skin cap and all! A book you might enjoy even more about trees is The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben. I enjoyed it more than the book I talked about in this post. I haven’t blogged about the Wohlleben book because it had to go back to the library before I finished it. It fascinated me the way it talked about tree roots holding hands underground and trees sending messages to each other through their roots. Who knew? Enjoy your day, Diane.

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