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: 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
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.