Saturday, August 8, 2015

History From A Redwood's POV

photo courtesy

"What a story a redwood stump could tell, with its 2000 rings of annual growth. One of the outermost rings carries us back to the landing of the Pilgrims. Count back from there: 1600, 1500, 1400, 1100--you are still only at the First Crusade. Keep on counting, year by year. Your eyes will be sore and strained before you get back to the year when Alaric was sacking a fallen humbled Rome. And yet this proud, this lusty American tree was already a strong young giant. When it was a sapling the Chinese were inventing paper. When it was a hopeful shoot, Pompeii, the pride of pagan pleasure cities, was buried under the ashes of Vesuvius. As the seed sprouted, Christ was born in Bethlehem." --Donald Culross Peattie, Trees

Not a botanist nor a naturalist, still I'm fascinated by trees. A sycamore plays prominently in my first children's historical novel. Thus I was fascinated by this author's take on the redwood tree. Donald Culross Peattie's way of describing a tree that can live as much as 2000 years and tower to the height of a 35-story skyscraper (source) makes the subject a whole lot more interesting than just posting a list of facts. What a way to capture a reader's imagination and set an inviting stage for more exploration!

One thing leads to another. A quote to an image. A bit of trivia to a person and his history. Turns out Peattie, with whom I was not familiar before coming across this quote, was one of the most influential American nature writers of the 20th century (1898-1964). His love of nature was triggered, they say, from his boyhood growing up in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. He went on to write more than twenty fiction and nonfiction books.

Though privileged to travel to California a number of times, I've never visited the state's famous redwood trees--but thanks to Peattie's writings I can at least "see" them more vividly now in my head. And since two of Peattie's books on trees have been compiled into one volume, A Natural History of North American Trees, I have the promise of more adventures into the world of trees when my copy, which I've ordered, arrives. I can't wait to read more of his work.

(Though I must admit that a real-life, up-close-and-personal visit would get my vote for really seeing the redwoods!)

Writers. Books. Imagination. Taking us places we might not otherwise visit. The words of Donald Culross Peattie, and the promise of his books, captured my imagination this week. What author or book has captured yours lately?


  1. I've always wanted to see the redwoods. So far, no luck, but maybe next year.

    As for books capturing my imagination, I'm a very sense-oriented reader. So almost any book with sensory info can get my attention. I am currently reading THE NAME OF THE WIND by Patrick Rothfuss. It's fantasy, medieval times, meant to be YA I'd imagine, but adults can enjoy it, too. Anyway, the main character spends a lot of time playing the lute. And the descriptions of that are amazing. I've never seen an actual lute, not played any stringed instrument, but the emotional connection between the player and his music is something I never imagined.

  2. Perhaps we should arrange a writers' trip to go and see the Redwoods in person! :) I love how an item, person, or place can take the writer's imagination on countless journeys. :)

  3. Ah, Peggy, I so appreciate you :-) You often give me suggestions of good books to read. Sounds like this is another one! And I love your comment about being a sense-oriented reader. Where your example is musical, mine is visual--an example is Sharon Creech's The Unfinished Angel. Her description of Zola's multi-colored skirts is delightful :-) Thanks for sharing. Good food for thought...

    1. I have not read THE UNFINISHED ANGEL. I'll add it to my ever-growing list of books to read.

      I thought of you this weekend as I finished Gary Schmidt's FIRST BOY. He is probably my favorite MG author. His descriptions of life on a New Hampshire dairy farm made me feel like I'd actually been there!

  4. And, for sure, Karen--let's go! And take Peggy with us. Can't you imagine the inspiration we'd get there? It would be a wonderful trip :-)

  5. I've visited the redwoods and was so in awe. It was like being in another world!

  6. I love the detail with which he writes and how he uses examples we can relate to when showing how old the trees are. That's the kind of history lesson we remember. I hope you enjoy his writings!