The Witness Tree by Lynda Mapes

The Witness Tree by Lynda Mapes

Witness Tree

Lynda V. Mapes is an environmental reporter for the Seattle Times and spent a year at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts, where she studied a century old oak tree while writing the book, The Witness Tree.  

Surveyors in the 18th century would use an outstanding or unique tree in a stand of timber as a landmark from which to measure out boundaries…a witness tree.

As a newspaper reporter, Mapes was looking for a fresh way to tell the climate-change story beyond politics and science.  She chose an ancient oak tree to study as a modern day witness tree.  Mapes hoped that the tree would be, “…a living marker from which to understand our past, interpret our perplexing present and regard our future.”  She spoke about the power obtained from simple observation, something she called, ‘the miracle of the ordinary.’

Studying the core sample from the tree revealed its year by year history.  Each ring indicated a record of rainfall, fire or plague of moths.  The author explained the concept, of ‘trees as an interstitial organism, connected to earth, water and air.’  She explained the complicated relationship that a tree has with all the life around it.  Trees affect the ecology of their surroundings, the soil, the water levels in nearby streams and the atmosphere.

I found this book to be powerful in a quiet way.  The synchronicity of all life in the woods was a strong theme.   I especially loved one of her closing statements, “The trees hold a long term record–climate not weather counts.  Our seasons are changing, spring is coming sooner, fall is ending later.  The changes are not political, they are measurable.”  Reviewed by Mary Lange.



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