Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Canadian botanist and biochemist Diana Beresford-Kroeger has written something unlike anything I've read before. The brief essays that make up The Global Forest are rather like prose poems, each about 3 or 4 pages long. They are an odd combination of prayer, eco-rant, and university-level science lesson.

Specialized botanic language is used, as when referring to the testa and intima (layers of seed coatings), or the haustoria and ascus (parts of lichens). Most of all, the style is poetic: "the trees will smile their oxygen" and "All of science curtsies around the one bone fragment of flight of a prehistoric hummingbird."

The language and ideas are often playful: "Trees copulate in copious amounts. Plants have had the good fortune of being outside of the rigors of religion, so they do as they please. They are plants after all and everything goes in the plant kingdom. [...] Homosexuality also exists in the forest. Sometimes it is part of the normal family fare and other times it is expressed as a stress factor when nothing else works."

"Walnut Trail" sign seen on a
walking trip in the Dordogne, France.
Walnut wine is an area specialty.
I feel like I learned things: "Pound for pound, [black walnut] nutmeat rivals a standing rib roast in nutrition." But I don't trust everything: "A young child can read the language of a baby with telepathy, as they can distinguish male from female in the very young as if by some unerring instinct." Elsewhere: "Fasting and death produce potent dreams." (I wonder how we know what people dream of as they die?)

Astounding statements might have no supporting information: "Simply by holding a green walnut, J. nigra, a young child will receive protection from early childhood leukemia." I deduced from a later essay that Beresford-Kroeger was referring to the ellagic acid complex that may offer protection from cancer.

Beresford-Kroeger's ecological manifesto can perhaps be summed up in these lines: "The truth is that man is only one species and he stands on a fragile platform of life that is but a whisper away from death. There is some time left. There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future."

I could only read a few essays at a time because I would get annoyed with some sweeping statement -- or humans referred to as 'man' -- so it took me a long time to get through the book. I would still recommend it to anyone who is up for some cerebral stimulation... especially if you are fond of trees.

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