The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The premise of this book is simple but the result is fascinating. The author, a naturalist, picks a small patch of old-growth forest in Tennessee and visits it three or four times per month over the course of a year. He then writes an essay on something that he observed in (on, above, below, etc.) that patch that he calls “the mandala.” (FYI- A mandala is a symbolic representation of the universe, or an aspect thereof, that some Eastern religions use for meditative purposes.) While botany and zoology form the heart of Haskell’s subject matter, the subjects vary and include geology, behavior (animal and human), light, medicinal use of plants, and more.
Using a full year as his scope, Haskell catches some of the rare and ephemeral forest happenings. He drills down and offers the reader insight into what is happening beneath the bark and fallen leaves, providing background and context through his research that supplements his observations. In some of the articles we learn how the mandala may have changed over the centuries. In others we learn about happenings at scales too small for us to observe directly.
Haskell’s descriptions are often beautiful and always necessary as he conveys all through words. There are no graphics, and so the reader benefits from vivid descriptions. The chapters / essays stand alone nicely, so one doesn’t have to read the book straight through, but can rather pick the book up once in a while over an extended time — as it was written. Reading this book over the course of a year wouldn’t be a bad way to go about it, particularly if one lives in an ecosystem similarly forested.
There is a bibliography, but that’s about the extent of ancillary matter. It’s a simple book and that sparseness resonates well with the book’s theme and style.
I enjoyed this book and think nature lovers will find it intriguing and enjoyable.