Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape

Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape

Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape

Enduring Roots: Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape


Trees are the grandest and most beautiful plant creations on earth. From their shade-giving, arching branches and strikingly diverse bark to their complex root systems, trees represent shelter, stability, place, and community as few other living objects can.

Enduring Roots tells the stories of historic American trees, including the oak, the apple, the cherry, and the oldest of the world's trees, the bristlecone pine. These stories speak of our attachment to the land, of our universal and eternal need to leave a legacy, and demonstrate that the landscape is a gift, to be both received and, sometimes, tragically, to be destroyed.

Each chapter of this book focuses on a specific tree or group of trees and its relationship to both natural and human history, while exploring themes of community, memory, time, and place. Readers learn that colonial farmers planted marker trees near their homes to commemorate auspicious events like the birth of a child, a marriage, or the building of a house. They discover that Benjamin Franklin's Newtown Pippin apples were made into a pie aboard Captain Cook's Endeavour while the ship was sailing between Tahiti and New Zealand. They are told the little-known story of how the Japanese flowering cherry became the official tree of our nation's capital--a tale spanning many decades and involving an international cast of characters. Taken together, these and many other stories provide us with a new ways to interpret the American landscape.

"It is my hope," the author writes, "that this collection will be seen for what it is, a few trees selected from a great forest, and that readers will explore both--the trees and the forest--and find pieces of their own stories in each."


Almost thirty years ago, around the time my husband and I bought our first home, there was a pop psychology quiz that was very much in vogue. It went like this: picture your perfect home; now describe the number of trees you see and where they stand in relation to the house. the trees, so it was said, represented friends and the house represented the self. the quiz claimed to reveal how many friends the test taker wanted and how close those friendships would be, all based on an imaginary placement of trees.

It worked for me. and it worked (as a measure of present desires, not future outcomes) for just about everyone I knew who took it. We seem to have had no difficulty with either anthropomorphizing trees or with imagining them as friendly. We didn’t consider discussing why because we didn’t need to. Our attitudes toward trees are as much a part of our cultural inheritance as our language. Both reflect a firmly rooted engagement with what William Gilpin, the eighteenth-century English parson and author of Remarks on Forest Scenery, called “the grandest and most beautiful of all the productions of the earth.” Or, what I have always thought of as my friends in high places.

The widespread use of everyday, nickel-sized words like root, tree, and branch and simple phrases such as “up a tree,” “tree climber,” “family tree,” and “money doesn’t grow on trees” serve as daily affirmations of this linguistic and imaginative heritage.

However distant, we are still the genetic offspring of ancestors who flopped out of the sea into a landscape made habitable by trees. and as the Eden story relates, these towering plants immediately evolved into potent . . .

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