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A Natural History of Trees

My library is small. I have culled it deeply (too deeply) several times and loaned or given many books that were worthy. One of the books that has stayed with me for decades is A Natural History of Western Trees, by Donald Peattie. I bought it new in the 1970’s.

Bob O’Brien, tree artist now ( and graphics artist for our print catalogs back when, called last summer to recommend a book, A Natural History of Western Trees. After the call, I took the book down and reread the sections on trees whose woods I have worked or in whose shade I have walked. I remembered why I kept it. Bob particularly praised the scratchboard art of Paul Landacre that illustrates the leaves, cones, fruit, seeds, and crowns. Bob had made scratch board art for our early catalogs. Three panels of our second “catalog,” circa 1995.


Jim Fish, webmaster, called last week to recommend a book…the same book. He sent an audio file. You probably wouldn’t think the text of a book appearing to be taxonomy text is worthy of an audio version, but this is far more than an aid to identification, a description of range, and a list of uses. It is a character study.

Yesterday, I listened to the sections on the Sequoias. I can relate. At the time this book was written, my dad was building redwood fences (among his many endeavors), so as soon as I could help, I did too. Redwood was abundant. There were lumberyards that specialized in it and even the typical lumberyard had some dimensions and grades of it. We built fences of soft, sweet, tight-grained lumber that even at age ten I knew was golden. I listened to the reading in reverence, joy, and sadness: reverent for the majesty of the trees, joy in recalling the working of the wood, and sadness at our treatment of the forests.

I keep a few pieces of redwood in the shed and use it with great care and a bit of ceremony.

I went online. There is a companion, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. I found a good copy used. It likewise will survive any future thinning of the bookshelves. This new, old copy is in the showroom now, on a table by a rocker. I have marked four chapters: those on black walnut, pecan, wild black cherry, and sugar maple. I have told this story to my colleagues and have asked them to read the bookmarked pages. Peattie reveals the soul in wood. We work accordingly.

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