‘Magical’ aspects of global forest


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The Global Forest

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/07/2010 (4574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Global Forest

By Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Viking, 175 pages, $32.50

CANADIAN botanist, researcher and lecturer Diana Beresford-Kroeger practises at home what she preaches in her newest book.

Her residence near Ottawa boasts more than 100 types of trees, proof that humans can, and should, do something to restore nature’s delicate balance of flora and fauna. Her other similarly themed publications include Arboretum America (2003) and A Garden for Life (2004).

Through this compelling series of 40 essays, Beresford-Kroeger builds a continuum that is at once simplistic and profound, a style, daresay, not unlike that found in the texts of mankind’s various religions.

Ever respectful of religious views, she nevertheless leaves no doubt about where life in general and mankind in particular is headed given the present-day pillaging of Earth’s forests.

Although scientifically based, The Global Forest also makes wide use of storytelling traditions from a variety of ancient cultures. It explores the spiritual significance of trees and reveals how earlier societies possessed knowledge about living in harmony with forest plants.

For example, she reminds readers that North American aboriginals discovered health-maintaining miracles in forest plants that became “the treasure trove of medicinal drugs used by the medicine men and women.”

Superstitions about the “magic” found in trees like the hawthorn and the elderberry cross a variety of ancient cultures, magic that modern science has found comes from powerful medicinal properties.

In what can best be described as deliberately understated explanations of the complicated and miraculous world of plants, Beresford-Kroeger’s essays paint an impressive picture of a vibrant, dynamic chlorophyll-filled world with 10s of thousands of species whose striving for life also enables the animal world to exist.

Eerie similarities exist within the plant and animal worlds, encompassing basic cell structure, sunlight dependency, symbiotic relationships, genetic predisposition, sexual reproduction and even communicative skills.

Readers are reminded of the one striking difference between plant and animal kingdoms. Carbon dioxide in large quantities is toxic to animals but craved by plants. Oxygen gives life to animals but is merely a superfluous gas eagerly released by plants.

This delicate relationship of gas exchange, having taken untold millennia to achieve a balance and allowing for the proliferation of various life form, may now be in jeopardy.

Since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to our reliance on fossil fuels, more and more carbon dioxide has been added to the atmosphere.

The balance is tilting precipitously close to the point where it may not be possible to restore it, Beresford-Kroeger believes.

Still, she remains optimistic. Her essays discuss bioplans that can change the look of pollution-spewing cities and wrest mega-farms and their forest-denuding practices away from their corporate owners.

This book is a must-read, especially for those who remain skeptical of the need to beware the evil twins of global warming and climate change.

Efforts to protect plant kingdoms like Manitoba’s pristine boreal forest, locally dubbed “the lungs of the Earth,” on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, will have found a champion for their cause.

If Canadian troubadour Bruce Cockburn’s prophetic line “When a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?” hasn’t resonated loud enough from this decades-old song, The Global Forest definitely will.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher in Winnipeg.

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