Keepers of the Trees: A Guide to Re-Greening North America
by Ann Linnea

Skyhorse Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-1-616-08007-5.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 12/21/2010
Review of the Month, January 2011

Nonfiction: Active Life; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

"I have always been fascinated by the living ecosystem that holds my life," Linnea writes in her introduction to Keepers of the Trees. When she hiked in the White Mountains, between California and Nevada, and saw bristlecone pines for the first time, she wanted everyone to see what she saw and to understand what she had come to learn about their significance.

Linnea's research led her to people who have devoted their lives to trees. "Saving trees is one of the easiest, most accessible, and often most acceptable forms of activism," Linnea says. Her book teaches how to plant trees for energy conservation and beauty; how to tend the trees around you; how to advocate for more trees in your community; and how to support the careful use of trees for industry and art through beautifully rendered stories of fourteen "keepers of the trees."

Linnea kept hearing that a New York publisher would never publish a book on trees but they did—and in full color! Many of the gorgeous photos were taken by Linnea over the course of six years as she travelled to Vancouver Island (from her home on Whidbey Island, Washington), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, and urban forests in Los Angeles and Chicago. She interviewed a group of people who represent national, racial, gender, age, and vocational diversity.

The stories reveal Linnea's great reverence for trees and the keepers of them. Her own story, which friends "coaxed" her to include, is entitled, "The Botanist Grandmother." I'm always interested in an author's own story, so Linnea's chapter is an important addition that reveals her passion for "wild places."

Linnea recalls her ten-week kayaking trip around Lake Superior in 1992 and how the trees of the forested perimeter became her companions and guides. (She wrote about her experience in Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life.) Since then, "the companionship of trees has become the primary spiritual practice of [her] life."

The stories in the book are a fascinating and engaging blend of personal recollection of the subjects' early years, as well as experiences and education that led them to their life's work. One can tell that Linnea is a gifted "listener of story."

One of the tree-keepers lives in my area of the world: Merve Wilkinson, who was ninety-eight at the time of the book's publication. Described as "The Steward of Wildwood," he supported himself and his family by carefully managing the timber resources on his 136 acres in Yellowpoint, south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, B.C.; yet, there are more trees standing now than when he began harvesting his land sixty-seven years ago. He says, "The product coming out of the forest must take second place. The welfare of the forest must come first."

Laura Robin learned to be a tree pruner in Vancouver, B.C. and returned to the foothills of Montana. Included in her story are the principles recommended by The International Society of Arboriculture for pruning a tree.

Andy Lipkis has been instrumental in planting over two million trees in Los Angeles. Bud Pearson let the "art of wood turning soften and transform his Vietnam-ravaged soul." Kris Johnson is an insect and disease specialist with the U.S. National Park Service working as a forest supervisor in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Shannon Ramsay, described as "The Community Organizer," is the founder of Trees Forever. A "genius networker," she has been instrumental in finding funding for programs so that "thousands of people from Illinois and Iowa can plant trees in cities, towns, and along roadsides and stream edges." The projects engaged in by schools in Iowa, for instance, are inspiring and heart-opening.

It was "the plight of the city's trees at the hands of bad pruners" that led Cass Turnbull of Seattle to found PlantAmnesty. Her "Five Reasons to Stop Topping Trees" are included in the chapter about this advocate and "flamboyant pessimist." Topping trees is something Seattle residents do to get a better view and it's something people in my area of the Pacific Northwest do as well, to get a glimpse of the mountains and ocean. As Cass Turnbull points out, "You may top a tree to create a water view, but you should know that friends and neighbors see a view of a butchered tree with water in the background."

The fourteen stories in the book offer a wonderful blend of learning through story about the importance of our elders, the trees, and the ways we can help in our own areas of the world.

As Ann Linnea says, "This is our job—to notice, to appreciate nature, to become inspired, and then to act. The tree stands its ground and offers itself to our experience, and if we show up, we become keepers of the trees."

(In case you were wondering, the book is printed on recycled, woodfree paper.)

Check out our interview with the author of Keepers of the Trees.

Ann Linnea began her writing career in Utah, authoring hiking and skiing guides as a U.S. Forest Service naturalist. She co-authored the award-winning Teaching Kids to Love the Earth. Linnea wrote a memoir, Deep Water Passage: A Spiritual Journey at Mid-Life, and co-authored The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair with Christina Baldwin. You can learn about Linnea's wilderness quests on her website.

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