The Forest Unseen

the-forest-unseen-march-2012-198x300David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature is a must-read. Haskell observes a small patch of (very rare) old-growth Tennessee forest through the course of a year and reports on what he experiences, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. It is a book of meditations, grounded, quite literally, in a little patch of woodlands. I highly recommend it. See also Haskell’s blog.

Take, for instance, Haskell’s chapter on deer. He begins with the intimate relationship of gut biota in a ruminant, which allows it to eat plant material that we non-ruminants simply can’t stomach. (The part of this biological fact we are most familiar with is the meat industry’s feeding of corn to cows, which makes these grass-eaters sort of permanently sick, so that they are pumped full of antibiotics — analogous to our over-medicated society — which spread through the environment and, part and parcel of the environment, ourselves). From there he considers our contemporary deer problem, vast herds overbrowsing the forests and the suburbs. But things become more complex, considering our conceptions of woodlands were largely formed during a time when the deer population was nearly non-existent, an anomaly in North American history. Pre-Columbian Native Americans lived in regions filled to the brim with deer, a primary source of protein as well as a raw material for their entire culture; indeed, by making edge habitat with fire, they fostered deer parks. And before any humans were in North America, a reign of megafauna herbivores munched away at the forests, probably making deer-browse look amateurish. So what then is “natural” here?

Speaking of nature, Haskell also recently published this wonderfully sly Op-Ed about the myriad forms of sexuality to coincide with the fundamentalist argument about the alleged unnaturalness of homosexuality in the Supreme Court. Why, just walking outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, one discovers bisexual trees; gay ducks; hermaphrodite snails (with their arrows of desire); fungi, which are more akin to animals than plants but which don’t have sexes as either animals or plants would understand the term; and intersexed humans, who are born with characteristics of both the male and the female.antler

4 Responses to “The Forest Unseen”


  1. 1 Paullamb April 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    “making deer-browse look amateurish.”

    I’m about to plant 25 trees in my Ozark forest, and I fully expect to lose 90% of them to deer browse. And these are the good old days!

  2. 2 Paul Lamb April 13, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    This description reminds much of Watchers at the Pond by Franklin Russel.


  1. 1 Books | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on December 18, 2013 at 8:07 am

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