I had to read this for a college course. I didn't know what to expect, but half way into the book I was enraptured. Literally. Pollan is a very adept writer, and he has a lot of depth to what he writes. He piles metaphor on top of symbolizm on top of metaphor. If you don't pick up on everything, that's alright because the book is simply enjoyable. His anecdotes about life and gardening are the icing on this book, and I'd recommend it simply for that pleasure. But there is substance here. Pollan is making a statement about the relationship between culture and nature. He writes about how we, as a species, as a culture, try to seperate what we live in (culture, cities, whatever) from what we live near (nature, the environment, wildness). He says that that is more detrimental than any polution or destruction we could possibly do to our earth. We, as a culture, need to learn to live not simply "in" nature, but "with nature." In response to the chapter on Cathedral Pines, he uses that to illustrate how the Conservationists, the people who owned the land, were trying to save this little "virgin" land. This little area in this New England community that was untouched by humanity. It was destroyed by nature (in the form of a tornado) and they, as a community, should let nature do with the forest as it wanted. Nature knows best. What Pollan says is that that forest wasn't untouched by man. Man had inhabited the area for over two hundred years (not including Native Americans - which no one ever does) and the trees they were saving WERE affected by civiliztion. That forest, as the community knew and loved it, was destroyed by nature. The community could've possibly planted knew trees, cleaned out the old dead ones, and made everything back the way it was. The Conservationists didn't want that because "nature knows best." But it depends on how you look at it. In a way (and I'm not going to further in depth, because it's all in the book) the forest WAS a garden, it was created, changed by mankind. There was nothing truely "nautral" about it. Therefore, why couldn't they, as a community, make the decision on what to do with it? If the tornado ripped through the town and destroyed houses, people would rebuild. It's that simply. No one would throw up their hands and say, "Well, nature knows best!" But when it comes to Cathedral Pines, they left the fallen trees there to rot, cleared a wide swath around the forest to protect the community from possible fire, and called it a "preserve." This benefited no one, and time will tell what course nature will take. Maybe the fire that will burn the brush and dead wood will be too strong and damage the soil. The forest wouldn't grow back, and instead of a beautiful forest you'd have a field of brush and "weeds." Sure, nature took its course, but it's not as important as one may think.
This is long winded, and you may not understand it all, but if you read the book and pay more attention to what Pollan says, and less on how he says it (how well it's written and how entertaining it is), you'll pick up on the philosophical stuff. You'll pick up on the meaning. And I suggest that you do, you'll rethink a lot of the thoughts you may have on the environment and on culture.