Quill & Quire
In the introduction to her new book, Canadian botanist, researcher, and lecturer Diana Beresford-Kroeger recalls the way Irish storytellers, the “living memory bank of [their] race,” treated their subjects. The rhythm and style of Beresford-Kroeger’s own writing emulates the storyteller’s oral tradition, which proves to be an effective means of presenting pithy and sometimes radical ideas.
Interesting details and an optimistic tone make The Global Forest more than just another book on impending ecological disaster. By drawing on mythology and spirituality, Beresford-Kroeger broadens the book’s scope beyond that of a simple scientific treatise, while also reminding readers that nature is the best healer and sustainer of life we have.
The bulk of these 40 short chapters (which the author calls “refrains”) advocates for the growth and preservation of indigenous trees. Much of the information in these “refrains” is surprisingly useful. For example, it’s handy to know that the coneflower is an antidote to the venom of eight different species of rattlesnake. Also, black walnut may protect against diabetes, and green walnut contains biochemicals that may help ward off childhood leukemia. The author, a self-proclaimed “renegade scientist,” combines Western medicine and botany with aboriginal healing. Science has yet to put the stamp of approval on much of her work, however, and very few studies of her findings have been undertaken.
While the material itself is interesting, the author’s habit of anthropomorphizing nature gets in the way. In books like The Bird Detective, ornithologist Bridget Stutchbury successfully humanizes her avian subjects to make a complicated ecosystem accessible for readers. In The Global Forest, however, Beresford-Kroeger’s use of a similar style is forced, partially because it’s difficult to visualize, say, mosses masturbating or lichens practicing bigamy, and partially because there’s just too much of this kind of thing. Overuse of such a fey style risks trivializing the seriousness of the book’s content and diluting its message.