My Note: Now that trees are “re-leafed” and sport their own shades of green, I thought June would be a perfect time for this review.
Conversations with Trees: An Intimate Ecology by Stephanie Kaza
Stephanie Kaza has written a most unusual, captivating book about her personal, intimate relationship with trees. Formerly called The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees, the author has put her heart and soul into her conversations with these wonderful living gifts from Mother Nature.
Her conversational stories take us to many places she has lived, worked, or visited, and with these conversations we revisit these spots with her. She describes the trees and what they mean to her, much as you. Would describe a good friend who you haven’t visited in a long time, but still enjoy his or her company.
Since this is such as unusual book, I have taken the liberty of quoting from different parts of the book so you can grasp the “flavor” of her conversations and how trees become living, breathing entities to Kaza. Here are a few of Kaza’s forest gems, quoted exactly in italics:
I spent time in silence, close to trees, doing my best to be simply present with the tree as Other, aware of my thoughts, moods, projections….I did not go with an agenda or story in mind…..p. 5
As their minds open (students and others – es), they see that the environment is everything. It is not just where we live; it is the very reason we are alive. p. 7
By sharing this process (of conversing with trees – es) with others I hope to encourage and support people in engaging in their own conversations with trees. p. 10
Sometimes you have to look at a tree from the ground. On your back. Nothing between you and the sky except the arms of the tree. Just lying on the earth, looking up. p. 19
The sycamore, like most trees, create these first leaves from the last of the winter food stores, knowing that conditions for growth improve with the lengthening of days. Thus, leaf production is an act of faith based on right timing. p. 21
Outside, the winter creek dances through the rocks, refreshing the small hollow below Skyline Ridge. p. 23
Today I heard the calling of the redwoods again. p. 39
These few quotes tell us how close the author feels to trees as well as all of nature. And accompanying her words are wonderful illustrations by Davis Te Selle. In fact, the artist wrote the readers a note explaining that the illustrations are reproductions of hand-printed lithographs. He explains how illustrating this book has given him a way to integrate his somewhat anachronistic graphic tastes with his current environmental concerns. (Almost a direct quote.) And these illustrations are a perfect addition to the text and complement Kaza’s feelings and concerns about trees.
I enjoyed reading this book with illustrations of several of the trees that Kaza writes about. It’s somewhat of a memoir, since her choices of trees are often linked to a memory. It’s also a book that celebrates trees and at the same time, tell us of her environmental concerns. As a Buddhist, Stephanie Kaza seems already predisposed to write this most unusual book, since Buddhism involves nature. Here is a bit from the BBC about this link with nature:
“For most Buddhists, the guiding principles are to live simply in order to respect all life forms as well as the balance and peace in nature. … This means Buddhists have to make themselves aware of the damage they do to the environment so that they can then act to change it.”
Because I now consider myself an environmentalist, I found this book enlightening, tender, and inspiring. The illustrations also captured my heart, because they are rendered so beautifully.
Conversations with Trees is a wonderful personal statement by someone deeply concerned with the environment, as is the illustrator. I recommend it highly! It is published by Shambhala Publications in Boston, MA.