Readings in Wood
What the Forest Taught Me
At once personal memoir, natural history, and cultural criticism, the book reflects Leland's idiosyncratic vision. In one essay Leland asks the trees, "Do you, like us, rejoice in sunny days, dance with the wind, and blush to have your sexual desires known by prurient passersby? Why, like us, do you torture yourselves reaching for a heaven beyond your grasp? Why twist yourselves so that your grain becomes a record of your grief? What mystic patterns of science, math, and religion hide in your whirls of leaf and branch?"
As vast as a forest, topics range from tree grain and leaf shape to economic theories, mathematics, and engineering. Readings in Wood is a hybrid testament of science, faith, superstition, and disbelief learned from sitting on tree trunks and peering at leaves and fungi. Leland hopes others will join him in nature's classroom. Quite aware of the irony, he reminds us, "These leaves you desultorily turn over once hung in a green wood gone to make this book. Touching a book, you touch a tree. I pray that Readings in Wood's essays, touching you, may justify in some small way the trees who died in their making."
"The ruminations of John Leland's Readings in Wood are more than a series of personal essays on the names and nature of the woods, this book constitutes a hymn to the technical and the beautiful, a meander through the geography, geology, botany, mathematics and vigor of our plants, especially in the southern Appalachians. The writing is by turns lyrical, clever, extemporaneous and urgent. Leland is a deeply informed observer and analyst of everything from Madagascar star orchids to karst to old field succession. I recommend this book to anyone curious about the ways the wild and orderly commingle and complete each other, and us."—R. T. Smith, editor, Shenandoah, and writer-in-residence, Washington & Lee University
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