Book of the Month for Apr 2013

Seeing Trees — Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees
Seeing Trees book cover
Reviewer: 
Susan Stiles

Seeing Trees — Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, by Nancy Ross Hugo, photography by Robert Llewellyn, Timber Press (August 16, 2011); 245pps, 175 color photos, hardcover; publisher: $29.95; Amazon: $19.77.

When self-described tree lover, journalist, and educator Nancy Ross Hugo teamed up with her friend and photographer Robert Llewellyn to make a study of trees in their Virginia landscape, they had in mind a project to observe and capture the beautiful and frequently undiscovered structures, colors, shapes and even sounds of those countless tall, leafy plants that we often take for granted. In her inspiring introduction, Hugo describes the thrill and unexpected addiction of tuning in to the secrets of flowers and fruit, seeds and cones, leaf buds and calyxes, fragrances and pollen.

Llewellyn records these unique characteristics in finely detailed images, using the branches, twigs, leaves and nuts that he collected from the trees they studied throughout the seasons, arranging them in his studio for elegant portraits that float on a white background. The effect is to isolate and highlight the individual living elements without distracting backgrounds. Presented this way, we can appreciate their components, even if they are somewhat ghostly and disconnected from the gardens and woods where they live. The reader is encouraged by the authors to go outdoors and visit trees in nature, where all of our senses can be engaged in observation.

The size of the book, almost square at a generous 8¾” X 10½”, provides plenty of space for close-ups accompanied by Nancy’s comments and observations. The first section of the book, “Observing Tree Traits,” selects tree elements to capture your interest: leaves, flowers and cones; fruit; buds and leaf scars, and bark and twigs. In the second section, “Intimate Views”, Hugo and Llewellyn study ten different species in greater detail, offering not just observations frozen in time, but also tree processes over time: how they grow, attract pollinators, and interact with their environment. The purpose is not so much to provide botanical data for tree identification, but simply to look with new eyes at both the minuscule and the spectacular.

After reading this book, I felt oddly in love with the white pine, red maple, and purple beech outside my windows. I needed to go outside and greet them with new-found appreciation and understanding. This is a captivating book in which the authors’ sense of joy is contagious, and worth sharing. It reminds us to take the time to observe, look, and listen to all of the everyday beauty in the leafy lives around us.

Susan Stiles is a member of the Mason-Dixon Chapter. With her husband and garden partner Joe Donovan, she has a country garden with perennial gardens, an orchard, a potager, a greenhouse, fish ponds, chickens, and honeybees.