Gene Logsdon,
A Sanctuary of Trees:
Beechnuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats & Benedictions

(Chelsea Green, 2012)

I grew up near the redwoods and have a deep and abiding love for trees, but it took me almost two months to get through Gene Logsdon's memoir. It wasn't that it was difficult to read. I just rarely found it compelling enough to keep going once I had finished a section or turned a page. I have to confess that I am not a memoir lover, have never lived in a rural place and am not presently seeking to live off the grid. If you are or do, odds are good that A Sanctuary of Trees will speak to you more than it does to me.

The first half or so is organized as a memoir, recounting Logsdon's experiences growing up in and around the woods in rural America. The second half reads more like essays, covering things like foraging in the woods, starting a grove and making things from wood. I'm probably in the minority, but I found the second half significantly more engaging. The chapter on wildwood food is both informative and entertaining. Logsdon waxes poetic on hickory nuts, black walnut syrup and mulberries, mentions some lesser known edibles ("Honey locust beans when still green from the pod. They taste sort of like peas when cooked, though garden peas are much better"), and even includes a recipe for squirrel stew that calls for 70(!) squirrels. I also enjoyed the chapter, "The Dark Side of the Woods," in which the author talks frankly about the ongoing love/hate relationship between man and trees.

At other times, Logsdon loses me. It doesn't help that the mixed hardwood forests he writes about are very different from the redwood forests and live oaks I grew up with. As a current condo dweller, I'm also not in a position to make use of the great deal of practical advice Logsdon dispenses about chopping wood and managing a woodlot or even making wooden sculptures with chainsaws (probably not going to happen on my dining room table). Still, the author makes for a companionable, down-to-earth, slightly cantankerous narrator, and the image of America and its woodlands that emerges from his writing is intriguingly different from the one I know.

In a nutshell, A Sanctuary of Trees is a testimony to Logsdon's lifelong love affair with the woods. It's a beautiful relationship, but it's not one I can easily identify with.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

20 April 2013

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