Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David G. Haskell

Summary from Amazon: 
"In this wholly original book, biologist David Haskell uses a one- square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest as a window onto the entire natural world. Visiting it almost daily for one year to trace nature's path through the seasons, he brings the forest and its inhabitants to vivid life.

Each of this book's short chapters begins with a simple observation: a salamander scuttling across the leaf litter; the first blossom of spring wildflowers. From these, Haskell spins a brilliant web of biology and ecology, explaining the science that binds together the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals and describing the ecosystems that have cycled for thousands- sometimes millions-of years. Each visit to the forest presents a nature story in miniature as Haskell elegantly teases out the intricate relationships that order the creatures and plants that call it home.
Written with remarkable grace and empathy, The Forest Unseen is a grand tour of nature in all its profundity. Haskell is a perfect guide into the world that exists beneath our feet and beyond our backyards."
Book Reviews:
Video: In this Franke lecture on January 29th, 2014, David Haskell, Professor of biology at Sewanee: The University of the South, gives a talk on biology, literature and contemplative practice:

Discussion Questions by Donna:
1.  How does author use the concept of the mandala, in this case a square meter of forest, as a lens to study so called “larger” topics of biology, ecology, evolution, biochemistry, etc.?  Cite some of your favorite examples.

2.  In his essay on fireflies, he states “When children chase after fireflies, they are not pursuing beetles but catching wonder.  When wonder matures, it peels back experience to seek deeper layers of marvel below.  This is science’s highest purpose.”
How does Haskell use dramatic stories of life in the mandala to fuel that sense of wonder in folks of all ages?

3. How does he use extraordinary numbers to stoke our amazement of things unseen, e.g. joules in a sunflower seed, kilometers of seed dispersal, miles of photons’ travel, etc.?

4. How does he treat some controversial topics like logging practices, wolf/coyote populations, or other environmental issues like climate change?

5. E.O.Wilson states that “Haskell’s nature writing…. is located between science and poetry.”  Did you enjoy his style?  What were some favorite metaphors he used to describe the flora and fauna in the mandala?  Did you find his style too “flowery” or dramatic?

6.  How does Haskell weave in topics of human nature, and human’s place in nature?

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