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The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature

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A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest. 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. E A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest. 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.


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A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest. 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. E A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest. 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.

30 review for The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Brugger

    Letter I wrote to the author: I’ve just finished reading The Forest Unseen. I have slowly savored your book over many weeks, reading one day’s entry, at most two, at one sitting. I have never read anyone who combined a meditative consciousness with a scientist’s mind so beautifully. You presented the theme of the interconnectedness of all things so delightfully in so many amazing forms: bird’s eggs, vultures, lichen, and the roothair-fungus relationship all come easily to mind as examples. Long ag Letter I wrote to the author: I’ve just finished reading The Forest Unseen. I have slowly savored your book over many weeks, reading one day’s entry, at most two, at one sitting. I have never read anyone who combined a meditative consciousness with a scientist’s mind so beautifully. You presented the theme of the interconnectedness of all things so delightfully in so many amazing forms: bird’s eggs, vultures, lichen, and the roothair-fungus relationship all come easily to mind as examples. Long ago I learned to walk in the woods without a goal. I live in western North Carolina and for many years lived on a gravel road surrounded by national forests. I carved my own hiking trails to special places—a rock outcropping, a particular tree, a springhead flowing over a small rock cliff—and would walk to those places and then sit and observe. Now I live in Asheville, in a mountain cove with a lawn that is mostly Prunella vulgaris. Four or five afternoons a week (I work at home) I spend time in a little patch of this lawn with my cat, sitting and observing the ants, spiders, and other creatures crawling over the vegetation. You’ve inspired me to see this suburban patch as my own mandala and look even close than before. You’ve created a book that I know I will enjoy reading many times in my life. I already plan on having my husband read this aloud to me, so we can savor it together.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I should have loved The Forest Unseen. Forests delight me, and I've also spent time sitting in them and simply watching. There are many thoughts and opinions that Haskell and I share. Unfortunately, this book just bored me. Maybe it's my own fault, because I tried to read it through like I would any novel, instead of savoring it bite-by-bite, as other readers did. But I think there may be a legitimate reason: The writing. It was sloppy. Poetic, but sloppy. (And the poetic descriptions weren't eve I should have loved The Forest Unseen. Forests delight me, and I've also spent time sitting in them and simply watching. There are many thoughts and opinions that Haskell and I share. Unfortunately, this book just bored me. Maybe it's my own fault, because I tried to read it through like I would any novel, instead of savoring it bite-by-bite, as other readers did. But I think there may be a legitimate reason: The writing. It was sloppy. Poetic, but sloppy. (And the poetic descriptions weren't even that good.) Oftentimes, Haskell's decision to opt for a metaphor or some elaborate description left me confused. When he simply discussed the forest and its occupants, I liked the book well enough. The chapter about turkey vultures, for example, was particularly fascinating. (Did you know turkey vulture guts can kill anthrax?!) But too often, it was simply comically over-written. Don't believe me? Let's look at the chapter for March 13th, accompanied by my thoughts as I read it. The mandala is a molluskan Serengeti. Herds of coiled grazers move across the open savanna of lichens and moss. Uh, what's happening? Coiled mollusks? Maybe he's talking about miniature forest shrimps or something. *glances at chapter title (which, yes, it was my fault for missing) -- "Snails."* Oh, snails! Alright. Snails move in herds? That's new to me. And they're not coiled, are they? I mean, their SHELLS are coiled, but their bodies aren't. Unless I'm confused? Help, I didn't know I was so misinformed about snails! Or maybe he just means "Many snails crawl across the mandate." We'll go with that for now. The largest snails travel alone, plying the crazy angled surfaces of the leaf litter, leaving the mossy hillsides for the nimble youngsters. So … only baby snails travel in herds? And adult snails prefer leaf litter to moss? Why? Tell me more! I lie down on my belly and creep up on a large snail that sits at the edge of the mandala. I lift the hand lens to my eye and shuffle closer. Don't get distracted, Haskell! Baby snails travel in herds. I'm not done with that yet. Through the lens, the snail's head fills my field of vision -- a magnificent sculpture of black glass. Patches of silver decorate the shining skin, and small grooves run across and down the animal's back. So…we're not talking about snails' herd-like behavior anymore? They DON'T move in herds? My movements cause mild alarm; the snail withdraws its tentacles and hunches back into the shell. I hold my breath and the snail relaxes. Two small whiskers poke their way out of the chin, waving in the air before reaching down and touching the rock. These rubbery feelers move like fingers reading Braille, touching lightly, skimming meaning from the sandstone script. Are these tentacles and whiskers the same things, or different? Nice Braille simile, though. Several minutes later a second pair of tentacles launches out from the crown of the snail's head. Back to tentacles again. So "tentacles" and "whiskers" are the same. Got it. They reach upward, each with a milky eye at its tip, and wave at the tree canopy above. You know, if this second pair of "tentacles" or "whiskers" are the eye stalks, I still don't know what the first pair was for. Maybe he really did mean "whiskers"? My own eye bulges at the snail through the lens, but this monstrous globe seems to be of little concern to the snail, which extends its eyestalks farther. These fleshy flagpoles now reach wider than the shell and swing wildly from side to side. "Fleshy flagpoles"? Yes, we all learned about alliteration in high school. But even alliterative, this metaphor is still silly. [INSERT SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS DISCUSSING SNAIL SIGHT, WHICH WE KNOW LITTLE ABOUT. THEY'RE INTERESTING, AND I'M ENGROSSED, FORGETTING THE ORIGINAL SNAIL. THEN IT COMES…] The snail's head explodes, ending my speculations. Wait, WHAT?! The snail's head EXPLODED? How? Why? Is this like how slugs are supposed to melt when you pour salt on them? And what was this snail doing anyway, I forget…? *goes back several paragraphs* So, the snail was crawling, then it went in its shell. It came back out, waved its eyes around, and now it's head exploded. Crazy! The black dome is split by a knot of cloudy flesh. The knot pushes out, forward, then the snail turns to face me. I thought the snail's head exploded. It doesn't have a face anymore. … ... … I'm sorry, I'm confused. Is the dome being split the snail shell or its head? He described its head as black earlier, but I really don't understand how flesh can come out of a snail head, which is already flesh. Or maybe its the shell, and this is the snail coming further out of it? Did the shell shatter? WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING TO THIS POOR SNAIL!!!??? The tentacles form an X, radiating away from the bubbling, doughy protrusion at the center. I'm really not following. Is the doughy protrusion the same as the fleshy knot? Why is it bubbling? Are these explosion remnants? Center of WHAT? Two glassy lips push out, defining a vertical slit, and the whole apparatus heaves downward, pressing the lips to the ground. *giggles at yonic imagery* But I'm not proud of it. I watch, saucer-eyed, as the snail starts to glide over the rock, levitating across a sea of lichen. Tiny beating hairs and ripples of infinitesimally small muscles propel the ebony grazer on its path. Alright, now I'm just getting irritated by your inconsistent and mixed metaphors. First the mandala was a savanna, now it's a sea. But the snail is still a grazer. Shouldn't it be a swooping seabird? *sarcasm* Whatever. Can't you just tell me why young snails move in herds and why this snail exploded? From my prone position I see the snail pause amid lichen flakes and black fungus spiking from the surface of oak leaves. I peek over the lens and suddenly it is all gone. The change of scale is a wrench into a different world; the fungus is invisible, the snail is a valueless detail in a world dominated by bigger things. *looks at book suspiciously* ...Wait…has all this head exploding stuff been what I think I suspect it might have? Oh, c'mon… My snail vigil ends when the sun breaks out from behind a cloud. The morning's soft humidity has lifted, and the snail heads toward El Capitan, or a smallish rock, depending on how you see the world. Well, to hell with this. You mean all that exploding head, bubbling flesh description was really just describing how the snail moves? I … I just can't. WHY CAN'T YOU JUST SAY THAT THE SNAIL CRAWLED ACROSS LICHEN?! And, yeah, I get it: you exaggerated for effect, to demonstrate how dramatic small-scale actions can appear when magnified. But I still have no idea what happened. What was the snail's head actually doing that it looked like it exploded? What was the fleshy knob that came out of a black dome? Was the dome the head or the shell? How is the snail moving? CAN'T YOU JUST TELL ME ABOUT SNAILS?! And that was this book for me: a constant struggle to decipher meaning amid a barrage of misguided, tedious metaphor. It choked what otherwise could have been a delightful narrative. Too bad.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    Biologist David Haskell spent a year watching his mandala--a one square meter patch of land (and its surroundings) in an old-growth Tennessee forest. This book is his observations and musings. Each chapter is marked by his visiting date to the mandala. Topics can be trees, herbaceous plants, birds, insects, salamanders, coyotes, rains and winds, sounds, seasons' change, or underground growth (fungi, roots and worms). The Forest Unseen is a delightful read, one of the best nature writings I have r Biologist David Haskell spent a year watching his mandala--a one square meter patch of land (and its surroundings) in an old-growth Tennessee forest. This book is his observations and musings. Each chapter is marked by his visiting date to the mandala. Topics can be trees, herbaceous plants, birds, insects, salamanders, coyotes, rains and winds, sounds, seasons' change, or underground growth (fungi, roots and worms). The Forest Unseen is a delightful read, one of the best nature writings I have read in recently years. The mandala, in Tibetan Buddhism, is a symbol of the universe--it is rich, infinite, dynamic, permanently impermanent. At the end of the book, the author summarizes what the year's nature watching has taught him: I simultaneously feel profound closeness and unutterable distance. As I have come to know the mandala, I have more clearly seen my ecological and evolutionary kinship with the forest. This knowledge feels woven into my body, remaking me, or, more precisely, waking in me the ability to see how I was made all along. At the same time, an equally powerful sense of otherness has grown. As I have watched, a realization of the enormity of my ignorance has pressed on me.....The longer I watch, the more alienated I become from any home of comprehending the mandala, of grasping its most basic nature. Yet the aspiration that I feel is more than a heightened awareness of my ignorance. I have understood in some deep place that I am unnecessary here, as is all humanity. There is loneliness in this realization, poignance in my irrelevance. But I also feel an ineffable but strong sense of joy in the independence of the mandala's life...Somehow the shock of separateness flooded me with relief. The world does not center on me or my species. The causal center of the natural world is a place that humans had no part in making. Life transcends us. It directs our gaze outwards.... The author strikes me as optimistic regarding the relationship between humans and nature.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    ...the search for the universal within the infinitesimally small... Haskell chooses a small parcel of land, his "mandala", in the old-growth forest of central Tennessee. Every few days, he goes to his mandala to observe, take notes, look closer with his hand lens, and listen. This book incorporates the field notes of what he sees, hears, and smells, but also the meditations, and the information behind these observations over one full year. With the eye of a biologist, but also the musings of a ph ...the search for the universal within the infinitesimally small... Haskell chooses a small parcel of land, his "mandala", in the old-growth forest of central Tennessee. Every few days, he goes to his mandala to observe, take notes, look closer with his hand lens, and listen. This book incorporates the field notes of what he sees, hears, and smells, but also the meditations, and the information behind these observations over one full year. With the eye of a biologist, but also the musings of a philosopher, we observe - through his eyes - the comings and goings of the insects, the mammals, the ferns, the soil of this parcel of land. Slow and beautiful writing. Simple, yet filled with meaning. Informative but also mindful, encapsulating the past, the future, but also what is occurring in this present moment. A joy to read. Considering a mandala of my own in the nearby woods...

  5. 5 out of 5

    ༺Kiki༻

    If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: ✱ A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There ✱ Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival ✱ Summer World: A Season of Bounty ✱ The Trees in My Forest ✱ A Year In The Woods: The Diary Of A Forest Ranger ✱ Wildwood: A Journey through Trees ✱ The Hidden Life of Trees ✱ Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: ✱ A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There ✱ Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival ✱ Summer World: A Season of Bounty ✱ The Trees in My Forest ✱ A Year In The Woods: The Diary Of A Forest Ranger ✱ Wildwood: A Journey through Trees ✱ The Hidden Life of Trees ✱ Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    The premise of this most excellent natural history of a forest is that the author stakes out a small circle in the woods, say about 4-6 feet across, in a tiny tiny (but one of the only left, sigh) old growth forest remnant in eastern tennessee. He goes out everyday for a year and “just sits there” observing the plants and animals. Of course that is a bit of a simplification as he discussed things like the lifecycle of salamanders and butterflies and migrating tufted titmice and deer and hickory The premise of this most excellent natural history of a forest is that the author stakes out a small circle in the woods, say about 4-6 feet across, in a tiny tiny (but one of the only left, sigh) old growth forest remnant in eastern tennessee. He goes out everyday for a year and “just sits there” observing the plants and animals. Of course that is a bit of a simplification as he discussed things like the lifecycle of salamanders and butterflies and migrating tufted titmice and deer and hickory trees etc etc, so one would not actually “see” much of what he describes, but he does a good job balancing the scientific with the folksy and the philosophical and the unknown. Because frankly we don’t really know a whole hell of a lot about the ecosystems we live in and many of these are disappearing as we pave for strip malls and kill for golf courses etc. the text is not mucked up with footnotes or too much “high science” but there is a very nice contextual bibliography if reader is interested in more hardcore reading. But this is a good example of nat hist porn, yummy yummy. Here is a small excerpt from chapter entitled “December 3rd----Litter” “I lie facedown at the edge of the mandala [the circle he has been observing all year and really is my only gripe in the book, I hate that word, bigot], readying myself for a dive under the surface of the leaf litter. The red oak leaf below my nose is crisp, protected from fungi and bacteria by the drying sun and wind. Like the other leaves on the litter’s surface, this oak leaf will remain intact for nearly a year, finally crumbling in the next summer’s rains. These surface leaves form a crust that both hides and makes possible the drama below. Protected under the shield of superficial leaves, the rest of autumn’s castoffs are pulverized in the wet, dark world of the litter. Yearly, the ground heaves like a breathing belly, swelling in a rapid inhalation in October, then sinking as the life force is suffused into the forest’s body. Below the red oak leaf, other leaves are moist and matted. I tease away a wet sandwich of three maple and hickory leaves. Waves of odor roll out of the opening: first, the sharp, musty smell of decomposition, and then the rounded, pleasant odor of fresh mushrooms. The smells are edged with a richer, earthy background, the mark of healthy soil. These sensations are the closet I can come to “seeing” the microbial community in the soil. The light receptors and lenses in my eyes are too large to resolve the photons bouncing off bacteria, protozoa, and many fungi, but my nose can detect molecules that waft out of the microscopic world, giving me a peek through my blindness. A peek is about all that anyone is given. Of the billion microbes that live in the half handful of soil that I have exposed, only one percent can be cultivated and studied in the lab. The interdependencies among the other ninety-nine percent are so tight, and our ignorance about how to mimic or replicate these bonds is so deep, that the microbes die if isolated from the whole. The soil’s microbial community is therefore a grand mystery, with most of its inhabitants living unnamed and unknown to humanity. As we chisel away at the edges of this mystery, jewels fall out of the eroding block of ignorance…………” “The forest unseen: a year’s watch in nature” by David Haskell A very well written natural history of old growth hardwood forest. Naturalist Haskell observes one small patch in the forest for a year, and describes the life and rhythms: of reptiles, flowers, trees, birds, microorganisms, insects, mammals, fungi, and the history of the forest in the USA, how it has changed and how it has stayed “wild”. Written for all audiences, this is very informative and entertaining, poetical even. The book has a very nice bibliography, but unfortunately no maps or pictures.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    Well, I'm clearly in the vast minority here, but I'm just not enjoying this book enough to push through and finish it. There have been a couple of chapters that I've found pretty interesting, but they've been few and far between, and at times I've found myself feeling pretty skeptical about what he's describing (for instance the entire chapter where he decides to take all of his clothes off in the middle of winter to see what animals feel in the cold, and it somehow doesn't occur to him until th Well, I'm clearly in the vast minority here, but I'm just not enjoying this book enough to push through and finish it. There have been a couple of chapters that I've found pretty interesting, but they've been few and far between, and at times I've found myself feeling pretty skeptical about what he's describing (for instance the entire chapter where he decides to take all of his clothes off in the middle of winter to see what animals feel in the cold, and it somehow doesn't occur to him until the very end of the chapter that, duh, most of the animals that live in the woods have fur and feathers that help keep them warm, in addition to other bodily processes we don't have. That made him seem either kind of stupid, or like he thinks I'm kind of stupid. Either way, it annoyed me). I don't know, maybe I'm being a jerk about this, but I really like the idea of this book and was hoping it would focus a little more on the science side of nature and a little less on the...poetry side? Or something. Anyway, it's just not working for me. :(

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ray Zimmerman

    Great read. The Forest Unseen The Forest Unseen David George Haskel begins the book with a description of Tibetan Monks making a sand painting, a Mandala. He compares his exploration of a one square meter patch of an old-growth forest on property owned by the University of the South to the Mandala. His description of the tiny bit of land as a Mandala is more than an engaging metaphor. Like the sand painting of the monks, his patch of old-growth forest was a place of observation and contemplation, f Great read. The Forest Unseen The Forest Unseen David George Haskel begins the book with a description of Tibetan Monks making a sand painting, a Mandala. He compares his exploration of a one square meter patch of an old-growth forest on property owned by the University of the South to the Mandala. His description of the tiny bit of land as a Mandala is more than an engaging metaphor. Like the sand painting of the monks, his patch of old-growth forest was a place of observation and contemplation, from which his thoughts, and consequently his writings, took wing into historical and contemporary research on the flight of birds, the rate of tree growth, the lives of plants and animals, the shifting weather patterns and the hexagonal ring structure of frozen water. These vignettes reveal both depth and breadth of knowledge. His extensive research at the school's library and conversations with academic colleagues enhanced his writing. Haskell's use of a square meter of the forest as the launching point for these discussions makes sense as a concept that I can only express as a microcosm. Commonly understood as a small portion representing the whole, it is a small portion that reveals the nature of the whole. It is derived from the same root word as "cosmos." The book is an excellent read for birdwatchers and anyone else who spends time observing nature.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jayesh

    You know the feeling that you get when you go to a national park or any forest and just sit there alone, observing, meditating... That's what you experience while reading this book. So Feynman once said: “I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull You know the feeling that you get when you go to a national park or any forest and just sit there alone, observing, meditating... That's what you experience while reading this book. So Feynman once said: “I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.” This book does precisely that. It shows, it is possible to write about the fractally complex, interconnected, not-well-understood nature of an ecosystem in a language in the vein of Borges or Calvino. A sample: Lichens add physical intimacy to this interdependence, fusing their bodies and intertwining the membranes of their cells, like cornstalks fused with the farmer, bound by evolution’s hand. It did take me a while to read this book. Each chapter, which is a day's description of a small area in an old-growth forest in Tennessee, is quite dense with a summary of the small thing under observation (a fern unrolling, a snail moving, etc.) and how it ties in with humanity. An albeit funny example: Unlike top predators such as wolves, coyotes are abundant, and this makes them particularly invulnerable to attempts at eradication. As the French Revolution discovered, and the predator control arms of the U.S. federal and state governments rediscovered, it is harder to stamp out the upper classes than it is to kill the king.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  11. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    This is the kind of non fiction I love...I have met the author, he is a professor where my daughter attends college. My daughter and I went on a bird walk he led on campus in spring 2012 before she decided to attend the school, even though she does not intend to pursue the sciences I think he had a positive effect on her.(She did not want to go on the bird walk and without saying so I could see she enjoyed it!) He's the real deal, naturalist I mean, tempting to think of him as a Monty Python typ This is the kind of non fiction I love...I have met the author, he is a professor where my daughter attends college. My daughter and I went on a bird walk he led on campus in spring 2012 before she decided to attend the school, even though she does not intend to pursue the sciences I think he had a positive effect on her.(She did not want to go on the bird walk and without saying so I could see she enjoyed it!) He's the real deal, naturalist I mean, tempting to think of him as a Monty Python type figure because he is British, but he is so thoughtful and really tuned in to nature. Very accomplished scientist. The book was required reading for all incoming freshman at the school for fall 2012, the land he observes is part of the 13,000 acre "domain" that the campus sits on. The book inspired me to watch my back yard even more closely! There is a lot to see in a small space. Haskell has an interesting blog and he just had an article printed about Rachel Carson in the Chattanooga newspaper. If you like thoughtful nature writing you will enjoy this book.http://biology.sewanee.edu/news/david... Update: December 2014: Since writing this review my daughter has remained at the college where Haskell teaches AND changed her area of study to Forestry!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Um. Man, I love science. I loved learning the random facts in this book. Like how there are so many nematodes on earth that (they say) if all other matter disappeared, you'd still be able to see the outlines of everything, limned in squirming nematodes. Like how moss creates vitamins to prevent itself from being wrecked by extra sunlight. (I am a little hazy on the details of photosynthesis but I think this is how it works.) Like why hickory trees bud out later than maple trees and why that explains Um. Man, I love science. I loved learning the random facts in this book. Like how there are so many nematodes on earth that (they say) if all other matter disappeared, you'd still be able to see the outlines of everything, limned in squirming nematodes. Like how moss creates vitamins to prevent itself from being wrecked by extra sunlight. (I am a little hazy on the details of photosynthesis but I think this is how it works.) Like why hickory trees bud out later than maple trees and why that explains why maple syrup is a thing. The science part of this book: fascinating, spot on. But as many other reviewers have noted, the writing is godawful. Here's a passage I saved: As I gaze through the rain, I realize that I am buoyed by an expanded quality of light under the opened forest canopy. My view of the forest seems deeper, fuller. I am released from a narrowness of luminosity that I hadn't known existed. Look, I get it, it's poetic in a way. But you know what those 44 words boil down to? "I hadn't realized how dark it was." Edit, buddy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim Angstadt

    The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature David George Haskell This story has an interesting premise: we can learn a lot about the world at large by studying a small patch of ground, including the soil, rocks, vegetation, insects, and other living organisms. The preface explains that there are similar attempts in the mandalas of Tibetan monks, and others who would see "the universal within the infinitesimally small". The author selected a small square patch of land that was well out of the way of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature David George Haskell This story has an interesting premise: we can learn a lot about the world at large by studying a small patch of ground, including the soil, rocks, vegetation, insects, and other living organisms. The preface explains that there are similar attempts in the mandalas of Tibetan monks, and others who would see "the universal within the infinitesimally small". The author selected a small square patch of land that was well out of the way of others, so as to not be disturbed, as he watched it over the course of a year. Even approaching the selected plot, the author was very descriptive and gave a very good introduction to the surrounding area, it's topography, vegetation, and climate. Unfortunately, I found the slow pace of his generous descriptions to gradually erode my interest. DNF

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sookie

    2 stars. Such a wonderful concept, underwhelming delivery. Haskell takes a fascinating path to understand nature, and her intricacies. A small patch of land, mandala as he calls it, works in harmony with everything that's present in its vicinity. From a small worm to a big deer, the patch of land and the things that grow are all in strange harmony. The land hums to a tune that catches on and becomes synchronous with forest floor. The flora and fauna of the forest are all aligned - both behavioral 2 stars. Such a wonderful concept, underwhelming delivery. Haskell takes a fascinating path to understand nature, and her intricacies. A small patch of land, mandala as he calls it, works in harmony with everything that's present in its vicinity. From a small worm to a big deer, the patch of land and the things that grow are all in strange harmony. The land hums to a tune that catches on and becomes synchronous with forest floor. The flora and fauna of the forest are all aligned - both behaviorally and physically, thus establishing a strong symbiotic nature. Haskell builds a system out of a mundane measure of space and time; a year in time for forest is like a second in our lifetime. The forest has grown, endured and adapted to changes and evolution all around it. But the forest hasn't had the time to barely acknowledge the destruction that humanity has brought its feet. The book is fascinating. The subject matter is brilliant. The knowledge this book offers is good. But. But. But. The writing was just off. Its very hard to connect to choppy disjointed writing in a subject matter that's treated with utmost care and respect. I am unable to connect and see the what Haskell wants us to see from his perspective, though the gist of his intention is splattered all over the book. I am glad I read it. But I do wish it wasn't underwhelming in its delivery.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Merilee

    I really loved this book. Haskell, a biology prof at The University of the South, has sort of cordoned off a square meter of land in an old-growth forest in Tennessee. Several times a week for a year he goes to this "mandala", sits on a rock, and just observes, sometimes up close with a magnifying glass. It is a book you must read slowly, maybe a 4or 5 page segment at a time. I learned so much about so many aspects of plants and animals and Haskell writes like a poet (but not remotely cornily). I really loved this book. Haskell, a biology prof at The University of the South, has sort of cordoned off a square meter of land in an old-growth forest in Tennessee. Several times a week for a year he goes to this "mandala", sits on a rock, and just observes, sometimes up close with a magnifying glass. It is a book you must read slowly, maybe a 4or 5 page segment at a time. I learned so much about so many aspects of plants and animals and Haskell writes like a poet (but not remotely cornily). It is definitely one of the best books of the year for me, and i plan to begin it again when we get home in November (possibly reading along with the appropriate months). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim Martin

    How much can you learn about the forest by observing a square meter patch of it (and pretty much only that square meter)? How much could you learn about things beyond the forest, about the overall ecology of the region, the continent, the world, about a variety of concepts in weather, geology, evolution, ecology, botany, and natural selection? Can the universal really be understood by contemplating the “infinitesimally small?” Borrowing a term from Buddhism, author David George Haskell decided t How much can you learn about the forest by observing a square meter patch of it (and pretty much only that square meter)? How much could you learn about things beyond the forest, about the overall ecology of the region, the continent, the world, about a variety of concepts in weather, geology, evolution, ecology, botany, and natural selection? Can the universal really be understood by contemplating the “infinitesimally small?” Borrowing a term from Buddhism, author David George Haskell decided to observe one particular patch of old growth Tennessee forest, his mandala – a square meter – over the course of a year. He didn’t stay at the patch 24/7/365 but he did visit it many times in each month of the year, sitting or standing quietly, observing what was going on in the patch in terms of plants, fungi, animals, weather, geology, and where he observed their effects, even the microorganisms and the life of the soil, all with as minimal interference as possible on his part. He went out in weather that was below zero and in the sweltering, mosquito-infested summer, he went out in storms and in perfect spring weather, he went out in darkness and in the middle of the day. Was he successful? I think he was. Haskell always found something to talk about, with the goings on in his mandala always leading to interesting lectures on a variety of subjects, some at the microscopic level (the actions of soil microbes, the movement of fungi through their food sources before they produce the fruiting bodies known as mushrooms), some at the hands and knees level (the mating habits of snails and the life cycles of salamanders for instance) and a quite a few at much larger levels (contemplating how truly large an organism an old growth tree is or appreciating the sweeping epic that is bird migration). One of the things I really liked about the book is how it reminded me of the old TV documentary series Connections, hosted by science historian James Burke, of just how connected so many things are. One example related to bird feeders of all things (no, there were no bird feeders in the mandala, but Haskell certainly observed birds affected by the rise of bird feeders in the United States). In short, more bird feeders mean more songbirds spending the winter in areas they would have left in the past, thanks to a dependable food supply of seeds. Concentrations of songbirds means attracting sharp-shinned hawks to these concentrations to feed on the songbirds, and thus fewer hawks migrating south as well (and perhaps fewer in the forest, attracted by the suburban feeders). With fewer northern migrant hawks joining the year round resident hawks in the mandala, birds that live in the mandala (like the winter wren) have an easier time of it, with larger populations. More winter wrens and other insect eating birds, more pressure on the ant and spider populations. And what does that mean? Many ants are vital in dispersing the seeds of spring ephemeral wildflowers, and spiders are key to keeping down fungus gnat populations, which effect the fungus populations of the forest. Wow. Many times he challenged my thinking and assumptions on subjects. I knew for instance that many if not all plants – through their roots – have symbiotic relationships with soil fungi, I had known that for years, but I had not known that there is evidence that the fungi came first, not roots, that roots evolved as a way to seek out and embrace fungi, not necessarily to find nutrients from the soil directly. I also hadn’t realized that most “independent” plants are really linked in a mycorrhizal fungal network; that nutrients say produced by a maple tree may in a roundabout way find their way to a nearby hickory tree. Another favorite new way of thinking for me was the issue of deer population. Or overpopulation. I had read that White-tail Deer were booming in the eastern and central United States, that they were virtually stripping the understory bare in some forests, pruning native shrubs and the lower branches of trees, gobbling up forest floor wildflowers, and depriving the animals that need these plants of homes and food supplies (famously many ground nesting birds). I had also remembered reading that deer were almost exterminated (or were exterminated) from large sections of the eastern U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. What I had never thought to do was put those two things together! Did the rich understory growth of wildflowers reflect a “real” or a “natural” forest or are they quite artificial, the result of abnormally low deer populations, just now bouncing back? Did reports of park-like, open understory forests by explorers and pioneers reflect how a climax forest looked, the effects of Native American use of the land, or the role of deer (or all of the above)? Interesting. I could go on and on. Haskell discussed so many topics; the different strategies flowering plants take to attract pollinating insects (and what insects they aim for and why), the effects changing ant populations have on seed dispersal, how plants that are said to be dispersed primarily by ants managed to spread over most of the continent (“Reid’s Paradox”), about shrew biology (and their “dungeon of horrors,” underground larders of “living but incapacitated prey” that these weird mammals maintain),the physiology of tick saliva, the decline of ginseng from forests due to poaching, of how tiny birds like chickadees are able to keep warm in depths of winter, of how exactly birds sing, about why bacteria that decompose rotting things make the rotting things so very toxic to everyone else, of how mushrooms breed (they don’t have genders per se)….so many things are discussed! This was a relatively easy read, not overly technical. Though the language was quite well crafted with some nice turns of phrase, it wasn’t overall poetic or lyrical, as I had feared a little going in it. Good book!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    There is a grand tradition of naturalist-writing that emphasizes close observation of nature and the wonder and awe that can come from it. Bernd Heinrich is one of my favorites, writing "A Year in the Maine Woods," "Winter World", and "Summer World", among others. Now there's this delightful celebration of attentive observation by David George Haskell. Restricting himself to a small patch of old-growth forest he calls his "mandala", Haskell follows the intricate interactions there through a year There is a grand tradition of naturalist-writing that emphasizes close observation of nature and the wonder and awe that can come from it. Bernd Heinrich is one of my favorites, writing "A Year in the Maine Woods," "Winter World", and "Summer World", among others. Now there's this delightful celebration of attentive observation by David George Haskell. Restricting himself to a small patch of old-growth forest he calls his "mandala", Haskell follows the intricate interactions there through a year. This is not a polemic for conservation, but a gentle appreciation for the fundamental ecology of a small place on the planet. But it is extensible, as he suggests, to any place, even one's own back yard. This past Sunday, I walked around a small lake, where about half the trail in in fairly heavy forest. I walk slowly, because I try to see what changes there are from the last visit, and I walk without music from an Ipod in my ears in order to enjoy the many different bird calls. This particular trip let me see a hummingbird land on a branch but a few feet away, and to pick up a land-snail with a quite large shell. Now that I've finished this book, it is my intent to get a decent hand lens and have it with me, and perhaps my binoculars too. If you have an affinity for nature, this is a must-have book. I loved it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jayme

    2016 Review: I loved the concept for this book when I bought it. Haskell spends an entire year observing a single square meter of forest. Each chapter has a different focus ranging from the microscopic to charismatic megafauna. However, despite being a fairly short book, this was such a slog. It's been sitting in my currently reading pile for three years now and it's finally time to admit that I don't like it and will never finish it. I think the thing I hate about it the most is that he calls hi 2016 Review: I loved the concept for this book when I bought it. Haskell spends an entire year observing a single square meter of forest. Each chapter has a different focus ranging from the microscopic to charismatic megafauna. However, despite being a fairly short book, this was such a slog. It's been sitting in my currently reading pile for three years now and it's finally time to admit that I don't like it and will never finish it. I think the thing I hate about it the most is that he calls his forest plot a mandala, which is cute I guess...the first time. But then he very much overuses the word. I wish I had this in ebook form so I could word count how many times he throws it out there...it's so many. 2020 Review: I'm surpising glad I gave this one another shot. My initial reactions weren't wrong. Considering this has such a strong concept and the writing isn't dense, it somehow manages to be really dry. The audiobook version helped move it along though. And I can appreciate how much work must have gone into each topic Haskell covers during his year of observation.

  19. 5 out of 5

    jrendocrine ?u get guns-we get forced pregnancy??

    This is a book to enjoy slowly, limiting to one entry daily. This wonderful biologist discusses - in mostly biological detail - what he thinks about while sitting quietly, and not touching, a square meter "mandala" of old growth forest throughout a year. Lots to learn and hopefully to take forward. As he writes: "A hairy woodpecker lighted on a tree trunk.... Here was a creature whose kind had chattered woodpecker calls for millions of years before humans came to be... another world, running para This is a book to enjoy slowly, limiting to one entry daily. This wonderful biologist discusses - in mostly biological detail - what he thinks about while sitting quietly, and not touching, a square meter "mandala" of old growth forest throughout a year. Lots to learn and hopefully to take forward. As he writes: "A hairy woodpecker lighted on a tree trunk.... Here was a creature whose kind had chattered woodpecker calls for millions of years before humans came to be... another world, running parallel to my own. Millions of such parallel worlds exist in one mandala." Loved the musings on ticks, cicadas, vultures and tree stem growth the most. Lovely all around.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Camille McCarthy

    A wonderful, different book about nature. It is full of rich imagery and descriptions of how organisms interact. I found it hard to read more than a little of it in one sitting, because the descriptions are so rich. I think he should have won the Pulitzer for this. Haskell picks a spot in nature and returns to the same spot every week or so throughout the year. Every time, he uses his observations to construct a chapter of the book. He focuses on different organisms every time, though some are A wonderful, different book about nature. It is full of rich imagery and descriptions of how organisms interact. I found it hard to read more than a little of it in one sitting, because the descriptions are so rich. I think he should have won the Pulitzer for this. Haskell picks a spot in nature and returns to the same spot every week or so throughout the year. Every time, he uses his observations to construct a chapter of the book. He focuses on different organisms every time, though some are described again at different times. I learned so much about the natural world from reading this, and his descriptions are almost mystical. He is a great writer. I read this book for a writing class I am taking about eco-writing and our class had the honor of video conferencing with him on one occasion - he was just as personable in the video conference as he seems in writing. This was a very different and incredibly well-written book. I highly recommend it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    AKHIL TP4

    I loved it! One of the most beautiful books I've ever read! David George Haskell's writing prowess is impressive. In the blurb, it's just an observation of a square meter forest patch. But the moment one enter this small patch of land, which the author calls Mandala, the whole land explode with a menagerie of life and evolutionary magic. Haskell is a frugal writer. The amount of information in this book is simply unbelievable! He also constructed several bridges in his world which will take us to I loved it! One of the most beautiful books I've ever read! David George Haskell's writing prowess is impressive. In the blurb, it's just an observation of a square meter forest patch. But the moment one enter this small patch of land, which the author calls Mandala, the whole land explode with a menagerie of life and evolutionary magic. Haskell is a frugal writer. The amount of information in this book is simply unbelievable! He also constructed several bridges in his world which will take us to the side of our own imagination and self reflection. Forest is a mirror. The cloudiest and the shiniest at the same time. Still, once we step out of our imagination, it's just as limpid as the fragility of our lives.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    This was an excellent read. I recommend it for any naturalist, or nature-lover. It is poetic, and full of amazing observations about the forest. "We are explorers standing at the edge of a dark jungle, peering at the strange shapes in the soil's interior, naming a handful of the most obvious novelties, but understanding little." This was an excellent read. I recommend it for any naturalist, or nature-lover. It is poetic, and full of amazing observations about the forest. "We are explorers standing at the edge of a dark jungle, peering at the strange shapes in the soil's interior, naming a handful of the most obvious novelties, but understanding little."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Beautifully written. I really enjoyed the thoughtful observations paired with the science of what he was experiencing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    David

    A collection of Taoist meditations masquerading as a nature journal, very rich and best consumed in small sips. David George Haskell brings a deeply holistic, long-view approach to current problems like the population explosion of white-tailed deer and its association with disease vector ticks. He has the mindfulness to watch a flower bud open in real time. He writes, “The human body and the snail body are made from the same wet pieces of carbon and clay, so if consciousness grows out of this n A collection of Taoist meditations masquerading as a nature journal, very rich and best consumed in small sips. David George Haskell brings a deeply holistic, long-view approach to current problems like the population explosion of white-tailed deer and its association with disease vector ticks. He has the mindfulness to watch a flower bud open in real time. He writes, “The human body and the snail body are made from the same wet pieces of carbon and clay, so if consciousness grows out of this neurological soil, on what grounds do we deny the snail its mental images?” (p. 52) The three-page entry “April 14th — Moth” is a marvel: as Haskell witnesses a moth that has landed on his hand, taking up sodium from his perspiration on a hot Tennessee day, his musings connect to the chemistry of human sweat. The entries are backed up by references. One quibble: in a entry on earthquakes, Haskell refers to the Richter scale, which been superseded in the United States by a different logarithmic metric.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cayenne

    This book is incredible. It was probably more interesting to me than the average person because I have a Biology degree, but the writing was so accessible, poetic, and uplifting. The author spends a year watching a square of old growth forest floor (he calls it a mandala) and the book is a series of essays discussing the things he discovers about nature and about himself. My favorite chapter was "Earthstar" where he discusses human impact on the earth and how we need to have more compassion for This book is incredible. It was probably more interesting to me than the average person because I have a Biology degree, but the writing was so accessible, poetic, and uplifting. The author spends a year watching a square of old growth forest floor (he calls it a mandala) and the book is a series of essays discussing the things he discovers about nature and about himself. My favorite chapter was "Earthstar" where he discusses human impact on the earth and how we need to have more compassion for ourselves and the planet. He says that humanity's greatest failing is lack of compassion. Our attempts to repair the earth from the damage we have done has created a self-loathing and we need to have more compassion for ourselves. He finds two golf balls in the mandala and decides to leave them there as a reminder that we have a place on this earth too. Eventually the golf balls will sink to the rock bed and be ground up, becoming part of the earth again. There were many other wonderful essays. A beautiful book written by a contemplative scientist. Fascinating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lainey

    This book is truly like no other - in the best possible way. It’s hard to describe, but one reviewer wrote: “Haskell [the author] leads the reader into a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.“ I would add that the writing is also located between science and meditation. Each chapter is something of a meditative piece and then the whole book slowly and beautifully becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. Much like the nature Haskell describes. What an amazing work This book is truly like no other - in the best possible way. It’s hard to describe, but one reviewer wrote: “Haskell [the author] leads the reader into a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.“ I would add that the writing is also located between science and meditation. Each chapter is something of a meditative piece and then the whole book slowly and beautifully becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. Much like the nature Haskell describes. What an amazing work!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Swisher Ray

    Fascinating and delightful. Beautifully written.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This book is a fascinating, enchanting, and joyful way to learn about nature. And our place in it. Haskell randomly selected a square meter of old-growth forest in Tennessee and spent a year observing it. Hundreds of hours of silently sitting: watching, listening, smelling, and musing. Trying to discover what he might notice by slowing down and really focusing. And producing this series of meditative essays about the process, capturing through his scientific lens the poetic wonder of his experien This book is a fascinating, enchanting, and joyful way to learn about nature. And our place in it. Haskell randomly selected a square meter of old-growth forest in Tennessee and spent a year observing it. Hundreds of hours of silently sitting: watching, listening, smelling, and musing. Trying to discover what he might notice by slowing down and really focusing. And producing this series of meditative essays about the process, capturing through his scientific lens the poetic wonder of his experience. His reflections are prompted by a wide multitude of different lifeforms he encountered: snails, newts, mosquitoes, ticks, flowers, trees, fungi, bacteria, mice, raccoons, birds, coyotes, wolves, deer, the distant sound of a chainsaw, and much, much more. He considers none of them in isolation, for the largest theme underlying every thought is the interconnectedness of all life. Cooperation and competition. Evolution and change. And how dynamic and interdependent everything is. Even humans. To love nature and to hate humanity is illogical. Humanity is part of the whole. To truly love the world is also to love human ingenuity and playfulness. Nature does not need to be cleansed of human artifacts to be beautiful or coherent. Yes, we should be less greedy, untidy, wasteful, and shortsighted. But let us not turn responsibility into self-hatred. Our biggest failing is, after all, lack of compassion for the world. Including ourselves.He offers a far-ranging, intertwining mix of perceptive description, scientific detail, insight, and wisdom. Moralizing is minimal, though a deep appreciation of nature is taken for granted. Emphasized throughout are the complexity and fundamentally relational nature of life. His words echo that form, simultaneously free-flowing and piercing, creating clear images that are a delight to read. The Forest Unseen is an immensely enjoyable book. To give you a feel for Haskell's writing, a couple of extensive samples from different essays: I lie facedown at the edge of the mandala, readying myself for a dive under the surface of the leaf litter. The red oak leaf below my nose is crisp, protected from fungi and bacteria by the drying sun and wind. Like the other leaves on the litter's surface, this oak leaf will remain intact for nearly a year, finally crumbling in next summer's rains. These surface leaves form a crust that both hides and makes possible the drama below. Protected under the shield of superficial leaves, the rest of autumn's castoffs are pulverized in the wet, dark world of the litter. Yearly, the ground heaves like a breathing belly, swelling in a rapid inhalation in October, then sinking as the life force is suffused into the forest's body. Below the red oak leaf, other leaves are moist and matted. I tease away a wet sandwich of three maple and hickory leaves. Waves of odor roll out of the the opening: first, the sharp, musty smell of decomposition, and then the rounded, pleasant odor of fresh mushrooms. The smells are edged with a richer, earthy background, the mark of healthy soil. These sensations are the closest I can come to "seeing" the microbial community in the soil. The light receptors and lenses in my eyes are too large to resolve the photons bouncing off bacteria, protozoa, and many fungi, but my nose can detect molecules that waft out of the microscopic world, giving me a peek through my blindness. A peek is about all that anyone is given. Of the billion microbes that live in the half handful of soil that I have exposed, only one percent can be cultivated and studied in the lab. The interdependencies among the other ninety-nine percent are so tight, and our ignorance about how to mimic or replicate these bonds is so deep, that the microbes die if isolated from the whole. The soil's mocrobial community is therefore a grand mystery, with most of its inhabitants living unnamed and unknown to humanity. As we chisel away at the edges of this mystery, jewels fall out of the eroding block of ignorance. The earthy smell that embraces my nose comes from one of the brightest jewels, the actinomycetes, strange semicolonial bacteria from which soil biologists have extracted many of our most successful antibiotics. Like the healing chemicals in foxglove, willow, and spirea, the actinomycetes use these molecules in their struggle with other species, secreting antibiotics to subdue or kill their competitors or enemies. We turn this struggle to our advantage through medicinal mycology. Antibiotic production is a small part of the huge and varied role of actinomycetes in the soil's ecology. There is a as much diversity within the feeding habits of this group of bacteria as exists within all the animal kingdom. Some actinomycetes live as parasites in animals; others cling to plant roots, nibbling on them while fighting off more damaging bacteria and fungi. Some of these root dwellers may turn against their hosts and kill the plant by belowground assassination. Actinomycetes also coat the dead bodies of larger creatures, breaking them down into humus, the dark miracle ingredient of productive soils. Actinomycetes are everywhere but seldom enter our consciousness. Yet we seem to have an intuitive understanding of their importance. Our brains are wired to appreciate their distinctive "earthy" smell and to recognize the aroma as the sign of good health. Soil that has been sterilized, or that is too wet or dry for most actinomycetes, smells bitter and unfriendly. Perhaps our long evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers and agrarians has taught our nasal passages to recognize productive land, giving us a subconscious tie to the soil microbes that define the human ecological niche. ----- The earthstars and mushrooms that ring the mandala's golf balls may devise a way to digest and recycle the balls' plastic. Fungi are masters of decomposition, so natural selection might produce a plastic-munching mushroom. Stupendous quantities of matter and energy are locked up in plastic. Evolutionary triumph awaits the mutant fungus whose digestive juices can free these frozen assets and conjure them to life. Fungi, and their equally versatile partners in the business of rot, bacteria, have already shown themselves capable of thriving on other industrial innovations such as refined oil and factory effluent. Golf balls may be the next breakthrough. ----- This autumnal flow of southbound sharp-shinned hawks has dwindled in recent years. Scientists first suspected that pollution or habitat loss was causing the falling numbers of migrating hawks. But this is apparently not the case. Instead, more sharp-shinned hawks are choosing to stay in the frozen northern forests rather than head south for the winter. These lingering hawks survive by loitering around human settlements, making use of a remarkable new arrangement in the ecology of North America: the backyard bird feeder. Our love of birds has created a new migration. This novelty is a west-to-east migration of plants, not a north-to-south migration of birds. The productivity of thousands of acres of former prairie land is shipped eastward, locked in millions of tons of sunflower seeds. These dense stores of energy are trickled from wooden boxes and glass tubes, adding a steady, stationary source of food to the otherwise unpredictable shifting winter food supply of songbirds in the eastern forest. Sharp-shinned hawks are therefore provided with a dependable meat locker, turning the forest into a home for the winter. Bird feeders not only augment the forest's larder but, more important, they gather songbirds into clusters that make convenient feeding stations for hawks. The expression of our yearning for the beauty of birds sets off waves that circle outward, washing over prairies and forests, lapping onto the mandala. Fewer migrant hawks from the north make life a little easier for the hawk in the mandala. Winter becomes less dangerous for songbirds also, perhaps edging up winter wren populations. More abundant wrens may nudge down ant or spider populations, sending an eddy out into the plant community when the spring ephemeral flowers offer their seeds to be dispersed by ants, or into the fungus community when a dip in spider numbers increases fungus gnat populations. We cannot move without vibrating the waters, sending into the world the consequences of our desires. The hawk embodies these spreading waves, and the marvel of its flight startles us into paying attention. Our embeddedness is given a magnificent, tangible form: here is our evolutionary kinship splayed out in the fanning wing; here is a solid, physical link to the north woods and the prairies; here is the brutality and elegance of the food web sailing across the forest.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    TODO full review: i The Forest Unseen is a ponderous book written by naturalist David George Haskell about his year-long visits to a small patch of old-growth forest in Tennessee, USA. Through careful description, astute analysis, deep knowledge, and simply care about the forest, Haskell makes the reader get interested in the forest and want to see it first-hand. I love this book. +++ There are 40-ish visits, so 40-ish subjects to meditate about. The description is sometimes lyric, sometimes impre TODO full review: i The Forest Unseen is a ponderous book written by naturalist David George Haskell about his year-long visits to a small patch of old-growth forest in Tennessee, USA. Through careful description, astute analysis, deep knowledge, and simply care about the forest, Haskell makes the reader get interested in the forest and want to see it first-hand. I love this book. +++ There are 40-ish visits, so 40-ish subjects to meditate about. The description is sometimes lyric, sometimes imprecise, but by and large the reader leaves with an impression of amazing diversity and depth of life in a seemingly common type of forrest. We picture vividly how things are, and why, and why it is important. +++ I loved how the author coveys a sense of what an ecosystem is. How amazingly complicated things are when combining even the simplest of organisms and their living mechanisms. How short-scale time makes everything change, how stages of the life cycle emerge discreetly from the continuous passage of time, and how evolution starts new avenues long-term. + The description of basic organisms and of their approach to survival are interesting, but the reader likely knows many aspects of the decidious forest. What makes this type of material so exciting is a combination of inspiring writing and understanding of what science has not yet uncovered. +++ In recent years, naturalist books have started to include simplified references to politics and social good, religion and belief, and industry and society needs. These references mostly fall flat, because the simplified take on these complex issues discredits the statements. Instead, Haskell is careful not to include more than a sprinkle of generally neutral statements, more warnings that the topics of politics, etc. could be discussed in the context presented in the book. - I could understand that the astute biologist or naturalist would cringe at the lyrical passages, or at the formulation made accessible to the layperson. For me, the formulation caused excitement and delight, but I am sure at least some terms have been used very loosely. To everyone looking for precision, I recommend the generous list of books entitled "... biology of...", "... natural history of...", "... field guide to...", and "... ecology of..." Though I doubt "The Natural History of Moths", "Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States", or "Fundamentals of Soil Ecology", scholarly as they may be, will make the unaware reader suddenly enthusiastic about understanding nature.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nick Crowley

    I received this book in the mail unexpectedly as a birthday gift from my good friend Kevin, along with The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. I read it immediately, and it served as a nice break from all the classic fiction I've been reading. David Haskell thoughtfully weaves together the stories of plants, soil, water, and creatures big and small, providing a fascinating glimpse at the interconnections of the natural world. The Forest Unseen is the sort of book that every page or so compels you to I received this book in the mail unexpectedly as a birthday gift from my good friend Kevin, along with The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. I read it immediately, and it served as a nice break from all the classic fiction I've been reading. David Haskell thoughtfully weaves together the stories of plants, soil, water, and creatures big and small, providing a fascinating glimpse at the interconnections of the natural world. The Forest Unseen is the sort of book that every page or so compels you to seek the attention of whoever's around so that you can read them factoids regarding things you've never thought about: 1. Bird bodies run hot, at 40 degrees Celsius to our 37 degrees, which doubles the strength of their muscular contractions compared to mammals. 2. Over 95% of the energy that is used in the firefly's flash is released as light, a reversal of the performance of human-designed light bulbs that waste most of their energy on heat. (Only 10% of energy in an incandescent bulb is released as light; the rest is heat) 3. As a young bird grows inside its egg, it etches away at the shell, pulling calcium out of the shell and using it to create bones. 4. Shrews have such fast metabolisms that they are forced to live underground. Their breath is so rapid that simply breathing above ground too long would desiccate and kill them in dry air. 5. Plant roots don't just spread underground and pick up nutrients by themselves. They live in symbiosis with various fungi underground that break down decaying matter and "sell" them minerals in exchange for sugars made by the plant. The area around the root (the "rhizosphere") contains hundreds of times more microbes than the surrounding soil, as plant, fungus, and bacteria all live and work together breaking through soil and sharing nutrients. These are just five examples chosen randomly. Throughout the book, Haskell contextualizes these facts, so that by the end of the chapter you walk away not just with new trivia, but with an idea of how these things fit into the broader web of nature. Ultimately, the book serves as a meditation on our place in this web. It is a call to be more aware.

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