Bookshed: Seeing Trees

Seeing Trees
By Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn
Timber Press, 2011

As you might judge from the video above, this is no ordinary botanical book – but a work of real beauty – a hyper-glimpse into the world of the plants which surround us. Created by two “tree-watchers”, Seeing Trees offers the reader new insights into the tree lifecycle and growth stages – using an innovative form of photography developed by Robert Llewellyn.

First on the photography – Llewellyn has created a rig that allows him to take macro photography of ever square inch of plant or plant-part which he then merges together using software. The result is a series of high-definition of photographs that seem to hang in 3-D on the page. This book is rich on the full-colour visuals, inviting both meditation and exploration on the pieces which make up these living giants in our yards and forests. Everything is included here: leaf varieties, tree buds and scars, bark patterns, seed pods, tree fruit and pollen grains. The photography is a reminder of what the naked eye just doesn’t pick up on, or in some cases can’t really see. The section of the book which goes in depth into ten different tree species is titled “Intimate Views” – which sums up perfectly the level of closeness with which you can *see* the tree parts in these photos.

Alongside this evocative photography, Nancy Ross-Hugo pairs her descriptive text of each species, inviting the reader to explore further what is going on behind the visual. She shares notes from her tree-watching journal, anecdotes from other tree-lovers she has known, as well as pointers on what to look for at each stage of the annual cycle. While Llewellyn gives us the incredibly detailed picture, Ross-Hugo tells us what exactly it is we are looking at – with a trained and loving eye.

The only unfortunate thing (to me) is that the focus of the book is on eastern varieties, for that is where this work was conceived and created. While Ross-Hugo notes this, she also explains their attempt to choose species that hide a wide range in North America – so we do get a Red Cedar, though it’s the Eastern Red Cedar. Pine and Oak trees are also found here, but different varieties than our western Canada natives. I would love to see a book like this focused on the Pacific Northwest – and more than trees too! But whether that happens or not, Seeing Trees definitely achieves the objective of giving the reader a new way of looking at and understanding the natural world. This book is inspiring and beautifully presented, making a good gift or just a treasure for the nature-lover’s own bookshelf.

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