ABOUT THE WITNESS TREE PROJECT

Read my blog about my year as a Bullard Fellow embedded at the Harvard Forest, exploring the human and natural history of a single 100-year-old red oak for my forthcoming book, Witness Tree.


From walnut tree, to new life and purpose at the Arnold Arboretum

May 27, 2017

How honored I was to be the first author to present from the new lectern at the Arnold Arboretum fashioned from a walnut tree in its collection that had to be cut.

Me on launch day, May 5, at the Arnold Arboretum on the black walnut that gave its life for the lectern, and a beautiful new conference table at the Arnold Arboretum

Me on launch day May 5 at the Arnold Arboretum on the black walnut that gave its life for the lectern, and a beautiful new conference table at the Arnold Arboretum. Note that it’s also got a new life all its own, in the new shoot burgeoning from its stump. Photo by Pamela Thompson

The tree survived minimal hurricane damage in 1985, and a lightning strike. A shoot is now growing from the remaining stump. And its life at the arboretum continues. For one, the tree’s uniquely beautiful wood has been fashioned into a new lectern for presentations at the fine gathering space in the visitors center at the Hunnewell Building at the arboretum.

Made from black walnut (Juglans nigra) by Pergola Construction of Swampscott, MA., the lectern is just one new life and purpose for the tree, accession number 14761*A, received as a plant in Dec 1893 from Thos. Meehan and Sons Nursery in Germantown, PA.

I was thrilled to read at the lectern — the first presenter to have the honor — during the launch for Witness Tree so graciously hosted by the arboretum May 5.

With Pam Thompson, left, manager of adult education at the Arnold Arboretum, and a copy of Witness Tree the night of the big launch, the first at the new lectern. And what beauty it is! Photo by Richard Maddocks.

One of the joys about the arboretum is the history in each named, numbered and tracked tree and shrub in the collection. I think director William (Ned) Friedman knows each one as an individual. On a visit to the arboretum earlier this week the two of us roamed the rain-soaked grounds for hours and it was a joy to watch him exclaim in the wonders unfolding as spring coaxed out new leaves and flowers in profusion. No administrator stuck behind a desk, Friedman makes a point of visiting the collection, photographing it, blogging about it, and knowing the condition of the grounds and plants up close, and personally.

Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum, savoring the bloom on a horse chestnut. The collection was in peak flower - a sight not to be missed.

Ned Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, savoring the bloom on a horse chestnut. The collection was in peak flower during my visit May 22nd and a sight not to be missed.

But that is not the end of the story on the black walnut. When I came back to the arboretum that day after our ramble around the grounds Dr. Friedman showed me the new conference table, delivered just that day at the arboretum’s Weld Hill Research Building. What a glory that table is: silky smooth to the touch, grand, with every bit of grain and beauty revealed, it is a gift not only to the present, but the future.

The new conference table made from the same black walnut, shown off by Ned Friedman, arboretum director, and Faye Rosin, director, research facilitation.

The new conference table made from the same black walnut, shown off by Ned Friedman, arboretum director, and Faye Rosin, director, research facilitation.

And speaking of the Arboretum…be sure to read my story about the story behind my book Witness Tree, just published in the current edition, Vol. 74, No. 4 of Arnoldia, the science magazine of the Arboretum. Thanks to editor Nancy Rose for doing such a nice job with the story.

Terrific new podcast on Witness Tree

May 18, 2017

Thanks to Sam Hankin of WCHE 1520 AM’s Avid Reader for this great podcast on Witness Tree. Sam is the manager of Wellington Square Books in Philadelphia, a gorgeous independent book store. He was a prepared, smart, questing interviewer who created a lively, interesting new take on the book. Give it a listen!

Meanwhile there is news in the woods, too. Leaves! After an on again, off again spring that was both hot and cold, the big oak is finally resplendent in its new robe of leaves at the Harvard Forest. How beautiful to see when I clicked on the Harvard Forest’s web cam under the tree this morning from my study in Seattle, just to see how things were progressing. Ah, the pleasure of long distance phenology! Spring, with no black flies.

Here is the webcam photo from the Witness Tree Cam at the Harvard Forest from this morning, May 18. Spring has finally truly sprung.

Here is the webcam photo from the Witness Tree Cam at the Harvard Forest from this morning, May 18. Spring has finally truly sprung.

 

More Great Press for Witness Tree

May 12, 2017

Thanks to Diane Horn of KEXP in Seattle for this podcast on Witness Tree. Thoughtful, insightful, in-depth coverage of the book.

Thanks to Carrie Healy of New England Public Radio who put up this great story today on New England Public Radio. She made the trip out to the Harvard Forest to interview me under the big oak and talk about the Witness Tree project. I love the sounds of us walking up to the tree and the spring birds calling as we talked!

Full of laughter and joy, she was a reporter who clearly got the unique setting of the Harvard Forest and the message of the book. What a pleasure to spend that time together.

Carrie Healy of New England Public Radio interviewing me by the big oak, web cams at our feet. Photo by Doug MacDonald

Carrie Healy of New England Public Radio interviewing me by the big oak, web cams at our feet. Photo by Doug MacDonald

Witness Tree at the Arnold Arboretum

May 5, 2017

Visiting the horticultural library at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University to prepare for my book launch tonight at 6 pm, who do I meet, but Larissa Glasser, library assistant and Lisa Pearson, head of the library and archives, on the very moments that they are taking Witness Tree into their collection at the library.

Larissa Glasser, library assistant at the horticultural library of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University about to tuck Witness Tree into the permanent collection.

Larissa Glasser, library assistant at the horticultural library of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University about to tuck Witness Tree into the permanent collection.

Now, for authors, really truly it doesn’t get much better than that, especially this author. My career as a writer was launched as a reader, tagging along with my mother to the public library in Chappaqua, New York, where she would gather stacks of reading, and I would race down to the children’s section to do the same. Out we would come to her station wagon, loaded down with books ready for a nice long read.

Witness Tree has great company on the natural history shelf at the horticultural library at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Witness Tree has great company on the natural history shelf at the horticultural library at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

I had my own library card from earliest age and could check out as many books as I wanted. Every birthday meant a new hard cover book. And libraries have been my haven since those early childhood days. Fast forward to publication of Witness Tree on April 11, launched at the Seattle Public Library and hosted by the Seattle Public Library Foundation among other partners. What an honor to be feted that night in that beautiful public gathering place for learning and discovery.

What an honor to sign Witness Tree to the horticultural library at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

What an honor to sign Witness Tree to the horticultural library at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

 

Such beautiful book plates at the Arnold Arboretum's horticultural library! Dressing up Witness Tree.

Such beautiful book plates at the Arnold Arboretum’s horticultural library! Dressing up Witness Tree.

And now, to watch Witness Tree get its barcode, label, and bookplate, to sign it with a flourish and see Larissa climb the book ladder to tuck it on the natural history shelf…right next to Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and Berndt Heinrich’s The Trees in My Forest — two books that inspired me in writing Witness Tree, how very wonderful indeed.

Particularly in this library. It’s open to the pubic, and even smells just as a library should: like old wood and books. Windows and views to the arboretum beyond make for a luscious setting, and the grand library table, so big it was built in place, and dating to 1892 make work here a special pleasure.

I don’t have a window in the cubical I inhabit in our mouse-infested mayhem of the newsroom at the Seattle Times, where I am the environmental reporter.  It will be nice, when back at work to think of Witness Tree on these beautiful shelves, in this gracious room, with its vast library table and the swell little wooden ladder for climbing the floor-to- ceiling shelves. The soft light from the bubbly old glass windows, the grandeur of this salon of books. Ah yes. How wonderful indeed. But better yet, I like to think of Witness Tree checked  out, busy in the world, with readers flocking to libraries, for wonder and discovery.

 

 

Climate change as told by one tree

April 30, 2017

Thanks to Warren Olney and the crew at To the Point for their wonderful show on Witness Tree. So fun to go on the air and tell the story of the big oak at the Harvard Forest.

 

Witness Tree is getting great press across the country. Great trees make great stories! Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp, KNKX

Witness Tree is getting great press across the country. Great trees make great stories! Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp, KNKX

The Boston Sunday Globe magazine this Sunday April 30 also will have cover story about the Witness Tree. That’s a mighty warm welcome as we pack up and get ready to come to Petersham May 2 for the launch for Witness Tree at the Harvard Forest at the Fisher Museum at 7 pm. There will be a special presentation at the Six Bridges Gallery in Maynard on Thursday May 4.The Evening of Trees show from 7 to 9 pm features senior ecologist Neil Peterson from the Harvard Forest,  photographs by Brent Mathison and I’ll read from Witness Tree and sign books. The week will top off with a launch at party at the Arnold Arboretum at 6 pm. 

All events are free and open to the public. East coast friends hope to see you there!

 

 

Lovely press for Witness Tree

April 11, 2017

A little DIY (Do It Yourself) press this Sunday in the Pacific Magazine of the Seattle Times. How lovely to see the tree in newspaper boxes all over Seattle. I wrote this piece using photographs from my time at the Harvard Forest and recounted my time climbing the tree. Was lovely to relive it all over again!

Thanks to Bellamy Pailthorp at Seattle’s public radio KNKX for this terrific radio interview, recorded under one of Seattle’s most glorious red oaks…we call this tree The Queen for every good reason.

And thanks to Joel Connelly for this great review in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Looking forward to the book launch tonight at the Seattle Public Library, and headed east soon for the celebrations at the Harvard Forest 7 pm May 2 and Arnold Arboretum at 6 pm May 5. Hope to see you there!

It's publication day for Witness Tree. Celebrating with The Queen, a massive red oak at Seattle's Volunteer Park.

It’s publication day for Witness Tree. Celebrating with The Queen, a massive red oak at Seattle’s Volunteer Park.

 

 

Talking about Witness Tree on Q13 Fox today.

April 8, 2017

Just as the buds finally start opening on the trees, the buzz is building for the launch for Witness Tree. I’ll be kicking off a spring series of parties and readings on both coasts beginning at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library Tuesday April 11 at 7 pm.  1000 4th Ave. Seattle area friends, hope to see you there! Boston and Petersham friends, I’ll be there for readings at the Harvard Forest May 2 at 7 pm and at  Arnold Arboretum May 5 at 6 pm.  Meanwhile, I went on Q13 Fox this morning to talk about the book. Enjoy this short clip!

Lovely recognition for Witness Tree in NYT Book Review

March 20, 2017

How fun to open the New York Times Book Review today and find these nice words for Witness Tree 

Very busy planning the launch April 11 in Seattle at our beautiful downtown public library, co-presented by the Elisabeth C. Miller Library of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the College of the Environment at the University of Washington.

Seattle friends, hope to see you there! Doors open at 7 pm

Then soon it will be time to head east to launch Witness Tree at the Harvard Forest May 2 and the Arnold Arboretum

on May 5.

 

0319-BKS-OpenBook-master768

 

First national review for Witness Tree, and it’s a beauty!

February 3, 2017

An update on Witness Tree, the book about my year with the big oak at the Harvard Forest.

witness-tree-book-cover

The first national review is in, a starred review in Kirkus Reviews:

“A textured story of a rapidly changing natural world and our relationship to it, told through the lens of one tree over four seasons.Seattle Times environmental reporter Mapes (Breaking Ground: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village, 2015, etc.) first encountered the Harvard Forest as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow, returning soon afterward for a yearlong stay in the woods. Renting a room in a historic farmhouse, she sought out a majestic century-old oak to serve as her lens from which to explore the past, situate the present, and grapple with an uncertain future. Aided by a colorful team of interdisciplinary experts, Mapes tells a dynamic story from multiple perspectives, including from a hammock in the canopy of the tree. Understanding trees simultaneously as utility and commodity, as ritual and relic, as beings with agency and sustainers of life, the author illustrates how they have found their ways into our homes and memories, our economies and language, and she reveals their places in our entangled future. Seamlessly blending elements of physics, ecology, biology, phenology, sociology, and philosophy, Mapes skillfully employs her oak as a human-scaled entry point for probing larger questions. Readers bear witness to indigenous histories and colonialism, to deforestation and extraction, to industrialization and urbanization, and to the story of carbon and the indisputable realities of human-caused climate change. Understanding these phenomena to be intricately interconnected, the author probes lines falsely drawn between objectivity and emotion and between science and wonder, all while examining the nature of knowledge and the possibilities, tensions, and limitations of science. Passionately discrediting the notion that humans and nature are separate, she links this flawed belief to the root of our current ecological crisis and calls for a reimagining of the ways of being together in the world. A meticulously, beautifully layered portrayal of vulnerability and loss, renewal and hope, this extensively researched yet deeply personal book is a timely call to bear witness and to act in an age of climate-change denial.”

Pre order the book and mark your calendar for launches in Seattle, Petersham, and the Arnold Arboretum!

In Seattle, May 2, at the Seattle Public Library downtown

In Petersham, at the Harvard Forest Fisher Museum, May 2

In Boston, at the Arnold Arboretum, May 5.

More events to come.