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Hedy Reviews “The Forest Unseen”

By Library Staff

Haskell is a professor of biology at the University of the South.  He undertook the project of quietly visiting one square meter of ground in an old growth forest in Tennessee almost daily for a year.  He spent hours at a time letting all his senses experience what was there in what he called the “mandala”, a Sanskrit word for “community”.  What’s so marvelous about his book is that he took particularities of time and place and made them universal.  When a deer came within inches of him from behind, he wrote a chapter about the importance of large herbivores doing what we currently call “overbrowsing” the forest.

Haskell wrote of the fascinating biology of everything from snails to shrews to mosquitos to himself.  What exactly happens if a human being takes off almost all his clothes when it’s below freezing?  Well, it’s not good for the human–that section seemed to disturb the River Action Environmental Book Club the most.  Why would he do that?  I suppose because he’s such an avid scientist, he’s willing to experiment on himself.  He just had that urge to know what it felt like firsthand.

He was right in there in warmer weather too, lying in the leaves with a handheld magnifying lens, studying all the insects and lichens, anything that turned up in that square meter–even golf balls!  Then he had this existential battle: “…should I remove the balls or leave them nestled in place? Removing them would break my rule about not meddling in the mandala. But taking them away would restore the mandala to a more natural state and might make room for another wildflower or fern.”  He constructs intricate elegant arguments for both sides.

Haskell’s writing is linguistically poetic and scientifically precise.  His goal is to have compassion for everything in existence, because everything has its interlocking, overlapping place in the cycle of life and it’s ultimately beautiful–every bit of it.  A wonderful book for appreciating the world around us, seen and unseen.