Wild Trees is a big departure from Richard Preston’s usual nonfiction works of deadly diseases, but it is just as unusual and unique. This is a story of the giant redwoods of California and the crazy people whose passion it is to climb them. It is a story of daring adventure, but also of a humanity that holds great respect for some of the Earth’s dwindling survivors.
Wild Trees begins by revealing its real life characters who mean very little to the reader at first, to the point where the reader is wondering where it’s all going, but as the book progresses, each of these characters – their life stories revealed – come together because of their discovered love for the redwoods and their passion and what some might call obsession to climb them. There is Steve Sillett, a botanist who discovered his passion for the gentle giants when challenged to climb one of them. Michael Taylor, son of a wealthy real estate developer, never amounting to anything until the day he decides to find the world’s tallest redwood. Finally there is the Canadian botanist Marie Antoine whose mother died when she was young, and from a young age was obsessed with trees and climbing them. These three are brought together from their seemingly doomed and turbulent lives to a place of escape and rest in the Humboldt and Mendocino counties of California. Perfecting the art of climbing, they are three of the few who have discovered most of the great redwoods that have come to be known today.
Preston himself has an obsession with redwoods and climbing them, which becomes part of the book, as he travels with these three, climbing trees, but not always giving specific locations. This is a group that is fully aware of the dwindling number of redwoods that can be thousands of years old, and wish to see them remain hidden and protected. A “wild tree” is one that has never been climbed and Preston is clear that for some trees he wishes this to remain so. It is an interesting execution with Wild Trees, for while he wishes to enamor and amaze the reader with these majestic creations that have stood the test of time, he wishes to maintain this hidden Eden in a way that prevents it from being seen and experience by the readers. Nevertheless, the book is an interesting introspective into these mighty trees about which little is known, most importantly their history and existence, which Preston does not hold back on.
A delight with the audiobook is that it is read by the author, Richard Preston, adding all the more to the tone and emotional resonance of the book. His voice is clear and strong, keeping the reader’s interest from start until finish. There is even a section where Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine each talk about their love for the redwoods and how important it is that we maintain them. The audiobook begins and ends with the a chorus of chirruping birds, as the reader imagines the reddish brown thick trunks reaching from the fertile earth to the cloudy heavens.
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Originally written on July 13th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.