Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree takes you on a journey to connect with trees through the sense most aligned to our emotions and memories. Thirteen essays are included that explore the evocative scents of trees, from the smell of a book just printed as you first open its pages, to the calming scent of Linden blossom, to the ingredients of a particularly good gin & tonic:
In your hand: a highball glass, beaded with cool moisture.
In your nose: the aromatic embodiment of globalized trade. The spikey, herbal odour of European juniper berries. A tang of lime juice from a tree descended from wild progenitors in the foothills of the Himalayas. Bitter quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, spritzed into your nostrils by the pop of sparkling tonic water.
Take a sip, feel the aroma and taste three continents converge.
Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree also contains everyday practices the reader is invited to experience. For example, taking a tree inventory of your own home, appreciating just how many things around us came from trees. And if you’ve ever hugged a tree when no one was looking, try breathing in the scents of different trees that live near you, the smell of pine after the rain, the refreshing, mind-clearing scent of a eucalyptus leaf crushed in your hand.
David Haskell is a writer and biologist known for his integration of science, lyrical writing, and close observation of the living world. The late E. O. Wilson said of his writing that it is “…a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry”. Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize winner and director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, wrote that he “may be the finest literary nature writer working today”.
Haskell’s books — The Forest Unseen, The Songs of Trees, Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree, and Sounds Wild and Broken — are acclaimed for their attention to the richness of the living world and the ecological and evolutionary stories that bring this richness into being. They have won numerous awards including the US National Academies’ Best Book Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, Reed Environmental Writing Award, National Outdoor Book Award, Iris Book Award, and John Burroughs Medal.
Born in London, brought up in France, he has lived for the last thirty years in various parts of the United States, including Tennessee, Colorado, and New York. Haskell received his BA from the University of Oxford and PhD from Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, a Guggenheim Fellow, and Professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where he has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching.
In a world beset by barriers, his work reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence. Find him at dghaskell.com or on social media @DGHaskell (Twitter), DavidGeorgeHaskell (Instagram and Facebook).
My thoughts: this was a very interesting little book. In 13 essays exploring the history of trees, either individually or taken as a whole (there are chapters on books, gin and olive oil as well as oaks, gingko, and ash) and their vital importance, impact and role in our lives.
We probably don’t notice the trees around us the way we should, and although I’m not sure I’m quite at the sniffing trees stage, I certainly want to engage more with nature. London supposedly has enough trees to technically be a forest, although sometimes it can be hard to find them amid our concrete and glass.
But without trees human history would be very different and they remain so very central to life today. These essays cover a huge range of time, geography and uses – paper, food, fuel, health, that trees have been used for by us, while also providing homes and food for thousands of birds, animals and insects.
Whether you’re a nature lover or just curious about history or the environment, this book is worth a little read.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.