18 June, 2007

Oaks: The Frame of Civilization

Oaks: The Frame of Civilization, by William Bryant Logan

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. Groucho Marx

I came to Oaks by way of another Logan book, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth (1995). While both ‘Dirt’ and ‘Oaks’ are sweeping essays with so much more going on than the title of either would suggest, ‘Oaks’ is the much grander calling of the two books – and not because of the subject matter, I suspect. One recognizes at once in both books that Logan, an arborist and award winning writer, is writing from his fire for the subject; his intent to inform you originates with his desire that you find this passion compelling as much as he.

He does this for me with ‘Oaks.’ The two subjects, soil and oaks, are already high on my list of things I want to know more about, but Logan’s story in ‘Oaks’ comes across much more readable and I think that might be in part because in this book, ten years later than ‘Dirt,’ his writing is much more effortless and readable. All the way through it, he is a compelling weaver of fact and folklore into a single seamless whole. In one book, you will learn about the construction techniques of some of the significant wooden ships that made history happen, building vagaries from hendge to home, parlor to palace. The migration of the Celts, the salt and fresh waters of the Black Sea; as well as the natural history of these magnificent trees that populate so many different ecological niches through out the earth. That oaks are more revered in our Euro-centric culture than any other tree is a given, but why that would be so isn’t. In fact, this book could well be a person's starting point to understand our culture's affection for, born of our interdependence upon, these trees.

I found Logan’s exploration delightful and rewarding – learning the origin of common sayings still in use today, techniques of the Medieval carpenter and countless other tidbits I had no idea would appear in the text of a book about these trees – Logan isn’t just joking when he calls oaks, "The Frame of Civilization." Even before you’ve finished the book, you’ll agree with him and wonder why it has taken this long for his moniker to be applied to this wide collection of species of trees; truly one of the few living species that can claim to be ubiquitous in the world and still a thing of beauty, grace, strength and power. I found “Oaks: The Frame of Civilization” a good read, you will too.


1 comment:

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