Limber

Nature, particularly trees are central to this lovely book of essays.  Several of the narratives were unusual enough that I wondered if they had been fictionalized. They seemed more like creative nonfiction than essays. For instance, “Moon Trees” begins with this sentence, “There are cinnabar trees growing on the moon. “ But soon the world of facts—and interesting ones—becomes paramount.

Did you know that astronaut Stuart Roosa brought lots of tree seeds—katsura, loblolly pine, sycamore, sweet gum, and redbud onto Apollo 14’s moon expedition?  Unfortunately, he did not get chosen to land on the moon so he brought these seeds back, and 450 of them were planted and studied by scientists. But they just grew normally like tree seeds that had never left Earth. However, for a brief while, Roosa got to combine his early career as a forest service Smoke Jumper (saving beautiful trees) and an astronaut whirling through space.

The book begins with an autobiographical piece, about the one stop Pelster’s family made on their drive from the Canadian plains to Disneyland. They stopped in Oregon at the Trees of Mysteries where a 49 foot statue of Paul Bunyan and a 35 foot statue of his Baby Blue Ox captivated them.

“The Burmis Tree” describes a convoluted old tree that stands on a Rocky Mountain pass in Canada. It’s a limber tree (as in the book’s title) and its precursor hung over downtown Burmis, a coal-mining community where many men lost their lives working in the mines.  Pelster details their lives and the lives of the women who waited for them to come up from the tunnels each day.

“Rot” was one of my favorites.  It’s full of fascinating squirrel facts. For instance, did you know that three out of ten squirrels died from starvation during their first year? Next the author describes the ecstasy of squirrels in spring, leaping from branch to branch, even flying at times in their search for mates. But then she settles down to the nitty gritty, observing a lawn squirrel’s corpse work its way through the five stages of autolysis (self-splitting, from the Greek.)  I’ll spare you the messy details.

“How Trees Came to Be in the World” tells how in a sea of carbon dioxide, plants developed lignin, a polymer related to cellulose that gave rigidity to the plants and allowed them to make woody cell walls that could grow tall and bear weight.

Another new nature writer whom you might enjoy is Rafael de Grenade. Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback is about a young woman who tames feral cattle in the Australian wilderness.