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Teaching the Trees

Joan Maloof

Publication Year: 2005

In this collection of natural-history essays, biologist Joan Maloof embarks on a series of lively, fact-filled expeditions into forests of the eastern United States. Through Maloof's engaging, conversational style, each essay offers a lesson in stewardship as it explores the interwoven connections between a tree species and the animals and insects whose lives depend on it--and who, in turn, work to ensure the tree's survival.

Never really at home in a laboratory, Maloof took to the woods early in her career. Her enthusiasm for firsthand observation in the wild spills over into her writing, whether the subject is the composition of forest air, the eagle's preference for nesting in loblolly pines, the growth rings of the bald cypress, or the gray squirrel's fondness for weevil-infested acorns. With a storyteller's instinct for intriguing particulars, Maloof expands our notions about what a tree “is” through her many asides--about the six species of leafhoppers who eat only sycamore leaves or the midges who live inside holly berries and somehow prevent them from turning red.

As a scientist, Maloof accepts that trees have a spiritual dimension that cannot be quantified. As an unrepentant tree hugger, she finds support in the scientific case for biodiversity. As an activist, she can't help but wonder how much time is left for our forests.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am trusting that you love trees. It is not a difficult assumption; we all love trees. Even when we cannot name the species of the trees around us we still feel their magnificence, their power, their presence. We know that the world would be a less wonderful place if we no longer had towering trees...

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About the Illustrations

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pp. xv-xvi

The illustrations in this book were created over two hundred years ago. They are the work of artist-naturalist John Abbot. Abbot was very prolific, but only one published book gave him credit in the title; it is from that book that the illustrations are borrowed...

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Old-Growth Air

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pp. 1-6

For years I have been explaining to the students in my classes that Maryland's Eastern Shore has no old-growth forests left, whatsoever; that this land the early explorers called Arcadia because of its numerous stately trees has been completely altered, and not a single original forest remains...

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Tulip Poplar

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pp. 7-12

My first experience with tulip poplar trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) made a lasting impression on me, but I had no idea then that it was the beginning of a long relationship. Back in the days when fourth-graders could hang out without parental supervision, my best buddy and I were practicing...

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Tree Hugger

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pp. 13-17

My students are not used to hearing someone speak with such tenderness, with such fiercely protective words, about the nonhuman things of this world. It makes them a bit uncomfortable; they wiggle in their seats. I know that each of them really longs to find something to care about deeply...

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pp. 18-24

I have been intimate with sycamore trees: my nose an inch from the bark, my arms wrapped around the trunk, my skinny schoolgirl legs stretching for the next branch. I am a climber of sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis). The trees and I grew up together in the same suburban neighborhood...

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pp. 25-37

The light inside a beech forest changes with each season, but always there is a radiance that makes your heart beat faster. The leaves are more translucent than the leaves of other types of trees, so more light passes through them; and the light takes on the hue of the leaves: pale green in...

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pp. 38-47

The long-needled loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is responsible for the texture of the landscape around me. I live on a forested peninsula, and it is forested because loblolly pine trees sell for good money. So we grow pines here — but not for too long. We don't let them grow long enough to mature and...

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Grandfather Trees

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pp. 48-53

Don't get me wrong. I do believe in cutting and using trees for wood. I am writing this on a wooden desk in a wood-frame house. I think wood is a wonderful renewable resource that we should utilize. My complaint is that our culture sees every tree as a source of wood. I think some trees should just...

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pp. 54-61

Have you ever made a pact with another person to look after and protect that person as long as you are alive and able? If you are married you certainly have. How about with a pet? Have you ever vowed, silently or not, that as long as you are alive and able you will make sure that animal is treated...

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pp. 62-66

Helicopters, keys, whirly-gigs; whatever you call them, the seeds that rain down from maple trees are magical. As children my siblings and I would divide the two-parted seeds down the middle, then split them open and remove the tender bright green morsel within. The remaining sticky...

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Black Locust

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pp. 67-76

I am drunk . . . drunk with the smell of locust blossoms. The long, dull winter is finally over, the grass is finally green, and the irises and black locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) are blooming. I want to do nothing but feast my eyes on the colorful irises and breathe in the sweet smell of the locust...

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pp. 77-84

Summer solstice: longest day of the year, first day of summer. We were going over to visit our friends on the other side of the river where there would be live music and lots of beer. That day was the quintessential beautiful day, with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and a warm breeze...

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pp. 85-95

You should know by now that I am obsessed with owning some property with big, old trees on it. It seems like that should be an easy enough thing to accomplish, but there are some obstacles in my way. For one thing I'm very impatient with realtors. They always have the wrong...

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Bald Cypress

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pp. 96-104

It was a hot, muggy July day and I was standing in the black muck of a swamp looking up at the top of a bald cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) four times my height. I saw green, round cones in the top of the tree — the seeds of future generations. I looked down and saw wooden bumps poking...

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Sweet Gum

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pp. 105-111

As I took a solo walk through the forest, I practiced identifying the trees around me without looking up. I came upon one section of the trail that was covered with spiny "monkey balls"; that's what we called them when I was a young girl running around in bare feet trying to avoid the...

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September 11th Memorial Forest

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pp. 112-120

I live in a big white farmhouse beside a river that runs into the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I have been living here for twenty years. As Edward Abbey says in the opening lines of Desert Solitaire, "This is the most beautiful place on Earth. There are many such...

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Baby Trees

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pp. 121-126

I am one of those biology teachers who show the infamous childbirth video. You may have seen it in biology class, too. It starts by discussing conception; then there is a long, boring section about the growth of the fetus; and then, finally, it cuts to a live shot of a woman in labor and the next thing...

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Eagles and Pines

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pp. 127-131

Mostly to avoid watching the war news on television, I decided to hike out and visit the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) that stands near the spillway connecting the pond with the river. I was hoping to see an eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I have often startled eagles from that tree as I approached...

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Things of This World

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pp. 132-142

You should try my game sometime, of identifying the trees in a forest by looking down instead of up. You may be surprised to find that it's easy to identify trees that way; all the evidence you need is within reach. The forest floor is a through-the-looking-glass reflection of the trees above. Live...


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pp. 143-145


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pp. 147-153

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pp. 155-156

Thanks also to the many, many writers who have inspired my life and work. A few of them I know in person, but most I know only through their work. I cannot list them all, but I would especially like to acknowledge Rick Bass, Annie Dillard, Tom Horton, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Krafel, Gary Paul Nabhan, Richard...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820335988
E-ISBN-10: 0820335983
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327433
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327433

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2005