In this debut collection of essays, trees evoke lyrical reflections on the intimacies among humans, plants and animals.
Pelster (Creative Writing/Towson Univ.) takes her title from the Burmis tree, a limber pine that grows in her native Alberta, Canada. “Limber pines,” she writes, “are named for the ways they bend in the harsh winds and grow in curves around it; they slither their roots along rock faces until they find cracks they can slip into and drink from.” The tree’s ingenious capacity for survival and its eventual death after 600 years occasions an essay on the 10,000-year history of its habitat. Observing tree frogs leads Pelster to think about the connection of language to experience. The word “frog,” she notes, comes from the Latin meaning “to jump.” She wonders “how it was decided that the jump was the trait to name this animal after and not the croak” or “the bulgy eyed-ness.” “Language,” she says, “sprouts legs like a tadpole and morphs meanings without a trace of the old in the new.” In “Portrait of a Mango,” the author considers not only the fruit’s characteristics, but also the legends surrounding it. The pigment Indian Yellow, a favorite of Vermeer, for example, supposedly was made from the urine of cows fed only mango leaves and water. The cows died young of malnutrition, and the production of Indian Yellow was banned. In “How Trees Came to Be in the World,” Pelster traces life from the Big Bang to the advent of trees on the planet. Primal organisms, she writes, “worked together to become complex cells….How they imagined themselves into a thing that had previously not existed is a mystery, but there it is.” Once a student at a Bible college, Pelster decided that faith “is not the domain of religion alone.”
As the author reveals in these charming essays, nature is imbued with enticing mysteries, and trees can be agents of salvation.