In the second installment (Secret Voices: The West, 2012) of her mystical nature series, New Mexico-based author Merrill profiles several varieties of trees found on the North American midcontinent, categorizing them regionally and offering herself as their translator.
For each tree she explores, Merrill offers several components—a rich illustration followed by a first-person monologue personifying the tree and what lesson it would teach humans if that American Elm or Boxelder could speak our language. She also provides drawings and explanations of other animal and plant species that share the tree’s habitat. A compatible poem written by Brian Mitchell accompanies each entry. The overall aesthetic effect is accessible and pleasing, but the combination of informed nature writing with the work’s fantastical elements, which depart wholly from realism, may be challenging for some readers. To add to the unusual mix, the author salts the text with memorable factoids; e.g., “rabbits burrow, hares live above ground; rabbits are born blind and furless, hares are born fully furred, eyes open.” Such details show the writer’s expertise, which may persuade more concrete nature-loving readers to at least consider her forays into mystical and even mythical worlds. These forays center on the author’s “readings” of trees, which Merrill offers as an alternative term for the wackier sounding “talks” to the trees. She describes her own method of communication with them as follows: “I ask a series of questions, the ‘answers’ come as images, emotions or concepts, often wordless....Then I turn it all into prose that (hopefully) hangs together.” Such “readings” offer insights into the organism’s past lives and thought processes and often touch on reincarnation; e.g., the sumac dreams of being “part of a chorus of ladies reaching for the Moon, waving and dancing as it passes overhead,” and the spruce recalls once being a glacier or polar bear.
An unusual, fact-filled appreciation of the natural world blended with ventures into mysticism.