the guardian Fri 19 September 2008
Framed by the great storm of 1987, that "cataclysm of trees", Mabey's book reflects on the interactions of humankind with nature by assembling a history of the narratives we have constructed around trees, beeches in particular. The series of essays is roughly chronological in order, but with much reverie along the way. Mabey anxiously muses on the management of his wood in the Chilterns; explains how the idea of "plantation" made trees into machines for the production of timber to build ships, and thus altered "the fundamental grammar of our relationship" with them; traces the impact of the notion, of the picturesque, of landscape gardening, and of enclosure on the English landscape. People, he says, have wanted to possess trees and have assumed they cannot thrive without our intervention. They have projected images of order and stability where none exists. This book is an appeal to let nature be, to trust it to look after itself, to recognise it as process rather than a static image of perfection.