As most anyone who reads books on a regular basis will attest, some of the most significant books they’ve ever read were found to be such not only because of what was written upon their respective pages, but also because of when in the life of the individual reader the book was read. I can’t recall from whom I originally heard it, but whenever I think of the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think of the observation that one must read his novels before one reaches the age of thirty or else much of their potential significance will be lost (as someone who neglected Fitzgerald until his forties, I can attest to this, as I could not find in them what so many others have so strongly asserted is there). Similarly, had I tried to read Darwin’s Origin before my forties, I don’t think I would have found it as profound as I did; my understanding of the significance and power of time – a key element in Darwin’s defense of his ideas – simply wasn’t sufficiently developed until then.
Then, of course, there are those books that one finds especially poignant not because of any particular stage in one’s life, but rather due to a circumstance into which what the book has to teach so meaningfully applies. Perhaps it provided comfort in time of loss and sadness; perhaps it showed a path out of a quandary in which one had become mired. For me, such a book fell into my hands during a time of what I can only insufficiently describe as a spiritual realignment; something dramatic was changing in my perception of how I viewed the vast web of life and my own connection to it. However the problem was that I could not find anything that quite expressed in a modern context the direction I found my spirit moving. Then I began reading TreeGirl.
TreeGirl – Julianne Skai Arbor – is a person whom I would someday very much like to meet. Her book, TreeGirl, Intimate Encounters with Wild Nature, was pitched to me by her publicist from completely out of the proverbial blue. Upon reading the initial publicity letter, it didn’t take me long to see that it had nearly all the qualities that normally cause me to pass on a book. I had never before heard of the author. It is self-published. It is not (really) definable as natural history in any conventional sense, nor is it a work of fiction with a natural history or ecology-focused central theme. And just what the heck is “forest ecotherapy” anyway?
But something made me go against all these things and accept a copy of the book for review. Cynical wags might say “Well, it’s because it was a book chock-full of pictures of a naked young woman posing with trees!” – but that wasn’t it. As a life-long sauna enthusiast, one-time art student, and semi-practicing naturist, naked people – male, female, or anywhere in between – aren’t really a motivating factor for me the way they might be for others. To be honest, I can’t really say why I decided to accept it – like so many of the things that turn out to be meaningful in our lives, I just did.
Reading TreeGirl is a complex experience. Partly a collection of photographs of the author posing with – and more often upon – some of the planet’s most astonishingly beautiful trees, partly a collection of the author’s essays about her experiences with trees, and partly a natural history of the various species of trees depicted, all three of these things are interwoven into a sensuous intertwined embrace. I use the word “sensuous” here intentionally as the book is very much about the sensory experiences the author seeks out in her interactions and subsequently self-captured photographs (please don’t think “selfies;” these are artistic photos of the highest quality, recorded with a tripod-mounted camera and a remote controlled timer). I also use the word “embrace” with equal intention as that is precisely what she does; embraces the trees – as well as the larger web of life into which they – and through the experience TreeGirl with them – are connected.
To some this will make immediate sense; others might respond as I initially did – thinking this is all just so much hippy dippy nonsense. I was wrong – not only about what TreeGirl and TreeGirl are, but also about just how much I needed to accept a bit more “hippy dippy nonsense” into my life to make it work; to help me to make sense of the changes in perspective I was finding myself experiencing and about which I had become so confused and unsure.
As to TreeGirl herself, despite the fact that what she studies, practices, and teaches may be unfamiliar to many (as much of it was to me at first), her dedication to her work and mission is unquestionable. Among her many official credentials, she is a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture, a California naturalist through the University of California, and a trained facilitator in Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects. She has taught college-level interdisciplinary conservation education for many years, and is a pioneer in the academic study of environmental arts. She holds graduate degrees in experiential environmental education and arts, and consciousness studies. She was the former co-director of the first Forest Therapy Guide training program in the U.S., and is active with the International Ecopsychology Society and the American Society of Ecopsychologists. And if my hunch is correct, she is also quite likely a genuine Human Being.
For my regular readers I know this is a bit of a different sort of review than I usually write, but TreeGirl is a different sort of book than I usually read. If you’ve reached this point and are still thinking “blimey, he’s gone completely out of his tree,” I would put it to you that quite the contrary; I have done just the opposite. But have no fear; photos of me naked in my local Douglas Firs will not be appearing here – or anywhere – now or in the future; the world really doesn’t need that. What it does need, however, is to take to heart what TreeGirl has written in this book, and to do that, it needs to be read, contemplated, and the ideas contained in it acted upon.
Author: TreeGirl (Julianne Skai Arbor)
Publisher: TreeGirl Studios LLC
Pages: 200 pp. with over 150 color images
Published: January 2017
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.