The American author, a university professor of biology, records a year's worth of observations of a square metre of old-growth forest in Tennessee. He has called it a mandala, based on the Tibetan re-creation of the path of life, and relates it to his belief that 'the forest's ecological stories are all present in a mandala-sized area'. This treasured book, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, weaves science and poetry in subtle overlays and explores the relationships within Mother Nature.
Being a northern hemisphere book, the year conveniently starts in January's Winter and progresses through the seasons. Haskell wraps his knowledge of biology around the observations to explain complex processes such as why some trees get leaves later in Spring than others or how trees manage to pump gallons of water up to the canopy without generators, noise or the use of fossil fuels. He sees how interactions between species result in communities that benefit the inhabitants and how disruption of these communities can have unexpected results.
Haskell states that 'nature' is not a separate place and that by observing the forest he has come to see himself more clearly. He encourages us to find our own mandala that we can observe and whilst I don't have his in-depth knowledge or command of language, I have tools such as NatureWatch and the internet that will allow me to spin my web of connections. If you enjoy this blog then I strongly recommend getting hold of a copy of 'The Forest Unseen'.
Looking closer has opened up whole new worlds for me; Andy Murray's talk on Collembola and other critters prompted me to buy a 20x loupe (magnifying glass). After reading David Haskell's book, I went searching for higher magnification loupes and bought the selection below from Phoenix Imports on TradeMe (all links open in a new window).
|left to right: 60x currency loupe with white and UV light $6.99,|
a 30x jewellers loupe (no light) $3.99 and a 40x loupe with white light $5.99
I had an excellent demonstration of how we miss 'seeing' things as I unpacked my loupes. The Forest Unseen was sitting nearby and its front cover was used to check out each loupe. What looked like a smooth photo became quite different under magnification...
I've been looking for a spot, or spots, to set up my mandala - no convenient rock to sit on like David Haskell's choice spot. New Zealand bush will differ from that in Tennessee but I'm sure I'll find parallels especially at a fungi/lichen level. I'll keep you posted!