WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Meetings With Remarkable Trees

Meetings With Remarkable Trees
by Thomas Pakenham

Random House, 1996
Paperback, 185 pp, $24.95
ISBN 0-375-75268-4

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    Thomas Pakenham is an award-winning historian ('The Scramble For Africa.') He is also chairman of The Irish Tree Society, and the expertise he brings to describing the ancient trees of the British Isles, is nothing short of 'remarkable' itself.
     This beautifully photographed volume denotes the history of sixty individual trees. The noble yew seems a favorite of Pahenham's, in its many forms. "Most of the younger generation of yew trees crouch meekly in the graveyard," he says. "This pair stand like pillars by the north door of St. Edward's, Stow-On-The-Wold. I admire their audacity…I suppose they were planted some time in the 18th century to frame the north door…now the roots are spreading like lion's paws, and toying with the Victorian boot scraper. I hope this will divert their attention from knocking down the church."
     He seeks out and photographs 'Maples As Pink As A Shrimp,' 'The Best And The Worst Of Limes' and 'The Cave At Crowhurst,' which is a living, hollow-trunked yew in Surrey with an open interior diameter of six feet. When it was excavated for a living quarters early in the 19th century, a cannonball was found embedded in the wall. "When I photographed it in 1994," Pakenham says, "the door was ajar but no one was at home."
     Another yew mentioned dates by legend to the 16th century as the site where Lord Morton and his conspirators plotted the murder of the Earl of Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots' second husband. "Its bole is only eleven feet in girth, and hardly much taller, but the branches form a vast drooping dome 60 feet high and 400 feet in circumference." The full-page photograph is taken from the interior in daylight, which may be the most prudent time to visit this spooky site.
     You may think you 'know' trees, but Pakenham's presentation will astonish. Aside from the reader greedily figuring potential board feet of timber, the beauty evoked in this volume of ancient living things is just plain overwhelming.

...Barb Siddiqui