THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

Book Cover

A distinguished British paleontologist offers a meticulously compiled “biography” of four acres of woodland in Oxfordshire, England.

In 2011, Fortey (Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behind, 2012, etc.) became the owner of a parcel of land known as Grim’s Dyke Wood. Eager to recapture the wonder of childhood, he soon began keeping a journal of the “diverse moods and changing seasons” of a place that, from the
beginning, had felt like home.

Fortey’s more scientific aim was to understand how the natural world had come to be so varied. For a year, the author wrote a month-by-month account of the flora and fauna of Grim’s Dyke Wood. The book begins in April, when “a sea of bluebells” and other flowers began to carpet the ground in colorful splendor. As spring moved into summer, pale, smooth-barked beeches created green leafy canopies that protected a revival of insect activity.

The mixture of rain with spells of hot, dry weather during the summer months created an environment that was generous in its gifts of wild cherries but also proved temporarily inhospitable to both microorganisms and small mammals. Early fall brought with it the joys of truffle and mushroom hunting. The cooler temperatures and rains of November signaled the end of reproductive cycles for spiders and other animals as well as the proliferation of unique fungi. Despite the cold and snow of winter, holly and ivy persisted and even thrived, and men came to fell trees “vying for space” or too sick to live. February brought a proliferation of mosses, which heralded new cycles of growth about to begin again. Replete with  photographs, recipes for homemade concoctions like ground elder soup and nettle fertilizer, and side stories of the people, past and present, who impacted the wood, this book will appeal to environmentalists or anyone interested in a richly tapestried natural history of south central England.

An eloquent, eccentric, and precise nature memoir