Every once in a while a book comes along that resets the compass of writing. Lorne Rothman’s tale, Southcrop Forest, sets a new standard for ecological literature.
An exciting tale about Auja, a young red oak, and Fur– a collective conscience from a colony of tent caterpillars–Rothman has created an eco-fable as magical as a Tolkien adventure even as he teaches forest ecology. We learn about the imperiled state of the forests at the hands of “hewmans.”
Auja lives in Southcrop Forest where trees retain the ability to communicate across the land through their roots, soil, and leaves–Southcrop Vision. Forests were once connected across the world and could communicate by feeling each others sensations. That was before the hewmans cut down the trees, separating forests by false rock (roads or highways) and their rapacious machines chewed down ancient trees and killed the farms that had kept them alive for eons.
As the story opens, we learn that Southcrop Forest is on the verge of destruction. Auja awakes full of hope and joy, glorying in the sunlight, when the remembrance of their doomed future makes her boughs droop. She is watching a group of fuzzy caterpillars nibbling away in her canopy when suddenly a voice speaks to her! At first Auja thinks it is her fellow trees who whisper continuously but then she realizes the voice is coming from the colony of tent caterpillars. Fur introduces herself to Auja and explains that her colony is a Rune–an ancient being that arose at a Gathering of trees and people a thousand years before.
Guide Oak, a wise being, guides Auja to engage Fur to travel to the Dark Forest (Boreal Forest) to obtain a special gift and take it to Deep Sky where it will save the forests to the north of Southcrop. And thus, the epic journey begins.
Along the way readers learn about the life cycle of the tent caterpillars, their viral and insect predators; the ancient geological history of the land and how trees repopulated the earth after the Big Ice (ice age.)
The mysterious “gift” is the Holy Grail Fur toils to find. He must cross the false trails, battle rogue wasps and a viral plague that infects the forests he travels through.
Rothman, a zoologist, provides young readers with endnotes rich with scientific nomenclature; Old Norse lore; Native American history; chemistry and climate change science which can be easily used in a classroom or enrich the understanding of young and adult readers alike.
This book offers the reader a blend of the magical with the hard realities of the human ecological footprint on the natural world. Through nonhuman characters we see the folly of the “hewman” (a brilliant play on words) from wisdom that understands the web of life as the source of life itself.
The last sentence in the story makes me believe Rothman plans a sequel. I hope so. Southcrop Forest should be required reading for all youth–a textbook and a legend for a new generation and an ecological age.
3 thoughts on “A Tale of Hope from a Dark Forest”
Susan, I envy your deep appreciation for the magical and optimistic–or at least, this tale has a message that balances hope with the reality in a way that hope has a chance to win out in the long run. I, on the other hand, seem drawn to books that strike a different balance. Today I returned to a book I had put aside a few weeks ago, “The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crisis.” There, for instance, we read about the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s dire warning that “human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”
Now, let me be clear. This book does present reasons for hope, including the kinds of activities Sustainable Gulf Coast/350 Pensacola are engaged in. In fact, I suggest it as a book to read to motivate all of us to continue, to forge ahead in the face of challenges that require all our efforts. It is just that such a detailed accounting as the book gives of our human gluttony gives us a new understanding of how our evolutionary path is particularly unsustainable. Our ecological crisis–our degradation and destruction of Southcrop Forest–is a product of our ‘hewman” genetic endowment. Humans are not alone in their quest for evolutionary success by expanding to occupy habitats and exploiting all available resources. Of course we also hope we can evolve in a new direction–or adapt–in time to avoid the ultimate consequences of our persistent growth, consumption, and destruction.
But, enough. It’s a beautiful day for a bike ride.
Sounds interesting, hope it’s not too late.
The author was teaching middle school science when he wrote and published the book. Through the story, Rothman teaches ecological principles and explores values related to preservation of the Boreal Forest of Canada, not far from where he and his family live. The reason I ordered the book, in 2008 and read it immediately, is my life-long focus on transforming educational experiences for youth. Larry, there is little difference between this book for youth and the one that you are reading – in fact the science references on each page of the book are more effective than any adult nonfiction presentation on climate change I have yet to read. Order a copy and check it out. I think its important to be open to all forms of communication to achieve the same goals. By helping youth reflect on their own locale, igniting their imagination and empowering youth (similar to what Hunger Games attempts) we can hopefully bring along an enlightened new generation whose hearts and minds are engaged in ecological restoration.