The Songs of Trees: non-fiction prose that reads like poetry at times. I’m normally a pretty fast reader, and this book made me slow down and enjoy how he uses language, as well as the message he expresses.
For budding botanists and tree-loving kids, here’s a description of a maple tree. “Lime yellow flowers dust the maple tree’s canopy. Peppercorn-size bells hang from filaments at the tip of almost every twig. A westerly breeze rocks the bells and pollen smokes from their lips. The twig that I’m watching, held against its sensor, ends with a spray of a dozen filaments, each with six pollen-shaking anthers under its bells. The branch from which the twig emerges has nearly three hundred twig tips. There are fifty such branches on the tree. A million or more anthers on the tree; insects know this well. Thousands of tawny wasps and black-green bees bounce on anthers, a swir, a hum, audible only when I climb into the treetop.”
This description (p.156) of the maple continues by date, so you can read how the maple progresses through spring. What an alive way to learn botanical terminology! This book is full of this kind of alive, vibrant description of nature. I’ve listed below different components of the book and how it could be used for homeschool or education. I love this book, and have passages underlined and notes in the margin.
- Birds! So many are listed in the book. You can read about them and study how they interact with the trees and environments he is describing. Geography is an easy tie- in.
- History- so much is included, from excavations revealing ancient hazelnut trees to petrified forests, to more recent history like the fur trade in northern US and Canada. I have a new appreciation for hazelnut milk and nut butters!
- Geography/Science–beyond the ample living accounts of botany, there are a lot of other scientific bits to be gleaned. He goes into carbon dating in a way that made me understand easily and in a way I’d never grasped it before.
- Papermaking/Crafts and Art–sections on Japan talk about the history of paper making, and how Japanese paper is truly art. Rembrandt preferred Japanese paper for his sketches. Fun fact: in the nineteenth century, Japan was home to nearly 70,000 papermaking workshops.
- Money–what do we make money out of? What do other countries use?
- Social Studies: he works in historical figures like Thoreau and Muir, and includes a section that brings to light the inherent privilege of using a wild space, and how race and gender both play a role in what kind of nature you are comfortable exploring. For parents, references Cheryl Strayed’s ability to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone.
- Vocabulary: wow. I have a pretty broad vocabulary, but David George Haskill will bring to life new words for you and your kids.
Check out my Pinterest page (MindfulCharlotteMason) and follow as I collect images of the trees, birds and locations he covers in the book.