Embedded In Harvard Forest For One Year, To Study One Tree

May 10, 2017

Author Lynda Mapes spent a year in the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, chronicling a single tree. This red oak stands in one of the oldest and most intensively studied research landscapes in North America. 

It's what was called a "Witness Tree" in the 18th century -- a tree that's stood tall through forest cutting and caterpillar infestations, and used by surveyors as landmarks. 

Lynda Mapes, on her year embedded with the tree in the Harvard Forest:

"I have spent so many hours napping under this tree. Thinking. Climbing. Photographing. Making notes. Being with my tree. It's a very special tree, and it is a repository of so much time and so many memories and it will persist long after I do. And that's how it is with trees. I think that's why we care so much about them."

On black flies:

"I come from [the] Northwest, which is a very benign place -- nothing is after you. So New England -- to me -- these bugs are the tigers of the Serengeti. It is unbelievable!"

On the smell of damp bark:

"And that beautiful, fructifying, soilicious smell -- I mean, it's just penetrating and dimensional and it took me right back to my childhood."