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The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring    by Richard Preston Amazon.com order for
Wild Trees
by Richard Preston
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Wild Trees is a big departure from Richard Preston's usual nonfiction works about deadly diseases, but it is just as unusual. This is a story of the giant redwoods of California and the people whose passion it is to climb them. It tells of daring adventure, but also of a humanity that holds great respect for some of Earth's dwindling survivors.

Wild Trees begins by revealing its real life characters. They mean very little to the reader at first, to the point where I wondered where it was all going. But as the book progresses, each of these individuals their life stories revealed come together because of their discovered love for the redwoods and their passion (what some might call obsession) for climbing them. There is Steve Sillett, a botanist who discovered his love for the gentle giants when challenged to climb one. Michael Taylor, son of a wealthy real estate developer, never amounted to anything until the day he decided to find the world's tallest redwood. Finally Canadian botanist Marie Antoine, whose mother died when she was young, was obsessed from a young age with trees and climbing them. These three are brought together from their seemingly turbulent lives to a place of escape and rest in the Humboldt and Mendocino counties of California. Perfecting the art of climbing, they are three of the few who have discovered most of the great redwoods that have come to be known today.

Preston himself has an obsession with redwoods, which becomes part of the book, as he travels with the trio, climbing trees but not always giving specific locations. These individuals are fully aware of the dwindling number of redwoods that might be thousands of years old, and wish to see them remain hidden and protected. A wild tree is one that has never been climbed, and Preston makes it clear that he wishes this to remain so for some trees. It is an interesting execution with Wild Trees, for while the author wishes to engage the reader's interest in these majestic creations that have stood the test of time, he also hopes to maintain this hidden Eden in a way that prevents it from being seen and experienced by readers. Nevertheless, the book provides an intriguing perspective on the history and importance of these mighty trees, about which little is known.

A delight with the audiobook is that it is read by the author, Richard Preston, adding to the account's tone and emotional resonance. His voice is clear and strong, keeping the reader's interest from start to finish. There is even a section where Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine each talk about their love for the redwoods and how important it is that we maintain them. The audiobook begins and ends with a chorus of chirruping birds, as the reader imagines thick reddish brown trunks reaching from the fertile earth to the cloudy heavens.

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