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The Trees in My Forest

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The soaring majesty of a virgin forest and the intertwined relationships of plant, animal, and man are the subject of Bernd Heinrich's lyrical elegy. Heinrich has spent a lifetime observing the natural world, and now he shares his vast knowledge and reflections on the trees of the Northeast woods and the rhythms of their seasons.

From the DNA contained in an apple seed to the great choiring branches far beyond a young boy's reach, Heinrich explores a natural world in scientific and personal terms. Heinrich is a scientist, but his words speak with the power and subtle grace of a poet. He uses this gift, and his intimate knowledge of his 300 acres of Maine forest, to expose the forest's rhythms, and in doing so, illustrates the vital but tenuous link among man, trees, birds, insects, and all the creatures of the forest. Thanks to Bernd Heinrich, readers will finally see the forest and the trees.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Bernd Heinrich

62 books583 followers
Bernd Heinrich was born in Germany (April 19, 1940) and moved to Wilton, Maine as a child. He studied at the University of Maine and UCLA and is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Vermont.

He is the author of many books including Winter World, Ravens in Winter, Mind of the Raven, and Why We Run. Many of his books focus on the natural world just outside the cabin door.

Heinrich has won numerous awards for his writing and is a world class ultra-marathon runner.

He spends much of the year at a rustic cabin that he built himself in the woods near Weld, Maine.

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5 stars
389 (37%)
4 stars
429 (41%)
3 stars
168 (16%)
2 stars
34 (3%)
1 star
9 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for Karima.
724 reviews12 followers
February 1, 2018
A friend lent me this book saying, "It reads like a novel". True. Though a non-fiction book about the 300-acre woodland owned by the author, it is written in an easy, rambling style. Almost as good as if you were actually ambling through the woods with Mr. Heinrich, who is a biologist, naturalist, professor and award-winning runner.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in trees and our interconnectedness with them and with the whole world for that matter. I will never look at a tree, living or dead, in the same way. Neither a wasp. Nor an ant.
My only criticism is that he refers to the forest and its contents as "his". MY forest, MY trees, My pine stand, My spruce, My raven. Perhaps he uses this possessive pronoun because the forest and all its teeming life forms are part of his family.
The final chapter is excellent. It should be mandatory curriculum in biology classes.
84 reviews
January 7, 2011
Compared to The Mind of the Raven, this Heinrich book has a much greater focus on ecosystem than individual species biology. It is excellent. It approaches the book which is my favorite in this category, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. The book is a beautifully written collection of essays and observations on Heinrich's forest, property he purchased more than three decades ago, in the north Maine woods. Heinrich makes well the argument for conserving natural forests and critiques the planting of tree plantations as deforestation and ecosystem destruction. Much is learned about plant biology and physiology, but not in a textbook style. Finally, this book is enhanced by the illustrations which pop up here and there and combine with the text as sorts of plants within a word forest. I could not find an artist's credit so I assume these are the drawings of Heinrich. These are excellent illustrations, made all the more appealing by the fact that they were done by the author rather than a professional illustrator.
Profile Image for Sophy H.
1,241 reviews61 followers
April 30, 2020
Well, Bernd Heinrich is my new dude! He is to the US what Roger Deakin is to the UK!

I absolutely loved this book. It was exquisite. Nature appreciation and understanding at its finest.

If you like trees in any way shape or form, read this book, that's all I can say!!
Profile Image for Irene.
949 reviews60 followers
August 17, 2022
Heinrich's a generalist, and has a way of looking at a forest holistically that I find invaluable. He and his wife noticed patterns in growth, flowering and fruiting that changed quite dramatically from one area to the next in many different kinds of trees. Because he lived in that forest for a long time and also made a point of looking at the records for past years, he's seen how tree growth progresses, that pioneer trees, in time, inevitably make way for slower growing seedlings, and that encouraging diversity is one of the best ways to take care of the ecosystem. I'd love to go visit.
Profile Image for Amy.
8 reviews1 follower
February 9, 2014
This was an easy, entertaining and informative read. Heinrich immerses you in his 300-acre forest in Maine where he has lived for over 20 years at the time of writing. He invites you to walk with him among the stately giants in his forest and simply observe, taking in the simple yet profound wonders of the natural landscape. He knows his trees as intimately as good friends. His immense knowledge of forestry along with his poetic and philosophical writing style help to convey his sense of awe at the intertwining of life in the forest ecosystem. Pleasantly, it also reads like a journal. It's almost as if you are accompanying him on his many wandering walks. You can practically smell the pine pitch and feel the warmth of the sunlight coming through the leaves. His words pay homage to the cathedral that he considers his forest, flowing by with such poetic ease that the chapters just slip past like a gentle stream.

This book renewed my interest in trees as living beings, and encouraged me to take a closer look. While many of us get accustomed to trees as unmoving objects, Heinrich succeeds in really bringing them alive so that you can envision their growth pattern in tree-time, moving and bending as they fight to edge out their neighbors in the struggle for sunlight and survival. Each tree uses a different method, and of their habits Heinrich divulges a great deal of interesting facts. He makes an interesting speculation that deciduous trees evolved to lose their leaves in fall because with them they wouldn't be able to survive the weight of the snow on their branches. He takes careful notes throughout the years which all come to bear on his theories that he shares here. It particularly amazed me to learn how readily and flexibly trees adapt to changes in their immediate environment.

What I really enjoyed was Heinrich's general approach to writing about the forest. He excels at capturing the magic as well as the mystery of the woods. He approaches the forest with much the same respect as I do, in a way that I think is shared by many a New Englander who has grown up in them: with a sense of reverence, awe and neverending curiosity.
Profile Image for Michael.
218 reviews44 followers
January 3, 2016
Heinrich has a marvelous and infectious curiosity about the way the natural world works. He communicates his sense of wonder with great effectiveness while recording observations and advancing hypotheses about the ways trees work in a forest setting and how they contribute to the functioning of an effective ecosystem. A good companion read for this book would be Colin Tudge's The Tree. Heinrich's view of the ecosystem with its keystone species as a stable product of many millennia of complex coevolutionary processes varies from some more recent thinking on the transitory nature of interspecies relationships (v. Fred Pearce's The New Wild), but it is among the best examples of field biology presented in an engaging narrative that makes it both interesting and accessible for non-specialist readers.
Profile Image for Daphyne.
473 reviews19 followers
April 2, 2019
I love books that are a mix of nature, science, & nostalgia. Bernd Heinrich, a professor of biology, bought 300 acres of forest land in Maine and shared it with us tree by tree. It made me homesick for the east coast of my childhood. The red oaks, birch trees, elderberry, sugar maple, tent caterpillars, pileated woodpeckers, and even acorn caps turned into whistles. I can see them all in my head and heart. But the book is richly illustrated in pencil drawings for those unfamiliar with the plant species mentioned.

Down East Magazine said, “Heinrich’s work convinces you that science originates in the amateur curiosity we all possess as children, when the world is new.”

So true.
Profile Image for Dave Hoff.
712 reviews25 followers
March 8, 2015
Again, a gift book from a grandson, it's a book every Tree Farmer should have in his library. Author has a Forest Management plan and I was very pleased with his long range plans. We differ on "plantations (rows of pines) but I respect his thinking. Much info thru out the book.
Profile Image for Jack.
33 reviews
June 17, 2017
I finished this book early yesterday and began to read it again from the beginning last night. It's the best book on plants I've read in years, and it leaves the reader smiling from the newly gained knowledge of just how intelligent and capable the plant world is. Trees feed and talk with neighboring trees, and if one gets ill, the others around it of the same species will feed it and even give it water. Trees of differing species also help one another at times and in certain situations.

The book also tells about the relationship trees have with the insect world, and how they are able to communicate with predatory insects like wasps by way of pheromones to help them rid themselves of insects eating their leaves. They communicate with other trees, also, when attacked by insects, and the warned start producing toxic sap that makes their leaves unpalatable.
Profile Image for Lois.
107 reviews2 followers
September 24, 2020
Reading many of these essays is like sitting down with a good friend to talk about what is happening in his patch of woodland. Which is how I felt as I sat outside a hospital in Cambridge, MA waiting for a friend to have tests done, surrounded by city buildings but enjoying a discussion of some aspect of his Maine woods. I don't remember which essay I was reading, perhaps it was about a moose ambling up to an apple tree in the fall for a snack, or the birth, life and death of one particular tree, or a discussion of the ubiquity of mycorrhizal fungi and their role in the life of his forest.

I found some essays more interesting than others, which is more a reflection of my interests than of the author's writing. Published in 1997 and still worth reading.
Profile Image for Msr2d2.
171 reviews4 followers
May 31, 2021
Książka relaksująca równie dobrze, co spacer po lesie. W dodatku nie ma w niej kleszczy i na tę wyprawę każda pogoda jest dobra. Same plusy i tyle. :D
Profile Image for KA.
876 reviews
September 28, 2012
Re: the blurb: there's no "virgin forest" in this book, as Heinrich makes very clear. Also, the blurb-writer needs to look up "elegy," because there is really nothing elegiac here either.

What there is is fascinating insight into forest ecology (of a once burnt or clear-cut, regrown forest, as most New England forests are) in a rather haphazardly organized manner (just makes it more fun to read!). There are discussions of ancient equisetum forests 100 feet tall, the history of the use of white pine, tree/fungus symbiosis, and the physics of snow and branches. Heinrich also discusses responsible management of a diverse forest versus tree plantations, which are often touted as being environmentally "sustainable" but are in actuality sterile places inimical to life and to healthy streams and soils. Overall, though, Heinrich's language is that of either a poet ("We balance on a ray of light and an oxygen molecule. Functions based on such delicacy are easily disrupted" [19]) or the kind of kid I was, and still am at heart ("on an afternoon in late July 1996, I sat down to do some serious ant-watching" [192]). All in all, a wide-ranging, delightful book.
Profile Image for Sara Van Dyck.
Author 6 books12 followers
October 31, 2015
Wonderful read. Heinrich’s stories of his investigations in his forest show us how a scientist figures things out. He watches buds develop, measures acorns, and wonders about the growth patterns of trees. It’s all personal, intimate, and through his observations of this one patch of forest Heinrich explains a great deal of forest ecology in action. It’s careful, detailed. And then his feelings of scorn and anger emerge when he looks at the way forest management practices permit tree plantations. As he says,”Calling the growth of wood on plantations ’forest management’ is the same as defining the farming of corn in Iowa as ’prairie management’. “ Heinrich was writing about his Maine woods, but his analyses are equally valid and troubling today in the far northwest where I live.
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews409 followers
August 7, 2019
93rd book for 2019.

I am a big fan of Heinrich's writing, but this discussion of tree biology, based mostly on observations of trees on his plot of land in Maine, didn't do much for me. Perhaps if I knew nothing about tree biology this would have been more interesting; instead I found it was either telling me things I was already familiar with or just wasn't that interesting. It was perhaps spoiled by reading Richard Powers The Overstory earlier this year, who's fictional work covers a lot of similar ground—at least in terms if biology—but in a richer/deeper fashion.

Profile Image for Gina.
7 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2016
It's definitely important to keep in mind the differences between perspective, curiosity, and hard science while reading this book. I've heard others criticize the book for scientific inaccuracies, but I think that Heinrich was simply exploring his curiosity about trees in such a way that allowed him to further his understanding of trees and nature. This book was clearly not written to disseminate hard scientific facts, and to claim so is to lose sight of the point of the book - connection and exploration within nature.
Profile Image for Mathilde Paulsen.
755 reviews25 followers
August 30, 2019
Rating: 3.5 stars.

This was... interesting. I listened to it as an audio-book and I mostly started it because of the cover and a feeling of wanting to learn something new. To begin with, I found the storytelling very boring and dull and I struggled to find entertainment in it. Then I started learning new things and realized I was watching the trees around my house with a new set of eyes. This was not the most engaging book, but I found it entertaining and insightful, and in the end I found I had enjoyed my time listening to a man talking about the trees in his forest.
Profile Image for Teri-K.
2,066 reviews44 followers
December 17, 2014
Though there was some interesting information in this book a great deal of it was either too technical or just not interesting enough to keep my attention. I was disappointed not to find it as good as his book "Winter World", which I loved.
7 reviews
January 28, 2017
The Trees in My Forest is an engaging tour of everything you ever wanted to know about the trees and forests of the American northeast. From the perspective of his own plot of land in Maine, Heinrich displays an intimate and intricate knowledge of everything from what exactly it is that makes something a tree, to the role of fungus in the forest, to the particular way that evergreens grow. (I'll never look at a double-stemmed pine tree in quite the same way again.) Each short, clearly written, and easily digestible chapter focuses on one aspect, twining together Heinrich's own observations with well-researched science. The dominant theme throughout the book is evolutionary biology, exploring how intense competition, primarily for light, drives natural selection in the forest, and the many ways that trees and other forest organisms have adapted to their particular situations and to each other to create a complex ecosystem. Heinrich also reflects on the science and economics of "forest management," relating his own experiences in nurturing a diverse forest while producing usable wood along the way, and delivering sharp condemnation of not only clear-cutting, but also the monoculture tree plantations that typically follow in its wake, remarking, "Calling the growing of wood on plantations 'forest management' is the same as defining the farming of corn in Iowa as 'prairie management.'"
Profile Image for Susan Ferguson.
965 reviews19 followers
February 3, 2022
Very interesting read - very good. I think a must read for people interested in the interaction of trees in a forest environment - and trees in general. Lots of fascinating information, a lot of it anecdotal but the research is out there. Heinrich is a professor of biology in Vermont, but he owns 300 acres in Maine near where he grew up. It was former pastureland, abandoned and then purchased by a logging company which cut off the trees they wanted and then sold it before they had to pay taxes on it. He purchased the property and has made a profit by selectively cutting trees he did not want which were old or damaged or dying. He then turned thick stands of mostly white pine and aspen and firs by seeding other trees (black walnut, beechnut, etc.) and turning it into a forest - not a tree plantation. He has attracted deer and moose back to the area along with other wildlife and watches a lot of it from his small cabin that he built there. He has selectively planted other trees near his cabin and often hikes through his forest and observes the interactions of nature. He comes up with a lot of questions, but has found many answers in publications from articles and books by other scientists.
Makes me want to try to do something with all the trees we've got. First, I've got to figure out what trees we do have. There were once some orchards on this land that are now gone - but, what if?
Profile Image for David.
54 reviews
March 3, 2023
Another beautifully written book by Bernd Heinrich. This one has each chapter devoted to explaining one fascinating observation he has made in the forest on his property. This book does not have the clear story arc of other books of his, but the overarching theme is the beauty and resilience (and monetary value) of native forests. What I particularly appreciate about this book is that Heinrich chooses to separate the pontificating on conservation from the story by creating an appendix in which to educate the reader about unsustainable plantation practices and the devastating effects of these on native forests. I think structuring his book in this way makes his conservation message far more palatable to the reader than when the entire book feels like a rant (Silent Spring; Waldon). But the book still felt a little academic, and so wasn't exactly a page turner, hence 4 stars rather than 5.
Profile Image for Jennifer Madachik.
4 reviews6 followers
December 11, 2017
This was actually the second time I've truly sat down and read this book. I'm amazed at the appreciation the author shows for the things he notices on his land. It reminds us all to take a minute, observe and appreciate the lessons nature had to teach us. More importantly you can't read it without learning something that reminds us we have a responsibility to protect all that nature has to offer. Reading it now compared to twelve years ago, brought different feelings. Then it was a deeper appreciation in my time spent meditating in nature. Today it is a sense of urgency to act, learn, protect, and record every moment and piece of the natural world we have left. A reminder to observe what nature is telling us and how delicate that balance is. It has many lessons to teach us as this man learned from taking the time to reflect on the trees in his forest .
224 reviews
June 17, 2017
The story of Bernd Heinrich's love affair with a 300-acre tract of wood of Maine. The land, overgrown farm pasture and second-growth forest, was bought at a discount after a lumbering company had cleared the timber they wanted. Originally planning to keep just a small part for a cabin retreat, the author soon fell in love with the entire lot and wouldn't part with it. He also discovered that, despite the abuse and neglect it had endured, the land easily paid for itself financially. The non-financial value for him was immeasurable.

This is a modern-day version of Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac," and Heinrich almost seems to be channeling Leopold at times (not a bad thing!). Heinrich puts the challenges of ecology versus human civilization in a modern setting, although sadly a number of issues raised by Leopold are still relevant today.
Profile Image for Joe.
126 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2019
This is a lovely read about how trees have evolved over time and about the fragile ecosystem of forests. The author is excessively knowledgeable and shared tons of interesting facts. I can see why others would readily give this book four or five stars. For me, the style was too chillaxed. If I were to read excerpts out loud, I would feel the need to whisper as though I was a golf commentator. I found myself spacing out and even drifting off to sleep too frequently and having to read passages several times. The book ended on several high notes to include a surprise guest at the author's cabin in the final chapter and the entirety of Appendix A in which he laid out a sensible and somewhat passionate explanation of why the timber industry should log from genuine forests instead of relying on unnatural methods such as clear cutting and planting "sustainable" forests.
Profile Image for Vincent Ribeiro.
58 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2019
Wow! Absolutely floored by what a beautiful world Bernd has gifted us. Through his eyes we enter the lives of, literally, the trees in his forest where he lives, as the title suggests. From their reproduction, their evolution, their struggle for resources like light, water, area, their fight against, and collaboration with each other, a world of life opens up to us unlike anything I would have expected. One must be truly passionate about life to be able to write essays on trees. It might be easy to write about lovers, about history, about humans and characters that are so easily relate-able to the reader, but to be able to bring forth a story on the trees in your backyard speaks to the passion and peacefulness I imagine Bernd experiences when he takes a breath and walks through the woods.
Profile Image for Alexa.
158 reviews
October 11, 2021
It took me a long time to read this whole book, clearly. However, each chapter was easily a self-contained essay with only minor reliance on the prior chapters for context. I always enjoy his writing style and the way in which he discusses nature. One of the most interesting parts of the book was Appendix A where he discussed the problems with tree plantations and how they are not the “sustainable forestry” methods they claim to be. It’s an issue I was totally unaware of. For example, Finland is classified as 87% forest, but 98% of that forest is even-aged monocultures of exotic species. Astounding.
Profile Image for Ricky.
443 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2021
I think this is a book that really depends on the reader being interested in the subject matter. It's just a modern nature-lover rambling on about all sorts of random forest-related things. Stuff that interests him, or that he's noticed, or questions he would like to be answered. He's both inquisitive and appreciative. I enjoyed it so much that read it cover to cover in one sitting, but honestly couldn't tell you what I learned. I do think it will make me stop and think about natural systems a bit more.
Profile Image for Corina Murafa.
129 reviews24 followers
April 23, 2022
A rare type of reading. Highly scientific, yet very accessible, based on the real life observations of nature made over the span of two decades made by a regular guy who bought a forest simply to enjoy life in a cabin every now and then. Surprising facts about the amazing adaptation capacity of trees and wildlife and amazing mythbusting on wood logging and how damaging that process is to a forest ecosystem. The writing style is accessible, picturesque and evokes natural beauty with great astuteness.
Profile Image for Janie.
405 reviews3 followers
February 8, 2019

This thought has rolled around in my head for weeks:

"Nothing, it seemed, would now stop the extinction of yet another dominant tree species by the inadvertent introduction of an alien organism. The pathogens may have come in only a microscopic cell. But one organism, even one cell, packages enough information to wipe out the entire population of a tree species over the entire continent, despite all human efforts to control it."
96 reviews2 followers
November 23, 2021
An interesting peek into a New England forest. Mostly I wanted to feel like I was in a New England forest again, and it wasn't lyrical enough for that kind of transport. But it did have lots of interesting observations, and I am glad that there is someone that is there, noticing and asking questions. I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews

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