Be More Tree: A Journey of Wisdom, Symbols, Healing, and Renewal, by Alice Peck, illustrated by Melissa Launay
Cico Books, 978-1782493389, 144 pp., 2016
Be More Tree: A Journey of Wisdom, Symbols, Healing, and Renewal began its life thanks to the author’s love affair with the maple tree growing in her back garden. Her deep love of trees permeates every page, and it’s clear illustrator Melissa Launay feels that same deep love, too. The illustrations really capture the essence of the trees, while Alice Peck’s writing is friendly and accessible.
The underlying premise is simple: trees have a lot to teach us and that if we paid more attention to how they exist in the world, we’d all do a better, happier job of how we exist in the world. Be More Tree — it’s a simple idea that isn’t hard to explore, and it has much to offer us.
Most of the book works as follows: there’s a two page piece for each tree. One page is a beautiful illustration and the other page is thoughtful text. The text will include something you can do to deepen your relationship with trees, and to thus enrich your life. There’s always a quote pertaining to the tree in question. Beyond that, the sections vary widely, including history and natural history, medicinal uses, myths, conservation issues, practical uses, little stories, personal anecdotes… you never know quite what you’re going to get, but each piece is fascinating and I learned a lot.
Being someone who gets exited about language and etymology, I particularly enjoyed the wordy insights that were new to me. For example “the Old English word boc, meaning “book”… shared its roots with the German Buch, with both words derived from “beech” as in the tree.” (p 51) As a person with a longstanding love for beech trees, I particularly enjoyed this page, with its autumnal illustration, and, to round things up perfectly, a quote from Thoreau about ‘tramping eight or ten miles’ to go and spend time with beeches and other favourite trees.
If you’ve never worked with trees, I can’t imagine a better place to start. If, like me, you’ve already read a lot of tree books and spent a lot of time on tree meditations and getting out amongst trees… I still very much recommend this book. It’s a warming, uplifting, affirming thing to have, ideal for dipping into when you need some top-up inspiration.
One of the things I especially liked is that this is a truly international book. There are trees here I will never meet on their home ground, and trees I know locally whose international reach I did not previously appreciate. There’s a little window here into other places, cultures, and landscapes, because you can’t talk about trees without talking about where they are rooted, the climates they live in, and what else lives around them. As this book is an invitation to be inspired, it doesn’t matter if we can’t go out and meet all of the trees listed in it.
You could use Be More Tree as a workbook, taking one tree at a time, exploring the practices, meditating on the information and the images, and move through methodically. You could have it to dip in and out of at need. You can also sit down and read the whole thing flat out — as I did over a couple of days, delighting in it and finding it to be a source of much needed respite from the troubling issues of human activity.