Over the years, I have kept in touch with DeKalb native
Richard Powers, who has become a widely acclaimed novelist and
winner of the prestigious National Book Award.
Those who were around here 40 years ago may recall Powers,
who graduated from DeKalb High in 1975. I know four of his teachers
Joe Locascio, Harriett Kallich, the late Mary Penson and
the late Betty Bischoff would be very proud of him.
His 12th novel may be the best seller yet, with kudos coming
in from reviewers all over the country. I quote from only one
BookPage: Vast, magnificent and disturbing
An array of human temperaments and predicaments as manifold as
Charles Dickens or Leo Tolstoys.
I have never
read anything so pessimistic and yet so hopeful.
Then I read the New York Times book critics glowing
review and emailed Powers to ask why he chose this subject. He
is on a nationwide book tour but found time to respond. It reveals
so much about his intellect that I will quote word for word from
Powers responded: I was teaching at Stanford and
living in Californias Central Peninsula, just between Silicon
Valley and the narrow strip of redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Richard Powers photo from his website
Cover of Powers new novel The Overstory"
I could feel the incredible tension between the future,
on one side the corporate headquarters of Google, Apple,
Intel, HP, Facebook and so many others and on the other
side, the past of the virgin American continent and our vanishing
connection to nature and wilderness. One day, hiking in the mountains,
I came across a gigantic, ancient redwood, as wide as a house,
as tall as a football field was long, and perhaps as old as Jesus.
And I realized what the ancient forests in the area
must have looked like before they were cut to build the culture
that would in time become Silicon Valley.
It occurred to me that our story was dependent on
the story of trees in a way that Id never come across in
I quit my job at Stanford and came back east, where
the broadleaf trees and forests of my childhood now opened up
to me in a way that I had never before felt. They had been invisible
to me all my life.
Now I was beginning to see, and I went to work writing
a novel where trees were taken just as seriously as people, and
indeed became half their story. (end of his quote)
I quickly downloaded The Overstory onto my
computer and began reading. It is so much easier to digest than
his 11th novel Orfeo, which lost me in the highly
technical details. But this time he picked a subject close to
my heart trees so I am enjoying every chapter.
I even sent him the recent column on my favorite trees, which
he may someday find time to read.
But for now he is totally immersed in his book tour, which
started on the East Coast in Philadelphia, New York City and
Cambridge, going all the way to the West Coast Seattle,
San Francisco, Los Angeles and then back to Asheville, North
Carolina, in May.
I found so many quotable gems, but space is limited. One
I will mention is a quote from Buddha: A tree is a wondrous
thing that shelters, feeds and protects all living things. It
even offers shade to the axmen who destroy it.
You can bet the Sierra Club will make this required reading
for its supporters. I once considered myself a tree hugger
and helped delay the inevitable destruction of the Arboretum
at NIU when I was with the Daily Chronicle in the early 1970s,
threatening to sit with students in front of a bulldozer if they
tried to level it. But years later they did decimate it.
Thank goodness we have activists and authors like Powers
who are a powerful reminder that trees, like humans, have a place
on this planet, and we have to be careful stewards.