By Mary Ratcliff, OLWC Board Member, and Volunteer
The Overstory is, first of all, a story of trees. It is the story of the impact of humans on trees and the impact of trees on humans. Humans are an integral part of the story like the outcast biologist who discovers through careful observation the fascinating biology and behavior of trees. But in this novel, the trees are the most indelible characters such as the iconic old-growth forests in the west that fueled the growth of commerce through most of the 20th century culminating in denuded mountain slopes that beckoned activists who came to protect the trees.
In this book, the lives of the human characters intertwine with various species of trees connecting them to the past and the future. The story travels through time from pioneer days to the turmoil of the Vietnam war, into the time of the Timber Wars, a history OPB is now so vividly documenting and stretches into a future yet to be imagined.
Powers’ human characters are richly portrayed and range from artists to scientists, veterans to actors, office workers to anarchists, each connected deeply to a particular tree that changes their lives forever. Throughout the story the trees endure, bearing witness to the activities of the short-lived humans, all the while, taking in CO2, breathing out oxygen, and knitting together the ecosystems on which we need to survive.
As noted by the UK’s The Times, “The time is ripe for a big novel that tells us as much about trees as Moby Dick does about whales…”. Indeed, this book comes right when we need more than ever to understand, protect and celebrate trees and what they do for us.