The Forest Unseen

The Forest Unseen

A Year's Watch in Nature

Book - 2012
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Reveals what can be understood about the natural world through the author's year-long observation of a one-square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest, explaining the scientific ties binding all life and how the ecosystem has cycled for millions of years.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2012.
ISBN: 9780670023370
Characteristics: xiv, 268 p. ;,22 cm.
Alternative Title: Year's watch in nature.


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JCLChrisK Apr 03, 2018

This book is a fascinating, enchanting, and joyful way to learn about nature. And our place in it.

Haskell randomly selected a square meter of old-growth forest in Tennessee and spent a year observing it. Hundreds of hours of silently sitting: watching, listening, smelling, and musing. Trying to discover what he might notice by slowing down and really focusing. And producing this series of meditative essays about the process, capturing through his scientific lens the poetic wonder of his experience.

His reflections are prompted by a wide multitude of different lifeforms he encountered: snails, newts, mosquitoes, ticks, flowers, trees, fungi, bacteria, mice, raccoons, birds, coyotes, wolves, deer, the distant sound of a chainsaw, and much, much more. He considers none of them in isolation, for the largest theme underlying every thought is the interconnectedness of all life. Cooperation and competition. Evolution and change. And how dynamic and interdependent everything is. Even humans.

He offers a far-ranging, intertwining mix of perceptive description, scientific detail, insight, and wisdom. Moralizing is minimal, though a deep appreciation of nature is taken for granted. Emphasized throughout are the complexity and fundamentally relational nature of life. His words echo that form, simultaneously free-flowing and piercing, creating clear images that are a delight to read. The Forest Unseen is an immensely enjoyable book.

Dec 28, 2017

The author is a biology professor and a poet. Both vocations illuminate his knowledgeable and lyrical prose about the natural world in an old growth forest set in the mountains of Tennessee. Each chapter captures his observations on weekly visits through a year to the same square meter of ground. Topics are wide ranging; e.g. lichen’s ability to thrive in the winter, snail vision, the role of xylem in trees, the life cycle of ticks, the effect of “sunfleck” on growth in the forest understory, and a journey down through the forest litter. Guaranteed to delight field naturalists.

Jul 22, 2015

A fascinating and informative look at nature: moths, snowflakes, mosquitoes and more. Told by an excellent writer.

Dec 16, 2014

This book of 245 pages consists of 44 short, stand-alone essays on nature that are informative, inspirational, entertaining and thought-provoking. I'd describe the writing as 'poetic prose'. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in nature. It makes me want to grab a handheld magnifier and take a walk in a nature preserve.

Nov 28, 2014

Seductive and delightful journey. Complete review here:

Mar 13, 2013

I am half way through this book and cannot put it down. While it is a bit choppy, the subject matter is one that we all experience around us and Haskell opens our eyes to see it all in a different way. Whether he is talking about how mosses hydrate or trees manage to get water up to their highest leaves, he does so with insight, humor and the ability to keep on interested in the matter at hand. While the format of a year in a place is old hat, he makes us experience his 'mandala' of land and invites us to share in its intimate secrets. A great read

Oct 07, 2012

This is a beautiful, gorgeous book. I cannot do it justice in a brief summary, It highlights, for example, stunning evolution in the strive to survive, ecology, and clear pictures that life is comprised of parts of what was once something else. Excellent, excellent perspectives and information.


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JCLChrisK Apr 03, 2018

To love nature and to hate humanity is illogical. Humanity is part of the whole. To truly love the world is also to love human ingenuity and playfulness. Nature does not need to be cleansed of human artifacts to be beautiful or coherent. Yes, we should be less greedy, untidy, wasteful, and shortsighted. But let us not turn responsibility into self-hatred. Our biggest failing is, after all, lack of compassion for the world. Including ourselves.

JCLChrisK Apr 03, 2018

We crave rich variegations of light. Too much time in one ambience, and we long for something new. Perhaps this explains the sensory ennui of those who live under unchanging skies. The monotony of blank sunny skies or of an endless cloud ceiling deprives us of the visual diversity we desire.

JCLChrisK Apr 03, 2018

We live in the empiricist’s nightmare: there is a reality far beyond our perception. Our senses have failed us for millennia. Only when we mastered glass and were able to produce clear, polished lenses were we able to gaze through a microscope and finally realize the enormity of our former ignorance.

Dec 28, 2017

The light and sound energies washing over the mandala find a point of convergence in my consciousness, where their beauty quickens a flame of appreciation. There is convergence also at the start of the energy's journey, in the unimaginably hot, pressurized core of the sun. The sun is origin of both the dawn's light and birds' morning songs. The glow on the horizon is light filtered through our atmosphere; the music in the air is the sun's energy filtered through the plants and animals that powered the singing birds. The enchantment of an April sunrise is a web of flowing energy. The web is anchored at one end by matter turned to energy in the sun and at the other end by energy turned to beauty in our consciousness.

Nov 28, 2014

The spinning maple seed that seems to helicopter through the forest is a samara. Maple samaras “live in a little-known border country between the aerodynamics of fast, large objects like cars and airplanes and the aerodynamics of slow, miniscule objects, like motes of dust.”


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Nov 28, 2014

Many individual days of exploring the same yard of forest. Scientist with poetic grace examines fungi, birds, mosses, shrews and others who pass through the examined yard.

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