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Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England
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Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England

4.56 of 5 stars 4.56  ·  rating details  ·  272 ratings  ·  32 reviews
An intrepid sleuth and articulate tutor, Wessels teaches us to read a landscape the way we might solve a mystery. What exactly is the meaning of all those stone walls in the middle of the forest? Why do beech and birch trees have smooth bark when the bark of all other northern species is rough? How do you tell the age of a beaver pond and determine if beavers still live th ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published September 20th 2005 by Countryman Press
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A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from ... by Aldo LeopoldChanges in the Land by William CrononSilent Spring by Rachel CarsonReading the Forested Landscape by Tom WesselsUncommon Ground by William Cronon
Environmental Studies
4th out of 20 books — 8 voters
A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from ... by Aldo LeopoldWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardSilent Spring by Rachel Carson
Best Nature Books
116th out of 373 books — 271 voters

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Ecologist Tom Wessels is a master sleuth who investigates the changes in the forests of New England. Fires, logging, pasturing, beavers, insects, fungus, weather, topography and substrate all leave a stamp on the forest picture. Etchings by Brian D. Cohen illustrate the forest scenes discussed. Most chapters also have "a look back" section where interesting facts about glaciers, Native Americans, colonial history, historic hurricanes, and more are featured. The last chapter tells of Wessels' con ...more
This was a fascinating book, lent to me by my friend Fred (thanks Fred!). As I read it I kept thinking "now where was this book when I was in my ecology classes in college?" We often take the countryside and forest flora for granted when we walk through them. Not in the sense that we don't appreciate them, but we don't stop to ask ourselves "why these particular plants here?" That's the question I've asked myself since taking Bill Niering's classes all those years ago. Reading Wessels' book has ...more
Dec 18, 2013 Tom added it
Recommends it for: Any New Englander who loves to walk in the woods.
Recommended to Tom by: Philip Werner
I am so excited about this book.
First of all, it directly applies to where I live- on the Maine coast, at the northern extreme of the map at the front of the book. As I sit at my dinner table, I view 180 degrees of such a forested landscape.
The book is ingenious.
It introduces the idea of forest "disturbance histories", such as fires, logging, diseases, and the climatic changes in this area for the past several thousand years. Each of the 7 chapters focuses on a single type of disturbance
This is a must-read for anyone who spends time in the forest. The book teaches you how to be a forest sleuth and ascertain the history....logging, glacial, blight, etc of a particular stand of trees. The author writes in a style that is engaging and informative. In the end, you realize that you want to morally sign up to be a warden of New England's greatest resources:

"I am not just a tourist passing through, but a part of the landscape--a partner in its dialogue. Through this relationship I con
Carl Williams

This is a wonderful book; it contains much of the information that your grandfather would tell you if you were out tromping in the woods with him. Each chapter begins with an illustration of a typical scene in the woods in this part of the world and than dissects it, explaining what happened or might have happened to make it so. It's language is a bit abstract for the ninth graders I look at it with, but it brims with content. Good stuff.
Will Szal
I loved reading this book! I feel very at home in New England, and this book deepened this sense. I'm an amateur landscape-reader, and found that this book helped me know what's next in building this skill. By becoming more observant, we grow closer to our environment.

Interesting Tidbits

Almost all of the stone walls in New England were build between 1810 and 1840, and were a minimum of four-and-a-half feet tall! The traditional method of fencing used split rails, but deforestation led to a short
Curious about the minutiae of local patch of woods? This book is for you. Part Sherlock Holmes, part Bill McKibben, part Center for Land Use Interpretation. Learn how much of New England's rural landscape was shaped by thirty years of "sheep fever" from 1810-1840.
I plan to re-read this book again and again. There is so many wonderful pieces of information contained in this book that it was impossible to take it all in a single pass. The writing and language was very easy to follow and stay engaged in. The book answered questions that I never dreamed could be answered. As a Forrest roamer myself, I can hardly wait to put my new knowledge to use. I recommend this book to anybody who regularly strolls the Forrest and enjoys knowing why things are a certain ...more
Nancy Newton
This is a fascinating history of the forests of central NE. He teaches how to read the landscape and identify forms of forest disturbance like fire, loggin, and blight.
dead letter office
Really an amazing book for anyone interested in the outdoors and New England. He's one of those rare people who looks at things that thousands of people see every day and notices something unseen to all the others. (Roughly, he is to forests as Jane Jacobs is to cities.) It's entertaining, it's an easy read, and it will absolutely change the way you perceive your environment, if your environment is rural New England.

Really, really worth it.
This is an well-written, nicely-illustrated book that describes Wessels innovative work on teasing out the local history of woodland disturbance in the northeast U.S. with a detailed focus on central New England. Most of our woodlands are second or third growth; Wessels teaches us how to assess what happened and when to a woodland based on subtle clues like tree species composition, age and condition of existing trees, details of topography and substrata, and composition of stone walls. Disturba ...more
Great introduction to basics of forest ecology. For a New Englander interested in natural history and without much of an ecology background, it sheds light on many of the landscape features and processes that may be missed or misunderstood. A short read, big on the historical landscape usages that made our region what it is today. It was cool to have a portrait of our region's past so strikingly described by Wessels. It ends on a somewhat depressing note describing the contemporary problems fac ...more
Tom Wessels investigates nature etchings of Brian Cohen to reveal more than one dimension. Each scene represents an integral part of New England's history and ecology, as well as the botanical cycles of each plant that grows there. By learning about how these species have reacted to significant historical events, Wessels helps us interpret the forests at present, and possibly predict what may become of these specialized ecosystems in the future. This can all be done by looking for evidence in th ...more
Jun 03, 2008 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: New England residents interested in natural history
Shelves: non-fiction
I will read this book again and again. The way he breaks down the natural history of New England is fascinating, even intoxicating if you are into this stuff. At the beginning of every chapter there is a woodblock print of a forest scene. The chapter is spent analyzing the trees and landscape within, discussing what caused this or that. I learned more about New England from that skinny book than from any other single source since I moved here.
Fascinating book on deducing the history of a forest from details of the trees and ground: figuring out if it's been cut over (maybe multiple times), or burned, or the subject to past beaver activity. "Assigned" reading for a hike where we explored a blowdown area, and the parallels between the reading and seeing it in the field were amazing. Very accessible.
Read this for Ecological Dynamics of Landscapes class, but I would recommend this to any nature lover. I don't typically read non-fiction but this was a really great book. Easy, fascinating and enjoyable read. It is also a great reference book - you would never guess what you can tell about a forest just by looking!
Jun 11, 2007 Annie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: environmental educators and the curious
Shelves: environmental
I learned everything I ever wanted to know about the history of the woods from this book. Tom Wessels does a great job of making science accessible and also is a beautiful writer. The illustrations are to die for as well, but that's someone else. mmm. If I could read this book every day I'd be a happy camper.
Really great resource for learning how to "read" the landscape as a whole, not just identify species of bird and tree. Wessels says he has a more "forensic" guide coming out this summer; I took that to mean better indexed, cross-indexed, with some species id keys, etc. I look forward to reading that, too!
I really enjoyed this book. You will never look at the forest the same again after reading this book. Anyone who lives in New England should read this. There is so much history and wonder of the woods around us that shouldn't be kept secrect.
Perez Malone
I only have one quibble. the title should indicate that the book focuses on central new england. other than that, it was interesting, approachable, and useful.
I could hardly believe how much I learned from this book, not only about trees, but also about history. I am seeing the landscape around me with new eyes. Also picked up his new field guide, Forest Forensics, which has great photos.
This book has forever changed the way I see the woods around me- glacial erratics, age discontinuities- everything I learned from this book ten years ago (back at the Mountain School) makes every moment I spend outdoors richer!
This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. I learned SO much and have been already quoting it to my kids in Forest Ecology class. It has so much packed in it I feel like I need to read it again to take it in.
Great book! Makes you look at the world in a new way. This book explains how to read a particular spots' history (e.g. was this area logged? if so, what kinds of trees were taken? how long ago?)
Ford Wykoff
Great book on looking at the landscape in a much different light and history of New England. If you ever get to hear Tom Wessels speak about anything, he will lock you in your seat.
I fell in love with this book when I read it just months after it was first published. I re-read much of it while spending two months in Vermont in 2011, and came to love it again.
Apr 03, 2008 Kim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: science
It's amazing how much historical information is preserved the landscape. This book is equal parts nature and detective story -- it will give you new eyes in a forest.
This is a fascinating book! It talks about the history of New England as told by the evidence found in the woods... very engaging and informative! Highly recommended.
fabulously informative and mibd blowing. even if you don't live in new England, this book helps you to see the forest with a new set of eyes.
One of the best books I've read in years. There was so much to learn that I started rereading it as soon as I finished the first reading.
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