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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

4.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  361 Ratings  ·  39 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 (first published June 2nd 1997)
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A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo LeopoldChanges in the Land by William CrononReading the Forested Landscape by Tom WesselsSilent Spring by Rachel CarsonUncommon Ground by William Cronon
Environmental Studies
3rd out of 36 books — 12 voters
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There by Aldo LeopoldWalden by Henry David ThoreauA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie DillardDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Best Nature Books
99th out of 419 books — 371 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 817)
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Sep 22, 2014 Connie rated it it was amazing
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
William Handel
Jan 25, 2016 William Handel rated it it was amazing
I’ve read some great books over the years. Books that have entertained me. Books that have informed me. Books that have moved me. Some to high orders of magnitude. Yet, elusive has been the experience of which I can claim – entirely absent of effusive smarm – to have witnessed, almost in real-time, a distinct reorganization of the foundational manner in which I approach a subject. That rare piece of writing which adds some semblance of grounding to all those exhausted phrases: “mind bending,” “l ...more
Jul 22, 2012 Carol rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 04, 2012 Kayla rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2012 Carl Williams rated it it was amazing

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
Dec 02, 2014 Will Szal rated it it was amazing
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
Kay Rahardjo
Feb 29, 2016 Kay Rahardjo rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for avid hikers in New England. It contains rich info on botany and geology of the New England region, particularly Central NE which is north of where I live. Who knew that New England was covered by glaciers as recently as 15,000 years ago? That helps to explain the many huge--sometimes "house size"--boulders that you find in the forest. And Lake Vermont, some 700 feet higher than today's Lake Champlain, was five times larger than present day Lake Champlain. My home in Centr ...more
Apr 05, 2009 Curt rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 10, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it
A very well-written book about the natural history in a forested context in New England. The less-scientific approach was refreshing, but sometimes I really wanted more data. Beautiful illustrations and a lot of great information presented in an easy-to-understand way.
Apr 14, 2014 Ben rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
dead letter office
Jun 17, 2013 dead letter office rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 18, 2013 Billy rated it really liked 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
Feb 28, 2011 Tim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature-science
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
Dec 18, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing
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 28, 2015 Laurie rated it it was amazing
The next best thing to an actual walk in the woods. The language is calming yet insightful and informative.
Jun 03, 2008 Laura rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 16, 2014 Jon rated it really liked it
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.
J. D.
Mar 02, 2015 J. D. rated it it was amazing
A rewarding book for the natural history enthusiast. May want to buy one. Note: a matching field-guide exists.
Dec 30, 2010 Emily rated it it was amazing
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 it was amazing
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.
Jun 02, 2010 Kellyann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ecology
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!
Mar 21, 2015 Nancy rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 14, 2012 Jen rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2014 Perez Malone rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, tim-read
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.
Jun 10, 2011 Alexandra rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 07, 2015 Terri rated it it was amazing
I loved this book - I grew up in a wooded/rural area and yet I didn't know any of the stuff this book contained. I use what I learned in this book on my weekly hikes all the time. Awesome book! A must read for nature lovers!
Jul 01, 2012 Mara rated it it was amazing
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!
Oct 23, 2008 Betsy rated it it was amazing
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.
May 30, 2011 Mandy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature
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?)
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