Madison Books hosted an event with Lynda Mapes and David B. Williams this autumn. The excerpt from their conversation with James Crossley was originally printed in the Madison Books newsletter. You can click here for more!
We’ve long been fans of their acclaimed writing about the human relationship with the natural world, and we’re delighted that we could get them on the same bill. Whenever two authors get together the conversation is more than twice as stimulating.
If you had to make an elevator pitch to a Hollywood mogul about turning your book into a movie, how would you describe it?
Lynda Mapes: Witness Tree is about the life of a single, 100-year-old oak and what it tells us about climate change. Seasons have shifted, its day to day life is different all the way to the cellular operation of its individual leaves. I live with my tree through four seasons, and its poetics and stoicism and constancy are twined with the very real challenge of living in a new world, made by us.
David B. Williams: For as long as humans have sought shelter, we have used stone. It is as elemental to our lives as water and fire and allows us to mark our place in the world. Whether it is a lone iconoclast building his home with rocks he found on a beach or a multinational conglomerate importing millions of tons of marble, we employ building stone to convey sentiments as mundane or grand as we desire them to be. This use of stone reflects the long relationship between people and nature—on levels scientific, emotional, and philosophical. By learning these stories, we not only learn about ourselves about the natural world around us.
LM: People think trees are just… standing there. Nothing could be further from the truth! From lifting hundreds of gallons of water hundreds of feet in the air without making a sound, to making the very air we breathe and cleansing climate-warming carbon dioxide pollution from the air and safely stashing it away, to hosting uncounted animals and feeding more than 100 vertebrate species on a protein-packed diet of acorns, I challenge any human to be as ceaselessly positive in their influence, sustainable in their lifestyle, and productive as any tree.
DBW: It’s not that we overlook things, it’s that we often take for granted the everyday beauty and complexity that is around us. I think this occurs for two reasons. First is that we don’t slow down and take the time to observe. The second is that we are often told that nature is out there, away from our daily lives. What Lynda and I are trying to do is show that intriguing natural and cultural history stories are no further than the nearest building or tree. I think if you approach the world wanting to be amazed, you will be and in doing so you will notice what others ignore.