Jeff Gillman, a research scientist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, is known for his myth-busting books. His latest explores the complex relationship between trees and humans.
A hardwood stand contains trees of various ages on UPM Blandin Paper land, part of the Upper Mississippi Forest Project, in Grand Rapids, Minn., Wednesday, June 10, 2009. Hunters and hikers have lost access to swaths of the northern Minnesota forest in recent years, but taxpayers are stepping in to keep nearly 300 square miles near the Mississippi headwaters as is: Wooded and open to the public.
Q Why did you decide to write a book about trees dying? It seems sort of depressing.
A Yeah, the title is a little depressing, but I didn't write the book that way. It's supposed to teach people about what happens in a tree's life. This is not a book for diagnosing what's wrong with your trees. It's about human interaction with trees.
Q Can you give an example?
A Sure. Emerald ash borer. It's one of the most relevant pests of our forest today because ash is a North American native. It's going to be changing our boulevards, our back yards and our forests. And we are the primary reason this is happening.
Q What was your inspiration for the book?
A It actually came out of a conversation with the publisher. He was thinking about a more poetic book, and I was thinking about a more academic book. We met in the middle. I've been growing away from writing academic books because they're not as much fun to read. I want people to enjoy what I've written.
Q Your other books, "The Truth About Garden Myths" and "The Truth About Organic Gardening," are quick-hit, research-based books. Why did you decided to write in a narrative style?
A I wanted to see if I could.
Q You use anecdotes -- including one about a Detroit family's ash tree and another about a Bradford pear tree named Gus -- to help tell the story. Why?
A When I started out, I wanted to make this book completely real. But I couldn't point to one particular peach tree and know everything that happened in that tree's life. So I used examples that were inspired by real events, real trees.
Q Why do you feel you need to be an advocate for trees?
A In the past 50 years or so, we've started to pay attention to how our livestock is treated. Trees may not deserve the same type of treatment. I mean, I'm not advocating for People for the Ethical Treatment of Fruit Trees or anything. But when people walk into a store to buy an apple, they don't realize what that tree went through to produce that fruit. I'm just saying we should think about how we treat trees and our environment.
Q Is this book directed at a specific audience?
A I thought about that a lot when I was writing. I came up with two groups: people who like trees -- foresters gardeners, people who care about the environment -- and people who care where their fruit, their lumber, their paper comes from.
Q In your view, are our forests doomed?
A Our forests are one of our most important resources. They're not going to disappear. But they aren't going to be like they've been. To protect our forests, we need to be more serious about controlling invasive species -- both plants and insects. We need to recognize problems early on and we may need to do more planting.
Q Describe your connection to trees.
A I think the life of a tree is a romantic thing. When you go out into the woods and look at trees that are 100, 200 years old, it gives your heart a flutter. Well, at least mine does.
Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087