My cousin Bob Mushroom

tree

Since I lean increasingly towards nature writing, I find myself ordering Kindle books on the topic. I’m delighted with my latest purchase: The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter by Colin Trudge. In very accessible prose, he provides a truly refreshing “refresher” course in basic biology.

 

In high school, as I was on the college track, I was instructed to take chemistry and physics, rather than biology. Maybe biology was considered a lesser science then. In college Biology 1A and B, I barely scraped by. I was a liberal arts gal.

baobab

Baobab tree- Adansonia grandieri

Fast forward fifty years: Now I realize that I want to deepen my understanding of the scientific foundations of the natural world — the evolution of scientific names for things and Carolus Linaeus’ system of classification: species, genus, orders, classes and kingdoms (later phylum was inserted between class and kingdom and domain added after kingdom). Add to that the later use of phylogeny, the family tree of the natural world demonstrating the relationship between the different groups of creatures. I’m learning (or maybe relearning?) biological concepts like analogous and homologous, convergence and divergence, and most confusing to me, haploid, diploid, polyploid and tetraploid (which has to do with genetics, hybrids, chromosomes and all that stuff that gave me so much trouble in college biology). Fortunately, I don’t have to take a test on this material, but just grasping the broad concepts is enhancing my wonder for the complexities, order and vastness of nature.

I totally share Mr. Trudge’s love for the idea that we humans are literally related to all things. He plays with the notions that “apes are our sisters, and mushrooms our cousins, and oak trees and monkey puzzle are our distant uncles and aunts.” (Uh — I’d like you to meet my cousin Bob Mushroom.) Like when involved in a good novel, I can’t wait to get back to Mr. Trudge and his trees. On to chapter three: How Trees Became.

Today, as I walked down the street, I looked at the city trees with new eyes and wondered what they were saying to each other. If only I knew their language.

 

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