Tree: a novel born of a Southern California watershed

February 21, 2018 § 3 Comments


Part 2 of books practical, lyrical and celebratory. Today’s offering:

The Lyrical: Tree

Tree’s author, Melina Sempill Watts, dedicated years to enhancing the Malibu Creek and Santa Monica Mountains watersheds through her work as a watershed coordinator at the Resource Conservation District there. She worked with stakeholders to support projects, obtain funding, and educate the public about protecting the treasured mountain resources that so much public money has preserved.

With the debut of her novel, Tree, Sempill Watts shows us just how deeply she treasures those resources as well. While a single California Live Oak tree is the story’s protagonist, the world of the watershed unfolds and adapts, it burns, floods, thrives, and reluctantly submits to asphalt and lawn. It is not only the history of our landscape – including our rivers and streams – but also of our interactions with it, and the hopes and heartbreaks that we imprint onto it. And as our shorter human lives intertwine with Tree’s arching narrative, our aspirations, our births and deaths fall into the rhythm of nature. The story of Tree is a story that includes us.Inventing the pronoun “e” to signify the Tree, Sempill Watts gives the tree an identity. She honors the relationship of many beings, including humans, to e, and to each other, and demonstrates the solace and love that can be experienced in nature. On another level, Tree provides me a sobering reminder that, when we plant a tree – we are planting for the future. And when we cut down a mature tree, we are ending the life of an organism that not only probably preceded us but is just hitting e’s stride.

The novel rests on research confirming communication between plants, melding it with spirituality and use of anthropomorphism – our human vehicle for empathizing with mute (to us) organisms. Tree and e’s world vibrates – and if you, too, have communed with the Santa Monica or other mountains, this novel may resonate. Sempill Watt’s prose is lyrical, and reminiscent of an Isabel Allende novel.

Delights await. Enjoy.


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