Kathleen Dean Moore started with the basics Wednesday when describing Richard Powers’ 2018 novel “The Overstory” at a Random Review session at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.
Weight: 1.65 pounds, a potential nose-breaker, she said, for those reading in bed
Print size: adequate
It’s also, she said, “a brilliant, monumental story (five stars on her five-star scale) that could not be more relevant today.”
Moore, author, environmental activist and emeritus professor at Oregon State University, said she has read the novel three times to appreciate its various levels, and one gentleman in the standing-room-only crowd said during the Q&A session that he already had read it thrice and planned to go back for a fourth now that he has heard Moore talk about it.
The book tells the tale of a series of unrelated people whose appreciation for trees propels them to Oregon, where they wind up involved in the 1980s “timber wars” over how much of the state’s timber would be cut and how much would be saved.
Powers’ model for the “Franklin Forest” in the book is the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, an Oregon State University research property in the headquarters of the McKenzie River. Moore, whose presentation was illustrated with a dozen or more slides, said Powers nailed the forest perfectly with phrases such as:
• “Steep steely streams scour.”
• And when walking in the forest, “the Earth gives like a shot mattress."
• “Water cold enough to kill all pain.”
The book opens with individual chapters on how the book’s characters wound up in the Northwest. The book’s closing three chapters are called “Trunk,” “Crown” and “Seeds.”
“It’s so perfect,” Moore said. “I bet he just laughed and laughed when he came up with that … and probably woke up his wife.”
Moore said she sat up in bed and said “Oh, no … oh, no” at a death that occurs and adds “the great thing about a novel is that you are greeted with all of these surprises but by the end of the book you realize that they all were inevitable.”
Big chunks of Moore’s presentation and the discussion that followed in the Q&A period involved the value of trees and their ability to heal and defend themselves and “communicate” with other trees.
“Forests are part of a communal enterprise. They help each other," Moore said. "Trees are aware, and we are learning more and more about them. Trees clearly have souls.”
They also are key contributors to the fight against climate change.
“Old-growth forests are the most powerful carbon-sucking system in existence,” Moore said. “And the trees in the Coast Range are the best at that sucking and storing of carbon.”
Moore showed a slide of an aerial look at the Siletz Gorge, which was a maze of green shapes of trees and brown shapes of clear-cuts.
The best way to see the damage to Northwest forests, Moore said, is to get up in a plane and fly over the Coast Range.
One audience member politely disagreed, however, noting that “it is more ecologically sound to use Google Earth.”