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Trees are one of Lembke's (River Time, 1989) joys, as are rivers and birds and butterflies, all given lavish attention here; a naturalist, Lembke just can't keep her eyes still, thank goodness. This gallimaufry of tree lore—historical and medicinal; trees as food, as Eve's temptation, as just plain awesome—is a wide-ranging delight, and of the species covered, each gets a chapter unto itself: catalpa and sassafras, osage orange and yucca and loblolly pine, to name a few. Lembke has a special talent for commingling intimacy with erudition. One essay will explore the backgrounds of Druids and Green Men, witches in the Teutonic forest, Baba Yaga and her chicken-footed woodland abode; another will mull over why the author has never warmed to the yellow poplar. She takes a personal interest in the trees on her North Carolina riverfront property: a black tupelo draped with mistletoe; a persimmon humming with bees in spring, a celebration of red berries in autumn, harvested with a mighty shake; the curative properties of rabbit tobacco, known to foragers as "life everlasting"; the sweet gum, pantry to the yellow-bellied sapsucker and bedroom to the orchard oriole. Why did Thomas Jefferson revere the pecan? Why did the pawpaw go to heaven and the pepper to hell? And can the sumac truly allow one to take wing? All these are asked and answered with nimble deliberation. Eighteen essays all told, with a few poems thrown in, and recipes for teas and jellies, puddings and zabaglione, and not a lemon in the bunch.
We breathe the exhalations of the trees, and as Lembke testifies, they fuel a hundred more poetic concerns.