Gene Logsdon, a prolific writer and fascinating farmer, has just published his latest book, A Sanctuary of Trees: Beechnuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions. It’s available now in the Chelsea Green bookstore, check it out!
A Sanctuary of Trees follows Gene’s life from place to place — and from forest to forest — as he discovers an ever-deeper need and appreciation for trees throughout his life. From heating his house in winter, to being able to grow a fence if he needs one, his woodlot truly represents a sanctuary, a solace, and a place of inspiration.
Just before the book hit stores, The Courier, a local paper from Gene’s neck of the woods in Ohio got the chance to talk to him about the new book, farming, and the importance of trees in our everyday lives.
By Sara Arthurs, Staff Writer
UPPER SANDUSKY — Gene Logsdon has loved trees all his life and is on a mission: to get people to focus on wood rather than plastic.
Our modern culture focuses on things made out of plastic to the exclusion of wood and trees and nature, he said. Logsdon, of Upper Sandusky, has written several fiction and nonfiction books. His most recent, “A Sanctuary of Trees: Beechnuts, Birdsongs, Baseball Bats, and Benedictions,” comes out on April 27 through Chelsea Green Publishing. The purpose of the book is to “try to remind people that we once were a wood culture, you know, not a plastic culture. … We’re getting too far away from that,” he said.
The book is a mixture of autobiography and nature writing, talking largely about how Logsdon’s own relationship with trees has changed since his childhood. But he also explores subjects such as a controversy over sassafras tea, which Logsdon believes to be safe despite a governmental ban on the beverage, and trees’ resilience and ability to spread their seeds despite Dutch elm disease and emerald ash borer.
And he writes of how heat from wood kept him and his fellow country dwellers from freezing during a blizzard.
In the book Logsdon touches upon many different issues involved with trees, from objects that can be made from wood to the many edible fruits and nuts that grow on trees to the wildflowers and animals that make their home in or near trees.
Asked what prompted the book, Logsdon said simply, “I love the woods.” He said it was also a “sneaky way” to work autobiography into a book about nature.
In his own life, he said, every time “when I thought I was getting away from the woods, I would always end up back there.” For example, he went off to boarding school only to realize the school was in the midst of the woods.
Logsdon talks about how to identify many species of trees and appreciate the virtues of each. White oaks are probably his favorite, he said.
“They last 200 years if you give them a chance,” he said.
The hard wood of this tree is good for fuel and for building furniture, among other uses, he said.
Logsdon said people in cities as well as rural areas love trees. City parks provide urban dwellers a chance to get close to trees. In the first chapter of the book he talks about Central Park in New York City.
Fly over nearly anywhere in an airplane and even the cities may look like forests from above, with trees everywhere, he said.
“People love having trees around,” Logsdon said.
For people who live in cities, parks are “a great way to learn about trees,” Logsdon said. Others may be able to buy land in the country. In Ohio, buying 5 acres of woodland is more affordable than in some parts of the country and “you’re buying yourself your own vacation spot, your own retreat from anxiety,” Logsdon said.
One area Logsdon is interested in is Shaker Heights in Cleveland, where there are trees two or three centuries old.
“This is really old-growth forest,” he said.
Logsdon, 80, said attitudes about trees have changed in his lifetime. When he was a child it was in vogue to clear the land of trees for farming and there was “a feeling that trees were pests,” he said. Then attitudes swung the other way and trees became considered “sacred” and something that shouldn’t be cut down.
Logsdon said as trees age it is natural to harvest them for wood. Trees grow old and die, and new trees are planted, he said.
Logsdon said trees are interesting not only on their own but because many flowers live under them and many animals live in them.
“It’s all the flora and fauna that comes along with woodland,” he said.
Trees also cleanse the air, increasing the amount of oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide, Logsdon said.
Logsdon said he also enjoys the beauty of wood.
“It’s much prettier than plastic,”he said. “And you can make all sorts of things out of it.”
In China, bamboo is used to make bicycles, he said.
“The tensile strength of bamboo, if you work it right, is just as good as metal,” he said.
Different types of wood have different grains and colors and can be used for woodworking, Logsdon said.
Logsdon said wood is also a good fuel for heating your home, although there are pollution concerns in cities, but in the country it is frequently used. With concerns about energy and oil prices, wood may play a role, he said.
Logsdon said his grandchildren, when they walk through the woods, tend to be looking at electronic gadgets. The younger generation is ” so taken up with their cellphones and their iPads,” he said.
But Logsdon is not opposed to technology altogether and said the Internet was a great help when he was researching the book.
Logsdon said his books, both fiction and nonfiction, focus on rural life. One novel he wrote, “Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food,” has to do with the local food movement. One of Logsdon’s next projects will be to write a nonfiction book on the subject.
He said at first he thought the interest in locally grown food was “just another fad” but he has changed this opinion.
“I really think there’s something very significant going on here,” he said.
People who may have different ideas about politics and religion may be united in their desire to eat good, locally farmed food, he said. He wants to look at whether there is a way to “keep all these people in the same camp.”
A Sanctuary of Trees is available now.