In this week’s Conversations with the Artist, editor Glenn Hovemann talks with author Carol Reed-Jones. Carol is the author of two books with Dawn Publications, Tree in the Ancient Forest and Salmon Stream. Carol enjoys hiking, camping, backpacking, and watching Douglas squirrels from her living room window. She strongly believes in living in ways that preserve the earth and all life.
Glenn: Carol, you live in the far northwest, in Bellingham, Washington, just south of the border with Canada. Both of your books with Dawn Publications are about things you find there—big old trees and big salmon. So can I assume that you walked through the ancient forests and splashed in salmon streams as a child?
Carol: Actually, I grew up in southern California, in the foothills between Glendale and Pasadena. We had coastal live oak forests, entire gullies of poison oak, and the type of wildlife which is able to coexist with people: opossums, coyotes, skunks, squirrels, and even the occasional bobcat. I liked hiking on a firebreak trail which looked down on a small lake which was a drinking water reservoir. I was a member of Camp Fire girls, and went on camping and hiking trips, and summer camp. But I did not encounter ancient forests and salmon streams until I was an adult.
Glenn: So what gave you the inspiration to write about ancient trees?
Carol: I had always wanted to see forests with giant trees, so when I first went away to college, I went to Humboldt State University in Arcata, where I could walk in a redwood forest with lots of sword ferns–just beyond the dorms. Years later I moved to Washington State and saw a slide show presentation about ancient forests. The speaker showed slides of truffles attached to the roots of ancient trees, and told of the symbiotic relationship—the truffles helped break down nutrients for the roots, and got some nutrients as well. Flying squirrels and voles helped spread the truffle spores around as they dug them up and ate them. I thought, “There’s a story to be told here,” and there was.
Glenn: What was the most surprising thing you discovered when preparing for this book?
Carol: Several things surprised me. One is the degree to which everything in nature is connected to everything else. Indigenous people have known this for ages, but each time I thought I grasped the concept, it kept expanding. For example, when I was working on Salmon Stream, I realized that every aspect of the forest is vitally important to the salmon, and that all aspects of the salmon’s life cycle were crucial to the forest. The forest keeps the water shaded and the streams free of silt by checking erosion. The salmon return nutrients to the forest by returning upstream to spawn and finish their lives. So my two books ended up being related, although I did not consciously plan it that way.
Glenn: One of the distinctive things about The Tree in the Ancient Forest is that it uses cumulative verse that links all the verses together, as in the nursery rhyme, “This is the House that Jack Built.” It’s almost like music. You probably chose that literary form quite deliberately.
Carol: I did, but I can tell you that I worked on the story for quite awhile before I realized that cumulative verse would work! It was the very interdependence of the forest and its animals which helped me realize how well “This is the House that Jack Built” would suit. Part of it is my music teacher background as well, noticing rhythm and the cadence of the words.
Glenn: And how did Salmon Stream come about?
Carol: I was at a book signing out of town, and a parent suggested, “Why don’t you write a book about the salmon cycle? The children study it in school.” I said, “Oh, no, there are a ton of great books on the salmon cycle,” and I began to list them. Then I stopped in mid-list, and asked, “You mean write it in cumulative verse, like The House That Jack Built?” She nodded (and she probably wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me). That night I began writing my ideas out on a paper napkin at a restaurant. From there it took off. The photographs of stages of the salmon’s life cycle–the eggs, the eyed eggs, alevin, fry, smolt, spawners—were so compelling. I got very excited!
Glenn: These books have reached a lot of children. Tree, for instance, has sold about 85,000 copies. Pretty good for non-fiction. Have these books done what you hoped they would?
Carol: Yes! I have visited schools where students are studying salmon streams, monitoring water quality, hatching alevins. Some schools have adopted forests, or have active recycling programs. Students volunteer to restore forest and salmon habitat with organizations which work with landowners to plant native shade trees beside salmon streams. People seem much more educated about the natural world and our place in it.