STARRED REVIEW
May 22, 2018

Ten arboreal epiphanies

By James Aldred
Review by

Picture a tree. Perhaps you visualize it at a distance, as though observing a photograph. James Aldred, a professional climber who has been on payroll for National Geographic and the BBC, would likely conjure something much more intimate: the texture of the bark, the give of the branches. Aldred’s new book, The Man Who Climbs Trees, lets us see the trees alongside him. If you’ve ever marveled at the ecosystems housed by these majestic, ascending towers of life, you will enjoy nestling into the pages of this book.

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Picture a tree. Perhaps you visualize it at a distance, as though observing a photograph. James Aldred, a professional climber who has been on payroll for National Geographic and the BBC, would likely conjure something much more intimate: the texture of the bark, the give of the branches. Aldred’s new book, The Man Who Climbs Trees, lets us see the trees alongside him. If you’ve ever marveled at the ecosystems housed by these majestic, ascending towers of life, you will enjoy nestling into the pages of this book.

Each of the 10 chapters focuses on a particular tree from around the world. Aldred’s descriptions are breathtaking. When climbing the “Tree of Life” in Costa Rica, he happened upon a 6-foot iguana, which he refers to as an “arboreal dragon.” When in Borneo, he paused midway up a tree, closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the rainforest. When he opens his eyes, the view “rushed at me from every direction, as if a veil had been lifted. The jungle was so much greater than the sum of its parts, and I was nothing more than an atom adrift within this overwhelming tide of energy.”

As this passage suggests, Aldred’s devotion to these natural spaces verges on spiritual. Aldred gives the reader a real sense of his embodied experience. He describes all varieties of bugs—ants, bees, wasps, spiders—and how they crawl on his skin as he scales the trees, as well as the sheer exhaustion of tossing a rope over an ever-higher target. He recalls incredible primates—gibbons, gorillas, howler monkeys and so forth—and envies their climbing expertise. He spies lumbering elephants, stealthy cats, colorful birds, graceful butterflies and determined tree frogs. Truly, Aldred offers a feast for the imagination, one that will draw you back to the landscapes that you’ve loved and pull you forward toward new ones. This wide-ranging and beautiful book, brought to life with expertise, affection and respect, is not to be missed.

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