While visiting the Holy Land in the 1980s, Edmund Barrow was struck by the importance of trees in the dry, arid country that fostered the development of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. He returned to Kenya, where he worked as a natural resource manager, and began to study the significance, to indigenous cultures, of groves worldwide that date back thousands of years. Our Future in Nature is the culmination of his lifetime’s research— a book that resembles a well-researched doctoral thesis, with 772 numbered footnotes and dozens more lettered page notes.
Barrow is at his best when sharing his own findings about groves that serve as locations for sacred rituals and house ancestors, spirits, and churches. He catalogues their existence from Namibia to Nepal, Mongolia to California’s redwood forests, and provides fascinating facts about the cultures that protect them. He also outlines the economic, social, and political forces that threaten them, and urges individuals to resist those forces by forming grassroots movements that can reconnect them to nature.
So far, so good, but Barrow goes on to bring trees into a larger discussion about war and global climate change. He starts and ends the book with the premise that sacred groves can bring peace to a troubled world and help humans learn to protect Earth. Instead of making his own case, however, he lets others define the issues, reprinting long excerpts by environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, and spiritual leaders like Krishnamurti, Black Elk, and Pope Francis.
Unfortunately, readers looking for tangible solutions won’t find them here. Other than suggesting that we use sacred groves as classrooms for children, Barrow fails to credibly link trees and the geopolitical and economic issues that threaten the planet.
The author’s sentiments about an endangered planet are admirable, but ultimately they dilute the book’s real strength as a contribution to our understanding of the natural world, focused on sacred groves and their role in our collective cultures.
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