her latest novel, "Barkskins," Annie Proulx
sees the forest for more than its trees.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Shipping
News" and "Brokeback Mountain," uses that
insight to lament not only the disappearance of the
world’s woods, but the greedy mindset and morality
that allows, and even demands, that it happen.
researched for both time and place, the 700-page book
tells an epic, sprawling tale that starts in the late
17th century with the travails of two Frenchmen, Rene
Sel and Charles Duquet, who have just arrived in New
France (today Canada). The story follows them and their
descendants on crooked paths through the trees and 300
years of cutting what was once thought to be the
infinite forests that shaded much of North America and
uses those families of characters and the demise of
wildly diverse forests to highlight the biggest true
story of our time, climate change, and the critical
roles played by the woodsman with an ax and a rapacious
have been concerned about and interested in global
climate change for the past 20 years or so and wanted to
write about this momentous shift," Proulx, 81, said
in a recent email interview. "But the subject was
simply too vast and disparate, so I decided to look at
one contributory part of climate change —
also wanted to show the change in attitudes toward ‘the
forest’ — from inimical vegetable mass that had to
be destroyed, to our recognition that the forests are
vital agents in climate change by their ability to
absorb and store atmospheric carbon dioxide."
said the inspiration for "Barkskins" and its
long and oft times tragic journey through three
centuries of cutting came from personal experience.
had observed firsthand the death of the lodgepole
forests in Wyoming’s mountains when I lived
there," she said. "That was certainly a
catalyst for the story."
the story goes well beyond wood chips and board feet to
grind its ax on a history of humans’ nature that
compels us to act in our own self interest to such a
degree that our common wealth of natural resources is
largest question for me was to wonder what there is in
many (if not most) human beings that makes us believe
that we have a right to plunder the natural earth?"
Proulx said. "What is there in us that blinds us to
the ecological damage we do? Why can’t we recognize we
are hastening our own end as a species? Is this the
fatal flaw in humanity? These questions underlie the