City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

Sophie Cunningham has written a collection of travel writing that grapples with the destructive nature of tourism. Or is it nature writing that never forgets its place within the machine that threatens the last vestiges of ‘nature’? This ability to hold and make space for opposing concepts is where the strength and beauty of her writing lies. This space is something Cunningham moves through freely, with an artist’s and a naturalist’s eye. Her subject matter crosses vast distances and times, moving through locales and subjects as disparate as Alcatraz, the Flemington Stock Route, Icelandic glaciers, the Dig Tree, and the death of her fathers.

This peripatetic journey through the world at large is never thoughtless and always incredibly sensitive to injustice and oppression – not just of people, but of the world. These essays wander greatly, not only between the stories, but within them. But what ties them together is trees. In some way these stories show how trees relate to seemingly distant events, like the death of a loved one or the marriage equality vote. Because in an age of rising oceans and temperatures, and increasing deforestation, everything comes back to the trees.

Like a stroll through Victoria’s last remaining old growth Mountain Ash forests, Cunningham’s City of Trees is a breath of fresh air accompanied by the knowledge of how much is lost, or is being lost. But perhaps lost is where Cunningham would like us to be. Echoing Rebecca Solnit, she makes a case that it is only through being lost that we can truly discover ourselves and the vast multitude of others that populate this world. Moreover, it is the only way we can learn to navigate a world that’s diversity and health has been fundamentally depleted by human action. Through these essays one can find the hope and understanding to live and thrive in these dark times.

Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest

City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest

Sophie Cunningham

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