The Naturalist

The Story of Yew by Guido Mina di Sospiro Pp. 168, 13 b/w drawings, 1 b/w photograph. Findhorn Press. 2001 £12.95 hardback.

This amazing story is the autobiography of a female yew tree in the Killarney Forest. It spans more than 2000 years and encompasses accurate biological fact, ecology, biodiversity, history, fantasy, legend, but never confusingly. It tells the story of the yew’s development from seed, through the fears and uncertainties of youth, of her taking over the mantle of responsibility on becoming Queen of the forest after her mother’s death, of being felled by man and her regeneration through epicormic buds, through maturity to her eventual desire to find eternal peace. All living things in the forest have the ability to communicate but are not over anthropomorphised. We are told of the druids’ use of the mother yew as a sacred grove, of the noncolonisation of Ireland by the Romans, of the coming of Christianity (with some cynicism), of the dissolution of the monasteries, of the destruction of forests to make ships for warfare by the English, thus turning Ireland into grassland, and finally of the dawn of conservation bringing the return of hope for the future. This thought provoking story, by a man born in Argentina of Italian parentage and now resident in the United States, is told with a fluency and lyricism which imbues it with an aura of Irish legend but biological accuracy is never lost. There is humour and philosophy. It is brilliant! Buy a copy for each member of your family for Christmas and make sure you read it yourself!

Phil Abbott