By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
Nearly 40 members of the community tuned into the third annual edition of Palisades Reads on Wednesday, September 22, to discuss Richard Powers’ “The Overstory”—a 500-plus-page work of Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction that weaves together several narratives surrounding trees.
This year, Friends of the Palisades Library teamed up with locally founded environmental nonprofit Resilient Palisades to present the communitywide book club event, which is designed to “foster connections, spark conversations and celebrate reading.”
“It seems very appropriate that this book that has so much to say about ecosystems is this year’s community read,” PPLA President Laura Schneider shared at the start of the event. “It’s been great seeing all of these different organizations partnering, despite the challenging times that we’re navigating.”
For the second year in a row, Palisades Reads remained virtual, this time due to repairs that are underway at Palisades Branch Library following a fire in 2020.
The two organizations welcomed guest speakers who were on-hand to answer questions related to the book and share information about their respective work: Pacific Palisades Community Council Palisades Forestry Committee Chair Cindy Kirven, TreePeople CEO Cindy Montañez and Sylvie Rokab, an award-winning filmmaker and nature therapy guide trained with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy.
This year’s conversation was moderated by Ingrid Steinberg, one of the founders of Resilient Palisades. Her first question was directed to Montañez, after making a note that on the TreePeople website, there is a headline that states: “People need trees, and trees need people.”
“Can you share your thoughts about the way in which the relationship between people and trees can be one of mutual cooperation and aid instead of destruction?” Steinberg asked.
“Our mission is very simple,” Montañez shared. “It is about trees and people, and it’s to inspire and engage and support people to take action to plant and care for trees. We’re doing this in the U.S. Forest to our local mountains here in the Santa Monica Mountains to our neighborhoods and streets and parks and schools.”
When asking Kirven a question, Steinberg touched on a quote from the book that notes that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time to plant a tree is now, and asked Kirven, as part of the Palisades Forestry Committee, what her hopes for the neighborhood in 20 or 30 years are in regards to trees, including how and where PFC chooses to plant.
Kirven explained that the committee is focused on planting trees in the parkways—so it must consider things like how wide the parkway is, how close to neighboring trees the location is and the neighborhood they are looking in, as Rustic Canyon differs from somewhere like The Highlands.
“My hope is that the rich urban forests the Palisades enjoy, especially compared to some of the other cities, can be protected when possible, and that the nutrients we plant now will create relationships for children that gives them an appreciation for the trees and the living world,” Kirven concluded.
Steinberg posed a question to Rokab about the spiritual and therapeutic aspects of people’s relationship with trees and what the idea of communing with trees means to her.
“Going into the spiritual realm,” Rokab shared, “I feel that every human being has in their DNA the sense that we have a connection with trees.”
She explained that there’s something to nature that people are not necessarily taught, but experience by being immersed in it, whether that’s touching a trunk or a tree or looking up at its canopy.
“There’s the alchemy that happens,” she shared, “and I feel that our society in general, and people individually, absolutely yearn and need that kind of healing.”
For the remainder of the event, Steinberg led a discussion with those who attended the book club, posing questions about the passage of time and emotions that were raised while reading.
“If we don’t see, if we don’t slow down, if we don’t look, the other things that need to happen aren’t going to happen,” Steinberg concluded. “At the very minimum, let’s do that.”
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