Melina Sempill Watts
Change the World Books, 2017
An intriguing novel filtering history through an ecological lens, Tree is a story of place in the deepest sense across time.
Tree is a novel about a tree written from a unique point of view: the chief narrator is a tree. Tree uses magical realism as a key to access the interrelated emotional realities of the many species that share one pristine valley in Topanga, California. Grass, birds, other trees and animals come to life on the pages, while one 19th century Mexican woman and one 20th century school boy, hearts opened by grief and loneliness, come to know one California live oak whose 229 years span the evolution of four human civilizations, Chumash, Spanish/Mexican, Yankee and new money Hollywood, which each leave their mark upon the landscape and upon Tree. The author’s obsessive botanical, scientific and historical research give substance to a world that feels both as real as last weekend’s dust on hiking boots and as mind altering as a fully fledged mystical experience. Take a journey into the heart of the woods where every plant shines Tree will change how you see nature.
You can purchase Tree here: https://amzn.to/2JYUgmo
What Reviewers Say
A debut novel tells the story of life in a California valley through the eyes of a tree.
The hero of this book is, as the title suggests, a tree. Specifically, a live oak that germinates in Topanga in the 18th century. The tale begins, more or less, at the protagonist’s conception: a new acorn drops from a tree and is picked up by a blue jay, which is in turn snatched by a hawk. The acorn falls from the hawk’s talons high in the air and comes to rest in a crack on the dry valley floor. It waits for days in the arid dirt until a mountain lion kills and eats a deer over the crack, coating the acorn in blood: “And the acorn responded to sudden moisture as seeds do. Things uncoiled and uncurled inside.” From there, Watts takes the reader on a journey through more than two centuries of California history with Tree right at the center, from the struggles of the surrounding animals and plants who serve as the oak’s neighbors to the human settlers—Chumash, Spanish, American, and contemporary Angeleno—who alter the face of the valley. The saga of Tree becomes a window into the immensity of nature, simultaneously dynamic and everlasting, and the ways that humans have come to upset the ancient balance. Watts writes in an elegant, highly detailed prose that shows an incredible knack for chronicling the minutiae of the natural world. Even more impressive is her ability to wring narrative from the most common interactions, reminding readers of the Homeric drama unfolding all around them, at every level of life. She makes the most of the novel’s conceit, going so far as to use a Tree-specific pronoun: e instead of he or she. Far from cute, this book takes a serious look at the value of love, the impossibility of permanence, and the ways in which humans leave the world. For anyone wondering about the outcome, Watts closes the work’s first paragraph with the reminder that “there is no happiness. Only serenity lasts.”
An ingenious and satisfying tale about a single live oak.
With the debut of her novel, Tree, Sempill Watts shows us just how deeply she treasures those resources as well. While a single California Live Oak tree is the story’s protagonist, the world of the watershed unfolds and adapts, it burns, floods, thrives, and reluctantly submits to asphalt and lawn. It is not only the history of our landscape – including our rivers and streams – but also of our interactions with it, and the hopes and heartbreaks that we imprint onto it. And as our shorter human lives intertwine with Tree’s arching narrative, our aspirations, our births and deaths fall into the rhythm of nature. The story of Tree is a story that includes us.Inventing the pronoun “e” to signify the Tree, Sempill Watts gives the tree an identity. She honors the relationship of many beings, including humans, to e, and to each other, and demonstrates the solace and love that can be experienced in nature. On another level, Tree provides me a sobering reminder that, when we plant a tree – we are planting for the future. And when we cut down a mature tree, we are ending the life of an organism that not only probably preceded us but is just hitting e’s stride.
About the Author
Melina Sempill Watts’ writing has appeared in Sierra Magazine, the New York Times motherlode blog, Earth Island Journal and Sunset Magazine, in local environmental venues such as Urban Coast: Journal of the Center for the Study of the Santa Monica Bay, the Heal the Bay blog and in local papers such as Malibu Times, Malibu Surfside News, Topanga Messenger and Argonaut News. Watts began her career in Hollywood as a development executive, writing consultant and story analyst working for such luminaries Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and Peter Horton and at Dreamworks. She has worked as a watershed coordinator, run a stable, shelved books at a library and created, marketed and ran Starfish Catering. Watts graduated from UCLA with a degree in history. She lives in California. Upcoming events includes on stage (5000 guests anticipated) at the Placer County Earth Day at Royer Park in Roseville, California and on April 21 and L.A. Zen Center on June 17. Watts will come to university or high school classrooms to talk about “Tree.”