Sewanee professor's nature research wins book award

Sewanee professor's nature research wins book award

November 22nd, 2012 by Pam Sohn in Local Regional News

Book award winner David Haskell makes observations in the square meter of Cumberland Plateau forest that is the subject of his book.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Sewanee biology professor David Haskell carefully has been researching Cumberland Plateau forests through one square meter of ground.

And this week he learned the book he wrote about his work, "The Forest Unseen," has won a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award.

Haskell, 43, called the award an honor.

"I had wanted for years to write a book telling the story of the forest. Much has been written about forests, but most of it is buried in science journals. My hope was using literature to connect people to the outdoors," he said.

Haskell spent a year -- much of it on his belly -- watching and cataloging his tiny plot of forest in Shakerag Hollow on the Cumberland Plateau campus of the University of the South to tell the story of what happens in the wild woodlands. The book won in the natural history category.

"I sometimes spent hours there in the summer or a mere 30 minutes on frigid winter days," the biology teacher said.

Ron Watters, chairman of the awards program, called Haskell's ground-level work "fascinating perspective."

"Haskell works wonders, using only a tiny patch of forest, and creates for the reader a mesmerizing account of the natural world," Watters said.

The professor, now an American citizen, was born in England and raised in France. But he said he learned much in his Sewanee research.

Two points stand out, he said.

"Most of the [woodland] action is happening with small things" -- beetles and microbes, not deer or raccoons.

Snails for instance, are "meeting the needs of the sky:" Mother birds need to eat snails for critical nutrients to feed their eggs.

He learned about himself, too.

"I learned how important it is to open our senses to the world," he said. "By slowing down and paying attention to what's happening at my feet, I recognized how much richness there was [in ecology]."