The Tree Whisperer, the Unique Talent of Dominique Roques Exposed.
2023 . 09 . 08 |
‘Le Parfum des Forêts’, the new book by Dominique Roques tells the comprehensive story of forests in a remarkable and intelligible way. His solid expertise, personal experience, and unlimited passion create a talented narration. The book itself is a wild forest, immense, deep, and rich. Under his guidance, forests are no longer daunting, but full of open, clear and secure paths. His book is like an ancient tree, full of wisdom and wide vision, accumulated through a large life span, enlightened by various heights, geographical widths and perspectives: historical, ethnical, cultural, political, economic, and scientific. It is quite impossible to summarize, it must be read in its entirety. The interview offers a primary tool when embarking on an exciting and compelling forest journey.
As an introduction, I asked Dominique to give us a condensed expression of his knowledge based on his extensive conversations with trees. The data extraction summarizes his ‘inside out’ and ‘bottom up’ experience accumulated over a life time of travels across all continents. Here is what I called ‘the Tree Cut’ of the ‘Tree Whisperer’. Listen carefully.
The ‘Tree Cut’
370 million years old # 7 million for humans
From 60 up to 2’000 years of life expectancy
From 30 up to 100 meters in height
3’000 billion trees across the planet today
400 trees per person, 10 times less than 100 years ago
16’150 types of trees
3 families of trees: conifers - fir trees, pines, sequoias, cedars- leaf trees - birch, oak, beech, chestnut trees, linden trees - and tropical - eucalyptus, guaiac, teak, iroko, Ipe
Primary forests: wild, natural, extremely diverse
Industrial tree plantations: artificial, machinery made, homogeneous, single type
Primary forests only account for 1/3 of the forests on our planet today
Trees are Universal, Eternal and an Essential Cultural Component.
Laurence: Dominique, let’s catch up where we left. Give us an update on ‘Cueilleur d’Essences’ your first book published in March 2021.
Dominique: Certainly. So far, the book sold around 40’000 copies across 13 editions. After the first edition in French, my editor Grasset followed suit with the Italian version, then British, German, Spanish, Czech, Chinese, Taiwanese, Dutch, Russian. Japan, Korea, and the US have also recently been added.
Laurence: This is an impressive track record in a very short time, possibly this was beyond your expectations…?
Dominique: Absolutely ! I was positively impressed by the growing success over time. At the beginning, the perfume industry was the main audience but gradually a wider public was drawn to the book. In the bookstores, it is no longer placed among “luxury” books but rather in the nature or travel sections where it more logically belongs.
Laurence: Backed by the strong success of the 1st book, you could have chosen a similar approach for your second. Instead, it seems that you willingly took a risk of writing a different and more personal novel…
Dominique: You are right, I wanted to avoid at all cost writing a second novel on the same topic. I think that the 1st book helped me define my writing style. I found it much easier to write the second book even though I had taken a bigger challenge. I knew my endeavor of mixing multiple topics with different angles was ambitious and yet I felt at ease with it. Combining my father’s adventure, to historical events, with personal travels, witnessing the deforestation of Borneo, North American preservation initiatives, close to home significant events, life memories, and scientific data research… everything fell into place, I hope into a coherent book structure and fluid text narrative.
Laurence: I notice you disclose a vast bibliography for the reader at the end of the book. Is this the list you went through yourself to write the book?
Dominique: Yes and no. I had read some books in the past like masterpieces written by the French writer Giono as well as ‘Logging the Redwoods’ published in 1975. In the main, I read all these books as an inspiration to write mine. You may notice that from 2010 onwards, there is a strong increase of books released on this matter. It is a visible and positive sign of the growing recognition of the fundamental role of forests in the future of mankind.
Our Forests are Natural Open-air Museums.
Laurence: I understand that your research was not only made of books, but rather conducted over years of extensive work and travels…
Dominique: All my life, I have been travelling for work and each trip gave me a piece of learning that I preciously kept in my head, mostly without taking notes. My thirst for knowledge also lead me to link the experience of nature with art and history. However, the most important element has always been my emotional memory. To be able to express into words the depth of my feelings gives me an immense pleasure. In my book, I bring back to life my trip to Borneo and 2012 feels like today with all the intensity of my emotions and the understanding of the essential relation between humans and trees.
Forests and Humans Live in Contradiction and Opposition.
Laurence: Your book deftly depicts the fundamental oppositions between humans and trees and the contradiction between our need to cut trees but also to preserve them…
Dominique: Yes, everything seems to oppose humans to trees. Trees are eternal, vertical, motionless, speechless, and peaceful. Humans are ephemeral, moving, talkative, and domineering. A reconciliation in the relation between humans and trees appears impossible. At loggerheads with each other, the division seems insurmountable. Our need to cut trees is here to stay. In the past, wood was used to build temples, palaces, houses and ships and, turned into charcoal, was a core resource in the birth of the industrial revolution. Today, trees keep being cut to make space for agriculture and cattle. Yet, we know preserving trees is vital for the planet. As we can’t stop cutting trees, coming up with new solutions is the answer. When the equation of cutting the right tree, at the right place, and at the right moment is found, cutting trees is a positive deed.
Laurence: Dominique you are also personally inhabited by such contradiction, an immense love for both trees and lumberjacks. How do you solve this duality?
Dominique: Yes, I respect the talented work of hardworking lumberjacks, my father was one and I became one albeit temporarily. I like the saga of their tools, axes, hand saws, chain saws and listening to the story of a tree when it falls … But I also appreciate listening to the internal life of the tree, to its silent communication made of leaves, roots, mushrooms and sap. I enjoy planting trees and seeing them grow. I realise that perfumes allowed me to make sense of my contradiction, to unite my love for trees and my wish to extract their treasure. Extracting perfumes is my way to respect trees and pay tribute to their beauty. The forests’ exquisite perfumes are so incredibly powerful and eternal.
Perfume is One Magnificent Forest Treasure.
Laurence: Your book brilliantly explains the gist of the millennial bond between forests and humanity. Let me ask you to extract some key milestones.
Dominique: For a simple understanding, I decided to use references to cultural and historical events. Gilgamesh, the oldest text of humanity, fights the forest monster guard to have access to the wood of the eternal cedars of Lebanon and becomes the first lumberjack in history. History is made of repetition, of a tragic depletion of forests to meet our civilization’s unquenchable need for trees. The Romans, 2’000 years later, already noticed alarmingly that there were ‘no more cedars’ in the area. First, wood was used to build houses, then to produce metal for industries. From the Middle Ages up to 1950, our civilization is based on coal grinding wheels to make charcoal. Starting in 1850, the destruction of the sequoia forests in California lead to the extinction of the redwood tree in 100 years. We have now entered another problematic era where our main source of wood comes from industrial plantations, based on one single tree sprayed with pesticides to optimize growth productivity. However, we have reached a historical milestone when we have become aware of how much we need trees to stay alive. A new respect for trees has come about and the last 20 years have seen initiatives all over the world to plant trees and let them grow naturally. A human universal conscience is steadily blossoming and happily protecting trees.
Majestic Forests Have Survived Dramatic Unrests.
Laurence: You have picked three majestic trees that have all gone through dramatic events. Tell us the top story of the cedar from Lebanon, the redwood from California, and the guaiac wood from Paraguay.
Dominique: The Californian redwoods are ‘majestic’ as they are truly the tallest trees on the planet, authentic giants living in immense forest cathedrals. The cedar tree is so old that it is quoted in the Bible, greatly used to build temples, and positioned by the edge of steep cliffs overlooking the sea, this holy tree appears indeed like a miracle. Its tragic disappearance took place in the ancient times. One of the largest deforestations that has ever happened on earth took place on the West Coast of the US. The redwoods were cut and transported on railways purposely built to carry wood 400 kms down to San Francisco. By 1970, the sequoia trees had by large disappeared. In Paraguay, the destruction story of the ‘palo santo’, the saint wood, of a beautiful blue colour when freshly cut, was to make place for cow breeding. Despite such tragic times, the trees’ survival spirit has prevailed.
There is Hope for a New Form of Cohabitation.
Laurence: What makes you optimistic about the future of trees and humanity when so much wrong has been done and is still happening today?
Dominique: I observe and rejoice in front of the multiple initiatives taking place all over the world to do good, to replant trees and recreate the Eden of a primary forest. New behaviors are happening in the Western World and elsewhere, tree hugging, people sleeping up in tree houses… The ignition may well have been the beautiful love story between Julia and Luna. Back in 1998, Julia Hill decided to live two years up on a sequoia tree in California that she called Luna. From a tree activist, she turned into a tree lover. Fundamentally, I have confidence in the strength of the forests, they are stronger than us. The Mayan pre-Columbian cities have been completely annihilated by the forests. Flying over Guatemala, one can see how forests have entirely covered the Mayan temples. Forests can adapt, recreate, and resuscitate.
A Forest is a Life Sanctuary made of Beauty.
‘By the side of a millennium tree, my heartbeat increases while the time stands still.
Leaning against the giant trunk, I listen to the wind, the silence, and the tree.’
Laurence: Your book is dedicated to ‘Catherine & Witou, the San Francisco weds’ and ‘to Margot and Daphné, so agile at climbing up trees’, tell us who they are.
Dominique: Catherine is my mother and Witou is the nick name of my father, they got married in San Francisco. Margot and Daphné are my two granddaughters, 11 and 7 years old who love playing up in the trees. In one way, my family generations are united in their connection to trees. Time passes. Our passion and love for trees remains.
Dominque Roques, the Tree Whisperer
He listens and talks to trees. He can tell us their story, their pain and aspiration. Thanks to Dominique, we can understand the forests and appreciate the unique treasure they hold for us. A new emotion will come about. Reconnecting us with the beauty of our nature.