The Overstory: A Novel

The Overstory: A Novel(ˈnävəl)

By Richard Powers

First there was nothing. Then there was everything.

Then, in a park above a western city after dusk(dəsk), the air is raining messages.

A woman sits on the ground, leaning(ˈlēniNG) against a pine(pīn). Its bark(bärk) presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent(sent) the air and a force hums(həm) in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune(t(y)o͞on) down to the lowest frequencies(ˈfrēkwənsē). The tree is saying things, in words before words.

It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

It says: A good answer must be reinvented(ˌrēinˈvent) many times, from scratch(skraCH).

It says: Every piece of earth needs a new way to grip(ɡrip) it. There are more ways to branch than any cedar(ˈsēdər) pencil will ever find. A thing can travel everywhere, just by holding still.

The woman does exactly that. Signals rain down around her like seeds.

Talk runs far afield(əˈfēld) tonight. The bends in the alders(ˈôldər) speak of long-ago disasters. Spikes(spīk) of pale(pāl) chinquapin(ˈCHiNGkəˌpin) flowers shake down their pollen(ˈpälən); soon they will turn into spiny(ˈspīnē) fruits. Poplars(ˈpäplər) repeat(rəˈpēt) the wind’s gossip(ˈɡäsəp). Persimmons(pərˈsimən) and walnuts(ˈwôlˌnət) set out their bribes(brīb) and rowans(ˈrouən) their blood-red clusters. Ancient(ˈān(t)SHənt) oaks(ōk) wave prophecies(ˈpräfəsē) of future weather. The several hundred kinds of hawthorn(ˈhôˌTHôrn) laugh(laf) at the single name they’re forced to share. Laurels(ˈlôrəl, ˈlärəl) insist that even death is nothing to lose(lo͞oz) sleep over.