HOUGHTON - While passing through a sugar bush stand on his property on the Pilgrim River, author Charles Eshbach stumbled upon the voice for his first children's book.
"I saw this little seedling growing by an old, rotten pine stump," he said. "But how do you give a little tree a personality?"
Eshbach, who has an extensive background in conservation, forestry and photography, wanted to write a book for young readers that tells the basic science of how the forest grows. In order to capture that process, he photographed the Eastern White Pine seedling for 9 years.
The story is told by Twig, who sprouted and grew next to his grandpa - a stump that fell more than 80 years ago.
"Twig grows up on the pages ... and explains the 400-year history of his family and how the old growth forest creates special habitats which support rare plants, beautiful orchids and home for fawns," Eshbach said. "He clearly illustrates how his forest cleans the air and water and produces oxygen, playing an important part in the carbon cycle."
Because Eshbach wanted to tell the story "in a pure science way," he refrained from taking the cartoon approach and instead utilized actual photographs he took in the forest.
The six-chapter book is formatted and designed as a field guide in which the main character compiled photos of his family and friends. Page by page, Twig's story unfolds through his monologue and notes that are jotted down beside each photograph on the gridded paper.
"The challenge to bring voice and personality along with the science to a pine seedling was a struggle at first until a fifth-grade teacher advised that her students would welcome the science, 'just add a glossary,'" he said.
With that advice, Eshbach created a simplified glossary of 26 terms which appear in bold face throughout the story.
Entertaining and educational, "Twig's Guide, My Old Growth Forest," compares old-growth forests to a well-maintained commercial forest and illustrates the loggers' selective harvesting.
It further touches on the concept of "Leave No Trace," which means leaving the land in such a way that no impact is identifiable.
"Take only pictures, and leave only footprints," Eshbach said.
While the book has only been out for a matter of days, Eshbach said he's received positive reviews from both parents and forestry peers.
"The photography is super. Very comprehensive and most professional. An important message well told," one forester commented.
"I've had several parents who have 3- and 4-year-olds say my son or daughter was glued to the book as I read it to them," Eshbach said.
Eshbach has been involved in preservation for much of his life. Working for the Michigan Nature Association, he was instrumental in acquiring and later managing 54 nature preserves in the Upper Peninsula. For the past 30 years he's been doing educational programs on forestry issues in local schools.
Eshbach said because Eastern White Pine grows from Maine to New Brunswick into Northern New York and Western Minnesota, he decided not to regionalize his latest book. However, copies can be purchased for $12.95 in several local bookstores.
Designed by Eshbach's son Joshua Eshbach, the back side of the book is of particular interest. Charles Eshbach's biography is written in Twig's voice.
"One day while passing by my grandpa and me, he paused and I think I heard him say, 'This little pine seedling could teach kids how the forest grows,'" the back cover reads. "'... I hope Charlie and I have helped you understand my forest community so you can help care for our forest too.'"
The producer of Keweenaw Traveler, Eshbach said copies of his book can be purchased on his website at kewtrav.com/index.php?option=com_rokquickcart&view=rokquickcart&Itemid=20.