Vic Foerster has traveled north to the wilderness of Isle Royale for 35 years. He first wrote about his adventures in Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories. In his latest book, Hidden in the Trees: An Isle Royale Sojourn (Arbutus Press, 2017), Foerster shares his unique understanding and love of trees — because he's an arborist as well as a writer.
“Don’t let my last name throw you,” Foerster says. “As far back as I know, I can’t find a forester who is a Foerster. Regardless, I did go to Michigan Tech to go into forestry. My grandfather did have a cabin up north. Maybe it was a hidden love for trees. I spent a lot of summers up there. I’d help him plant trees, and I just loved the outdoors.”
Being an arborist suits Foerster, he says, because he can't conceive of spending his work days inside an office or a cubicle. He became a certified arborist working in West Michigan, mainly in the greater Grand Rapids area. When not he's working, Foerster heads each summer to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and from there to Isle Royale National Park, a wilderness island off the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“The first book, Naked in the Stream, was looking at Isle Royale as an outdoor enthusiast,” Foerster says. “The second book, Hidden in the Trees, is also about my trips to Isle Royale, but more specifically about a month I spent there for my 50th birthday, a self- imposed sabbatical. I wanted to write about the island as an arborist: how trees and Isle Royale have so deeply influenced who I am, how I look at nature and, of course, trees specifically.”
The essays in Hidden in the Trees tell the stories of trees, their life cycles and afflictions, the pests and diseases that can bring the mightiest of them down. While observing the changes in trees on Isle Royale, Foerster’s thoughts wandered back to his experiences as an arborist, which sometimes land him in courtrooms as an expert witness. More recently, Foerster appeared in the local news when he helped rescue a mother and her infant daughter when a large tree limb fell on them in a Grand Rapids park.
“A couple crew members and I heard her screams,” he says, remembering the day a group of arborists were in the park filming a documentary about trees. “We bolted over there. Within a minute or two, we had them freed. The child was lying by her mother’s side.”
As the crew lifted the heavy limb, a woman nearby gathered up the baby, who suffered only scratches and bruises. But the mother had a broken back and other injuries. Foerster's eyes get misty as he tells the story.
“The mother was lying on her side. We were careful not to move her, but took the rest of the branches off her and secured her until EMS arrived a few minutes later."
Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories has been chosen as the Great Lakes Read Selection of 2017, representing Michigan.
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