If you love Annie Proulx's short stories, you'll be blown away by her most recent novel about the deterioration of the world's forests. It's an ambitious literary feat that uses the story of two families over 300 years to show the role humans have played in our current environmental crisis. A quick glance at these beautiful Barkskins quotes about family, fate, and the environment will surely send you running to the bookstore to pick up a copy and dive in.
The book begins in New France (modern day Canada), when two indentured servants arrive to work off their debts as wood-cutters, otherwise known as "barkskins." René Sel, the first man, lives a hard life working the land and is eventually forced into marriage with a Mi'kmaw woman, while Charles Duquoet, the second, finds another fate entirely. After running away from the feudal lord to whom he owed three years of work to, Duquoet becomes a fur trader and, later, the owner of a timber business. While both men's lives spiraled out in opposite directions, the stories of their descendants, which Proulx recounts in great detail, remain tied together centuries later. Spanning 300 years and several continents, Barkskins follows the successors of Sel and Duquoet through victories and losses, accidents and triumphs, hardships and growth, ultimately leading them, and us as readers, to the inevitable modern-day collapse of the environment.
An epic and dramatic story that is as beautiful as it is violent, Barkskins is, at its core, a novel about taking without thinking of what will be lost, about greed and lust, and, ultimately, about hope. In case the plot summary doesn't convince you to add it to your summer reading list, here are 13 beautiful Barkskins quotes about fate, family, and the environment that will. Whether we like to admit it or not, we're all tied together and all tied to the earth.
1. "Here grew hugeous trees of a size not seen in the old country for hundreds of years, evergreens taller than cathedrals, cloud-piercing spruce and hemlock. The monstrous deciduous trees stood distant from each other, but overhead their leaf-choked branches merged into a false sky, dark and savage."
2. "In every life there are events that reshape one’s sense of existence. Afterward, all is different and the past is dimmed."
3. "He had come to New France hoping for quick riches and a return to Old France, but now he wondered if his destiny was not linked to the vast land with its infinite forests and violent rivers. Was not this country his place in the world?"
4. "As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped."
5. “I well remember his sentiments. He believed that men, when confronted with a vast plenitude of anything, feel an irresistible urge to take it all, then to smash and destroy what they cannot use."
6. "They stood opposed on the nature of the forest. To Mari it was a living entity, as vital as the waterways, filled with the gifts of medicine, food, shelter, tool material, which everyone discovered and remembered. One lived with it in harmony and gratitude."
7. "In every life there are events that reshape one’s sense of existence. Afterward, all is different and the past is dimmed."
8. "He woke one morning, his eyes fixed on the underside of the broken canoe, the children wedged under his arm, and turned away from this life. He would no longer be part of the tattered Mi’kmaw people, whose customs had fallen off like flakes of dead skin."
9. "Let them hunt grasshoppers, even as he had! Let them not be ignorant of Mi’kmaw ways. Yet he found it impossible to teach them everything he knew unless all could live inside the Mi’kmaw life; it was more than knowing how to use certain tools or recognize plants. What he taught was not a real life; it was only a kind of play, he thought gloomily. That world he wanted them to know had vanished as smoke deserts the dying embers that made it."
10. "But the forest stood empty of all but trees and the inrushing people believed it was free for the taking. They took it. It is gone.”
11. "It will take thousands of years for great ancient forests to return. None of us here will see the mature results of our work, but we must try, even if it is only one or two people with buckets of seedlings working to put forest pieces back together. It is terribly important to all of us humans — I can't find the words to say how important — to help the earth regain its vital diversity of tree cover. And the forests will help us. They are old hands at restoring themselves."