Q & A with R. Bruce Allison
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What were some of the most surprising or interesting things you learned from researching, writing, and updating "Every Root an Anchor?"
R. Bruce Allison: I discovered that my interest and affinity for trees was universally shared by Wisconsinites. When I asked people from all walks of life for their tree stories, they came forward revealing their interest in and attraction to trees.
WHS Press: In what ways has writing "Every Root an Anchor" been a personal experience? How do you feel connected to this book?
RBA: In looking back on it, I really started writing "Every Root an Anchor" my first day on the job as an arborist. That's when my clients began telling me their tree stories, sharing with me their experiences and feelings about their special trees. Stepping into the landscaped yards of my customers has given me special insights into the personal relationship people develop with their plants. I was fascinated by the nature of that relationship and began researching historical tree stories discovering that all generations shared those special connections to trees. I was fortunate to find Walter Scott, who while the assistant to the Secretary to the Department of Conservation had gathered many Wisconsin tree stories. Another important influence and valued friend was Professor Robert Gard. He had written books on Wisconsin history and folklore and encouraged me to pursue my research on Wisconsin tree histories.
WHS Press: How do you think readers will connect to your book? Why is this book important for Wisconsin?
RBA: Wisconsinites have already connected to "Every Root an Anchor." After all, these stories came from them. These really are their stories, which came to me via telephone calls, newspaper clippings, personal letters, magazine articles, and local historical societies. My role was to organize, interpret and bring these stories to life in a printed form. Readers, I believe, will enjoy and relate to these stories, learning more about their own community and our state's history in the process.
WHS Press: Many of the tree stories are interwoven with human stories and human history. Do you have a similar connection or memory with any trees mentioned or not mentioned in the book?
RBA: All of these stories have some connection to human interests and endeavors. Many are connected to important national events and personalities. I was deeply moved by the civil war stories, by the tragedy and grief of the father who planted the sycamore as a memorial to his fallen soldier son, and also by the compassion and bravery of Cordelia Harvey (Camp Randall Harvey Oak), who fought the military bureaucracy to allow injured Wisconsin soldiers to recover at home.
WHS Press: What was the most challenging part of writing and/or updating "Every Root an Anchor?"
RBA: Researching and ferreting out facts about long gone trees and their associated stories is challenging. It requires detective work and persistence. It helped that I had a sense of passion and purpose in my work inspired in part by the enthusiasm I witnessed in others such as Walter Scott and Robert Gard.
WHS Press: When you first wrote this book in 1982, you published it yourself. What were some factors in your decision to work with the WHS Press this time around?
RBA: "Every Root an Anchor" is the culmination of a two-decade long gathering and updating of Wisconsin tree histories. It was my good fortune that the Wisconsin Historical Society Press decided to publish my book. I was researching an old painting of the Peck Bur Oak in the Historical Society archives when I was invited to submit my manuscript to the Wisconsin Historical Society Press acquisition editor. Of course I said yes when the Wisconsin Historical Society Press offered the opportunity to bring my work to a wider audience. They have done so in a remarkably beautiful form.
WHS Press: What is the underlying message of "Every Root an Anchor?"
RBA: Trees and people need each other; we are companions in life and have co-evolved. As John Muir said, "Trees and man travel the Milky Way together."