''Damnation Spring,'' by Ash Davidson, is a glorious book - an assured novel that is just about gloriously told.

From life to limb. Feeling old? Consider the redwood. Reaching heights of more than 350 feet, the world's tallest tree has been on this planet since the days of the dinosaurs. A single specimen can live more than 2,000 years. That's old enough to make it through the Roman Empire, the British Empire and the assortment of Kennedys, Bushes and Trumps.

For millenniums, two million acres of redwoods thrived in the nurturing fog belt of America's Pacific coast. Forests were largely undisturbed by Native people. That changed in the 1800s with the arrival of commercial logging.

In just a handful of generations, the region was staggeringly transformed :95 percent of the original old-growth coast redwoods have been felled, their prized wood sent off to buyers around the world.

It's in this ravaged and secluded domain of timber harvesting that Ash Davidson has set her first novel, ''Damnation Spring.'' The book unfolds in a tightknit community in Northern California over the course of four seasons, in the late 1970s.

It's a vivid portrayal of the land and its people, a snapshot of not-so-distant time, but it also digs into the gnarled history of the place. And it's a glorious book - an assured novel that's gorgeously told.

Rich and Colleen Gunderseen are the seeds of the story. Rich is a lifelong logger, a fourth-generation high-climber who has remained devoted to his trade into his 50s, even though it killed his father, a skilled tree-topper - ''part monkey'' - who was crushed to death by a sawed-off branch.

Rich is a decent man, a bearded stoic whose height and calm are a good match for the big., sturdy trees he's climbed since he was a teenager.

Colleen has also endured her share of suffering : Her father drowned in a skiff while poaching mussels, and she has had several miscarriages, grieving with little support from her husband. Colleen is younger than Rich, and still hopes to give birth to another child. the couple have a sweet boy, Graham, nicknamed Chub because of his love of water and the way he flops about in it like the fish.

Colleen helps local women as a midwife, though she's too modest to call herself one [ and paid in homemade sweaters and jams.]

Rich's existence is so entwined with the lives of redwoods that his idea of relaxing is reading lumber catalogs on the couch in front of a fire. And so when he's presented with a rare chance to buy a parcel of land whose 200 old-growth redwoods could make him a fortune [and allow him to live up to his name], he can't resist.

As one might expect, there are a few roadblocks along the way for Rich. In little time, Daniel Bywater, a young scientist who moseys into town like a mysterious and law-abiding new sheriff.

Daniel comes armed with the knowledge that locals are threatened by an invisible enemy : toxins in the herbicide that the timber company has been spraying from helicopters to help clear the woods.

This, says Daniel, explains the itching and the nosebleeds that are bothering the young and old, the unusual number of cancer cases that have afflicted the community, the animals that pop up here and there with strange growths on their bodies. Despite their ailments, people are suspicious of the science.

Davidson skilfully assembles the story in a narrative that seamlessly flows between tense scene and quiet moment; her short chapters work in a broad range of characters, from kind hearted old-tilers to less-than-compassionate henchmen.

Davidson is also gifted at describing the intricacies of the logging industry, from the grueling labor itself to the hidden practices of shady businessmen. And she captures the beauty and majesty of the redwoods.

The boards of the ''big pumpkins,'' as the loggers call them, are as ''red as raw meat'' on a conveyor belt, after it rains, the trees' ''herby scent'' wafts through a car's vents.

Some will no doubt read ''Damnation Spring'' as a commentary on the divisions that separate Americans today - on the fact that many place blind faith in what authority figures and corporations say is true, even if it hurts people's interests; that many have an anti-intellectual distrust of mainstream media and established institutions, even in the face of science and reason.

There are certainly parallels. But the book is getting at something more timeless and universal : It's about human nature, It's about our relationships to our loved ones and our communities, it's about morality and greed. It's about our understanding of and respect for the natural world.

Redwoods have been plundered by humans, damaged in fires and taken down in floods, but they're also incredibly resilient. And as characters in Davidson's graceful rendering remind us, humans are equally resilient.

After great loss, they, too, can keep growing.

The World Students Society thanks the author of the book review, John Mcmurtrie.


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