Seeing the forest for the trees—and the readers

In Norway, a forest is being planted with books to be harvested by future generations

Photo: Future Library / Facebook Katie Paterson won’t get to read the books that will be made from her forest.

Photo: Future Library / Facebook
Katie Paterson won’t get to read the books that will be made from her forest.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

I am an avid fan of Public Radio, even when I don’t agree. First, it often allows people with divergent opinions to weigh in, which I find very helpful as the gray areas are often the most attractive to me. Second, it usually includes input by passionate and intelligent listeners. And lastly, they cover unusual stories, often positive stories of people changing the world in big and little ways.

Last Thursday, I was working on a story for NAW, with the radio chattering in the background. I caught the word Norway: a word I can ferret out no matter the decibel level of the noise around me or the task at hand. But, of course, as I was writing it did not have my full attention.

After a little investigation, this is what I discovered. The broadcast I had overheard was entitled, “You can’t read these books, but your great-great-grandchildren can,” from The World program. It was about a project conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson that is much, much more.

Its inspiration came while doodling. “I was making a very simple sketch in a notebook—of tree rings. And I quite quickly just made a connection between tree rings, and chapters in a book, paper, pulp, trees, future, forests. And I had this vision of growing a forest from which one could print a book effectively—but growing over a long span of time,” explained Paterson. It involves the planting of 1,000 trees in Oslo’s Nordmarka Forest and is called Future Library.

Paterson elaborated, “so we are commissioning one author every year for 100 years to write text and submit it to the future library, but it won’t be read until after 100 years have passed. We are commissioning one author every year for 100 years. The first manuscript was submitted by request from Canadian author Margaret Atwood entitled Scribbler’s Moon. She was an apropos choice and was invited to participate by the artist, “because of all of these connections of her writing … to traveling through time.”

How tempting it must be to take a peek. But Paterson says that she will not, as she intends to be true to her project. One will have to wait until 2114, so unless she believes and participates in cryogenics she will never know its content.

According to the newscaster, “She imagines it will be just like reading an undiscovered antique text.” Paterson also “imagines the writings will contain crystallized moments from each year.”

I am not sure why she chose Norway for her project; I am just glad that she did. So, a huge thank you to Paterson for making Norway her canvas. She is an artist, who cannot only see the forest for the trees, but also the forest for the wordsmiths and word lovers of future generations to be.

You can hear PRI’s interview with Paterson at

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 21, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.