I began reading Laurie Ricou’s Salal: Listening for the Northwest Understory (NeWest Press) on a winter day at a cabin in Hemlock Valley, where the snowfall covered the tops of street signs. During a drive down an icy mountain, my friend pointed out a patch of leafy green salal growing on the roadside embankment where the snow had melted. I couldn’t see the salal easily, but it was there, as it is almost everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Near the beginning of his book, Ricou states that his intention in writing about this ubiquitous plant was to answer the question: “Could a regional culture be found by focusing on a single, native, uncharismatic species?” More simply, he wanted to find out “where salal might lead.” Salal leads him from forestry experts in Washington State to harvesters on Vancouver Island who pick salal for a living and know the plant so well they can weigh it by feel. The story of an adaptable, dependable, botanical underdog unfolds and evolves through Ricou’s conversations within the salal community. Salal becomes the link between science, economics, poetry and history. Information that he collected over the span of several years—from interviews, seed packages, real estate listings, guidebooks, memories and literature—makes Salal a richly layered read and, with its ability to connect a bouquet of flowers in Europe to the story of a Cambodian refugee, consistently surprising. This is not a book to rush through. I revisited it over a span of several months, finding pleasure in meandering along with Ricou as he carried out his study of a single species.