The surprisingly hopeful story of one woman's search for resiliency in a warming worldSeveral years ago, ecologist Lauren E. Oakes set out from California for Alaska's old-growth forests to hunt for a dying tree: the yellow-cedar. With climate change as the culprit, the death of this species meant loss for many Alaskans. Oakes and her research team wanted to chronicle how plants and people could cope with their rapidly changing world. Amidst the standing dead, she discovered the resiliency of forgotten forests, flourishing again in the wake of destruction, and a diverse community of people who persevered to create new relationships with the emerging environment. Eloquent, insightful, and deeply heartening, In Search of the Canary Tree is a case for hope in a warming world.
In Search of the Canary Tree Review
- January 1, 1970Olive (abookolive)Check out my review on Open Letters Review: https://openlettersreview.com/open-le...
- January 1, 1970David WinebergIn Search of the Canary Tree refers to the phrase “canary in the coal mine” – the harbinger of disaster. It is the story of a Stanford graduate student who found herself totally immersed in the fast-disappearing yellow-cedar of Alaska’s southeast coast. She was fishing for a doctoral thesis topic, and the tree came into ever tighter focus. So the delightfully named Lauren Oakes went after the yellow-cedar from every conceivable angle. She obtained grants, went and checked it out, and spent the n In Search of the Canary Tree refers to the phrase “canary in the coal mine” – the harbinger of disaster. It is the story of a Stanford graduate student who found herself totally immersed in the fast-disappearing yellow-cedar of Alaska’s southeast coast. She was fishing for a doctoral thesis topic, and the tree came into ever tighter focus. So the delightfully named Lauren Oakes went after the yellow-cedar from every conceivable angle. She obtained grants, went and checked it out, and spent the next six years gathering data herself and with small teams in the forests. She was rigorous and thorough, to make her thesis unassailable. And yet, this book is deeply personal and cathartic.That she would put herself through such intense and pressured research is remarkable enough. But there are two more aspects she mixes in. In the midst of it all her father died unexpectedly, in his late 60s, and she had to postpone dealing with it and her grief because grants and seasons won’t wait. It clearly affected her and how she looked at the trees, the people and life: through a very different lens because of it. The other thing is her frustration at trying to put a positive light on the rapid disappearance of this huge, not to mention magnificent and useful tree, and how it fits in with all the other looming degradation and destruction from climate change. Because that’s what’s killing off the trees. They used to depend on Arctic snow cover to protect their roots from freezing. But with little and sometimes no snow any more, the roots are destroyed by the wild temperature swings, the frosts and thaws of spring. The book details Oakes’ microscopic and intensely thorough planning and execution of all aspects of the research, from temperature monitoring to interviewing the locals about how the yellow-cedar fits into their lives. Because trees affect people like no other plants. Especially grand old ones. They are official property markers in England, sacred sites all over the world, and the basis of fond memories for countless millions. People get emotionally attached to trees. So this is also a very emotional account.For me, the high point came in chapter 6, halfway through the book, where Oakes interviews locals about their relationship and attitude (if any) towards the yellow-cedar. One resident, scientist Greg Streveler, who she knew from her first tour, absolutely dumbfounded her. He had moved to the forest to enjoy it and his life. She could not pin him down to describe civilization and climate change as hopeless, though everything he said reinforced that thought. Yet neither would he allow himself the fantasy of being at all hopeful in thinking he or any one person could change the trajectory. To Oakes, this is a contradiction, but Streveler looks at it differently: Someone installing solar panels is nice. Someone buying a more fuel efficient car is nice. Someone recycling the trash is nice. But it is not going to stop the trainwreck. The sad truth is, the process is accelerating, despite individual efforts, he said. It is simply out of control. I think the reason it stood out was that it was the first time I have seen exactly my take on this in print. It’s my attitude, opinion and position too. And it turns out a lot of scientists struggle to get up in the morning because of it.Streveler knows that Man’s uncontrollable instinct is to kill that which is big and old, favoring the young and less significant that aren’t yet worthwhile targets. Whether it is cutting down a two thousand year old Giant Sequoia to establish a dancefloor on its stump, draining the Ogallala Reservoir to feed cattle and grow Kentucky blue grass lawns, or hunting large mammals to extinction for trophies, Man looks at everything for its present personal utility, and not its right to exist.But Streveler also knows Man cannot live in hopelessness. So he has found an attitude that ignores hopelessness without being in any way hopeful. He is living with and within nature, and that is satisfying to him. Oakes cannot relate.Dr. Lauren Oakes got her Phd, and has kept going back to Alaska. She seems to be as much a part of it as the natives. She knows everyone in the forestry community. And they respect her. She continues to leverage her expertise in every medium available. But it is not clear she has succeeded in finding a positive way to attack or even present the problem with an optimistic bent. Though she really does try.David Winebergmore
- January 1, 1970ElentarriNOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.In Search of the Canary Tree is not so much a popular science book about a specific topic, but rather the author’s personal experiences while doing research for her PhD project in Alaska. In the author’s own words: "This book is about a species - a tree called Callitropsis nootkatensis, how I fell under its spell, and how it inspired my search for people and plants thriving amidst NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.In Search of the Canary Tree is not so much a popular science book about a specific topic, but rather the author’s personal experiences while doing research for her PhD project in Alaska. In the author’s own words: "This book is about a species - a tree called Callitropsis nootkatensis, how I fell under its spell, and how it inspired my search for people and plants thriving amidst change. It chronicles my effort to answer what happens in the wake of yellow-cedar death, not only to uncover the future of these old-growth forests, but to share lessons that apply to people on other parts of the planet. It is a book about finding faith, not of any religious variety, but as a force that summons local solutions to a global problem, that helps me live joyfully and choose what matters most in seemingly dark times. If we start looking at the local picture and the ways in which we all depend on nature in various ways every day, solutions emerge. I witnessed this in Alaska".The book starts off slowly but picks up pace. The book is a nicely-written, accessible, personable, informative, and rather intimate view of what one scientist actually did for her research project, the people that influenced her, what her findings were and how this affected her personally. If you are only looking for scientific information, this book is not for you. If you want a more personal relationship with the scientists behind the number crunching, then you may enjoy this book.more
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