Trees are fascinating subjects. I am obsessed with tree books and try to read all that I can find. But most focus on a tree’s root systems or how they influence the forest floor to support life. Not many of these books delve into the canopy of these trees, until now.
This is the subject of Meg Lowman’s book “The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us.” Lowman, affectionately known as “CanopyMeg” and the “real-life Lorax,” is an American biologist, educator and champion of tree conservation. This book details the author’s dual journey as she makes her literal ascent into the treetops, and her rise to fame in a male-dominated science community.
The book starts with Lowman’s childhood in rural upstate New York, and how a love of wildflowers led to a career in biology. The book chronicles how Lowman started her research studying the leaves in the canopies of Australian trees, then investigating the insects that were eating them. It details the moment Lowman made her own harness (out of an old seat belt) and started the first of countless journeys into the crowns of trees.Lowman also describes her experiences being an “arbornaut” in the Amazon jungle, in Indian forests with tigers and studying birches in the Scottish Highlands. She also talks about juggling being a wife, mother and scientist at a time when that was not encouraged for women.
Conservation is the main theme of the book, and Lowman tells about numerous projects she’s a part of to get anyone and everyone, especially kids, outside. Lowman wants people to experience the canopies for themselves and does this by taking groups up into the tops of trees with harnesses, rope bridges and catwalks constructed in jungles and forests all over the world. These trips are to help people see the beauty and importance of trees in nature and understand the urgency of protecting our remaining mature forests.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be very informative and tremendously entertaining. Check out the chapters in between Loman’s chronicles of different trees as she provides extra background information on the likes of The Giant Stinging Tree and the Dark Red Meranti. Lowman talks a lot about tropical trees, which I found an interesting change from other tree books that focus on the temperate forests of Europe and North America.
My favorite part of the book was learning how much I didn’t know about tree canopies. As Lowman describes it: “In the years ahead, treetop exploration would lead to the discovery that upward of half of all terrestrial creatures live about one hundred feet or more above our heads, not at ground level as scientists had previously assumed.”
This book is a wonderful mix of memoir and nature and gives practical advice on being a positive contributor to the conservation of Earth’s forests. I would highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone who loves trees, nature and our incredibly amazing planet.
• “The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us” by Meg Lowman was published by Farr, Straus and Giroux on Aug. 1. It retails for $28.
• Rachel Fowler works for Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in Thursday’s SCENE every week.