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
by The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World
by Lauren E. Oakes
Basic Books, November 2018
Where mountains meet ocean in Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago, white skeletons of dead yellow cedar trees stand in stark contrast to the verdant landscape of old-growth forests. Researchers spent nearly three decades deciphering the cause of the majestic species’ mysterious death: the culprit, they discovered, was neither pathogen nor pest, but instead climate change. In the wake of this discovery, Lauren Oakes, a young scientist, wondered if what the people in this region were experiencing—whatever ways they were finding to cope with their rapidly changing environment and the loss of this sacred tree—might be a scrying glass into the future.
IN SEARCH OF THE CANARY TREE is her six-year-long attempt to answer what happens after the trees die, not only to uncover the future of a handful of magnificent forests, but what lessons could be translated to people in other parts of the planet, where other tree graveyards have become frighteningly common. It chronicles her adventures along the outer coast of southeast Alaska, into various communities spread across the archipelago, and into labs and offices at Stanford University. From thousands of plant measurements, she discovered forests flourishing again in time. From hours of interviews with loggers, naturalists, native Tlingit weavers, and others who value this tree, she found a disparate community of people developing new relationships with the emerging environment.
IN SEARCH OF THE CANARY TREE is a story about finding faith—not of the religious variety—but in the possibility for adaptation and action. Against a backdrop of dying forests and in a scientific profession plagued with pessimism, Oakes became an unexpected optimist. Part Lab Girl, part Into the Wild, THE CANARY TREE is an unforgettable story of science, natural history, and personal discovery.
Lauren E. Oakes is an ecologist and human-natural systems scientist. She is a lecturer in the Program of Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University. She earned her PhD from Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources and her bachelor’s degree from Brown. She has written about her research for the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and her work has been profiled by the Atlantic, Outside, National Geographic, and Christian Science Monitor, among other outlets.