The world supports sixty-one trees for every person on Earth. That number, a comparison of the population of trees to humans calculated by canopy biologist, environmental studies professor, and author Nalini Nadkarni, may sound large at first, almost luxuriant. Considering how long it takes to grow most trees, however, it’s sobering to realize that sixty-one trees are what each person has over their lifetime. And it’s even more miniscule when you consider the number of tree-derived products—from paper to building products to foods and medicine—each person uses everyday.
That’s just one of the thought-provoking affinities Nadkarni explores in her new book, Between Earth and Sky. The book’s goal is to help readers be considerate of trees: not just because of the resources they provide, but also because of the pivotal role they play in the human imagination. But don’t think that Between Earth and Sky is just another environmental tome. Nadkarni’s writing is like a love letter to trees that effortlessly mixes poetry and prose with environmentalism, culture, history, and science. You may never have given wine bottle corks a second thought, but in Chapter Three: Goals and Services, Nadkarni draws readers in to their importance by first recalling the love of a childhood book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, which featured a cork tree, and then giving a brief history of cork as a product. Her explanation of the biology of the cork tree and the way Portuguese cork harvesters work will make you think twice when opening your next bottle.
Nadkarni also draws from personal experience, recounting her youth climbing trees and how this eventually led her to become a canopy botanist, climbing hundreds of feet into the air to study tropical trees in Costa Rica. She recalls memories that include her time as a graduate student doing tree research, falling in love with her husband while studying the canopy, and working with her students, the next generation of scientists and researchers to study trees.
This mix of personal, cultural, and scientific makes Between Earth and Sky an engaging and satisfying read for anyone. More importantly, Nadkarni’s book succeeds at its goal—after reading it, you may find yourself in a forest, park, or even your own backyard, looking at a tree with a new sense of wonder and admiration.