BY KIMBERLY MAYER
When Susan Orlean asked John Laroche in her book The Orchid Thief why he loved plants, “He said he admired how adaptable and mutable they are, how they have figured out how to survive in the world.”
But I wonder… we may outfox them yet.
I recently picked up and devoured Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, a memoir of a woman in the natural sciences. But whereas I might come at nature from the I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree brain hemisphere, Jahren, recipient of three Fulbright Awards in geobiology and tenured professor at the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu, sounded alarms good and loud from the science department.
“Planet Earth is nearly a Dr. Seuss book made real: every year since 1990 we have created more than 8 billion new stumps,” she states. “If we continue to fell healthy trees at this rate, less than 600 years from now, every tree on this planet will have been reduced to a stump.”
Some disappearances happen almost without notice in the course of one’s lifetime. Some in a matter of decades—like the colorful coral reefs in the Caribbean, now bleached. And some practically before one’s eyes, such as the magnificently large orange, red, and purple sea stars that lit up our boating trips to marinas in the Puget Sound just a few short years ago.
You know it’s a good book when what you are reading puts you in the author’s mindset. Lab Girl had me seeing like a scientist. While she examined seeds, soil, and trees, I hopped on a dock at Ganges Marina on Salt Springs Island, British Columbia and spotted starfish—something whose disappearance we have witnessed. The West Coast starfish Plague. First they go clear, and then they are gone.
You can’t imagine my delight in finding one.
Like sea life, “plants have more enemies than can be counted,” notes Jahren.
At the end of her memoir she requests that each reader plant a tree, nurture, and protect it. And “to try to see the world from its perspective.” For we are all in this together, the trees, sea stars, and us.
Here’s hoping Lab Girl sells, and sells well.