Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Tree

Environmental & Science Education
Women in Science
Nature of Science
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

"Like most people," writes Hope Jahren, "I have a particular tree that I remember from my childhood."

I also have such a tree. It stood on the flood plain of the Canasawacta Creek or "crick" not too far from my house, close enough to visit every day if I wanted. The map to which I link is not immediately informative on first view but if you zoom in, move the cursor, reposition the map, the name "East Branch Canasawacta Creek," SE of Plymouth will appear.

I visited this tree regularly when I was growing up, primarily to climb and sometimes to get as close to the top as I dared or could. It was tall, fully adult. I never climbed to the very top--handholds and footholds escaped me. The tree was a massive tower with a one or two long horizontal limbs at the bottom with the trunk dividing not too far from the base into several trunks.One of the tree's horizontal limbs was just low enough to let me get into the tree.

The tree was an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) also known as as American planetree and to me as buttonball because of its fall fruits. It is a tree of mottled bark that sloughs off in large and small flakes, leaving greenish white blotches on its gray, brown and whitish and smooth surface. The trunk is dark and rough near the bottom and gradually becomes smooth and blotchy as you go up. See here and here.

Do you have a memory of a particular tree? 

There were other trees in my life, many of them that I knew reasonably well and visited but it is the sycamore that I most remember as it stood tall, alone and invitingly on the crick flats.

Hope Jahren is a scientist who grew up in Austin, MN where her father taught physics at the local college. She is the author of Lab Girl, a beautifully written memoir interspersed with short chapters on aspects of trees/plants (she is a geobiologist). Jahren has had an extraordinary relationship with her laboratory manager, Bill who has been with her from the beginning and for whom she feels responsible for providing a living wage. They remind me of a very close brother and sister who love and respect one another.

Jahren writes with insight about science's Dharma wheel--the relentless search for funding, those short periodic cycles and the importance of publications to keep the funding going. There are also two extraordinary chapters, one about her manic episodes; the other about the birth of her son. She doesn't spend a lot of time on being a woman in what is primarily a male profession but you might want to boot some of them and one in particular in the seat of the pants.

You will find excellent reviews here and here. You may visit her laboratory at the University of Oslo where she, her family and Bill moved in 2016, here.  I hope you will visit these pages. I also hope that her funding is more secure, too. I also hope you will consider reading the book.

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