In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World

Lauren E. Oakes. Basic, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5416-9712-6
Ecologist Oakes traces the slow death of the yellow cedar, alternatively known as the yellow cypress, in this significant ecological study. She chronicles a years-long investigation into the old-growth forests on Alaska’s “remote outer coast,” while suggesting that the yellow cedar’s recent decline, attributed to climate change and rising temperatures, might be the proverbial “canary in the coal mine—calling out for our own inevitable demise.” With innate curiosity and a strong sense of purpose, she talks with naturalists who recognize “the ecological value” of dead trees and “the habitat they create for birds [and] the nutrients they add to the forest floor as they decay.” She speaks to indigenous weavers, too, and to loggers and land managers, all of whom offer unique perspectives. Oakes’s storytelling gets bogged down occasionally. Discussions of academic and scientific methodology, for example, can become dull. The narrative takes a turn for the rawly emotional, however, when Oakes’s father unexpectedly dies back in Virginia, and she finds herself grieving his passing and Alaska’s environmental deterioration simultaneously. In these passages, Oakes admirably melds the professional with the highly personal, ultimately delivering a work of sensitivity and philosophical grace. B&w illus. and maps. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 08/20/2018
Release date: 11/27/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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