On August 14th, tree blogger and nature enthusiast, Jade Blackwater had the unique opportunity to interview Nalini Nadkarni, author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees (UC Press, July 2008). Below is only an excerpt of the interview, but you can find the interview in its entirety at Blackwater’s blog, Arboreality.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with a little background. Please tell us, when / how did the idea for Between Earth and Sky first sprout? What motivated you to wrap your arms around such an enormous subject as the connections between trees and people?
In some ways, I have been
thinking about this book since I was a young girl climbing trees in her
back yard. In fact, I wrote a “self-published book” when I was 12 years
old on tree-climbing, called “Be Among the Birds”. I produced only one
copy! I grew up with a deep love of trees and nature, and chose to
pursue the academic of forest ecology to deepen my understanding trees.
Along the way, however, I recognized the power of poetry, literature,
and art to convey important ideas, and so I incorporated them into my
book. The actual launch, however, took place when I was teaching an
interdisciplinary class at The Evergreen State College,
called “Trees and Humans”, in which my students and I explored the many
relationships between humans and people in a systematic way. I realized
that although it is an enormous subject, as you say, if I could
organize it and synthesize it, it might be a good contribution to the
existing literature on trees and their conservation.
What were your original goals when you set out to create Between Earth and Sky? Now that the book is complete, have your goals for the book changed?
My original goals were to create a book that crosses disciplinary
boundaries to document the many ways humans and trees interact.
Initially, I conceived it as a book rich in content, with facts and
figures that would “convince” readers that trees are important and
worthy of being conserved. However, as the work progressed, I realized
that I needed to give myself permission to move from a strictly “facts”
base orientation and instead tell stories about trees, about people and
trees, and most of all, about my own life in order to be more effective
in my goal of moving people toward mindfulness.
Of all the research and outreach that contributed to this book, could
you tell us what were the biggest, or most unexpected bits of learning
that you personally took away from the project?
The most important thing I learned was about my own motivation to
understand and protect trees. As I wrote the book, collected stories,
and examined my own connections to trees, I realized that it was my
childhood interactions that have most contributed to my sense of
wanting to protect them. As I describe in the very first chapter, when
I was a young girl, I found that trees were places where I felt safe
and protected from the bewildering world of grownups. They were my
refuge. Over the course of my forest ecology career, working in trees
on four continents, I am fully aware of how much trees need protection
and refuge from humans. That, I now realize, is the motivation for my
drive to protect trees – not only their huge importance in maintaining
stable climate, a supply of oxygen, and biodiversity.
Now that Between Earth and Sky has its first chance to speak to an audience, what are your hopes? What do you most want readers to take away from this book?
hope is that after readers finish this book, they will say, wow, I had
no idea that trees are so cool, so important, so beautiful, so
fascinating. I want them to recall trees that have been important to
them in their youth and in their adulthood from all parts of their
life. I want them to walk down an urban street and say, hey, look at
the body language of that tree, what was its past? I want them to climb
a tree when they are feeling scared or sad, and then feel braver and
not so sad. I want them to become mindful of all of the things that
trees provide, and to become mindful of all of the things we must
As the concept of sustainability slowly enters the public consciousness and conversation, how do you see Between Earth and Sky as contributing to the discussion?
believe that my book is a direct and powerful participant in the
concept of sustainability, as it is growing into our society. The book
is essentially a document about conservation about one of the best
ambassadors to nature – trees. The ultimate objective is to instill a
sense of mindfulness about the importance of trees and forests – the
lungs of our Earth. What logically follows once mindfulness is aroused
is a sense of stewardship and conservation, which are both bulwarks of