In her book Between Earth and Sky, forest canopy biologist Nalini Nadkarni introduces us to a man named Emil, who has traveled from the tundra of northern Canada to experience trees for the first time. At the end of the two-week excursion, he describes his impression of the forest: “You must learn to treat these big trees the way we treat the elders in our village—with great care and respect. Trees are as important to you as our grandparents are to us because they teach you things.” As Nadkarni shows, trees are indeed wise teachers, providers, healers, and friends. They are the common thread between chewing gum, turpentine, allspice, maple syrup, vitamin packets, charcoal, toothpaste, and Chanel No. 5, and they are present throughout our lives, from birth and childhood (cradles, building blocks, tree houses) to death and beyond (memorial trees, coffins, gallows), and everything in between. Nadkarni illustrates how trees support every human need, from food and
shelter to health, creativity, a sense of history, spirituality and religion, and mindfulness.
The relationship between people and trees, particularly the forest canopy, is at the center of Nadkarni’s book. She shares her personal story of how trees shaped her life: her childhood in the treetops, her life's work as a canopy researcher, her marriage in a tree, and her wish to ultimately become part of the canopy itself. Nadkarni has transcended the borders of academic science to become a forest ambassador and teacher, connecting people with nature in creative ways. In her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference, above, she describes some of these projects and partnerships, including music, dance, and art collaborations, and a program where incarcerated men and women learn to cultivate endangered canopy moss. Her Forest Canopy Lab also created the Treetop Barbie, to inspire the next generation of adventurous tree climbers. But the ultimate partnership is the one between humans and trees: "There are trees in our hearts. There are trees in your hearts. When we come to understand nature, we are touching the most deep, the most important parts of our self," she says. Nadkarni's story illuminates the path toward mindfulness, and a rediscovery of our relationship with nature.