originally posted August 15, 2021;
no text revisions to date—
I don’t often get to write or post about nature—or even science in general—so when I came across this lengthy excerpt from an opening chapter of The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us, by biologist, botanist, conservationist Meg Lowman, I was eager to do so!
The Arbornaut serves as a memoir for Lowman and begins with her adventurous childhood:
Our old Rambler bounced along a dusty road, through cherry orchards where my brother and I earned money picking fruit, near an old haunted house that made my hair stand on end, past a one-room bar where farmers bragged about their corn.
Willows encircled the pond’s edge, their roots adapted to soggy soil. . . . [M]y mom worried we were trespassing on some farmer’s property even though there was no house to be seen, so she very reluctantly climbed into that dilapidated dinghy, strewn with spiderwebs and dusty underpinnings. Away we paddled. . . . We rowed and bailed constantly, to keep afloat.
Out in the middle of the pond, we stopped paddling and I focused my enormous Sears binoculars. They were ridiculously bulky, felt like they weighed almost as much as I did . . . but they made me feel like a professional ornithologist. . . . [A]s if on cue, a great blue heron flew in and landed along the shoreline. Even my mom was overcome with awe. . . .
The excerpt continues with more description, more stories, more fascination. “We role-played as explorers, nurses, heroines, scientists, and castaways.” Additionally, Lowman shares the evolution of her passion for wildlife:
I became a local expert on phenology, the seasonality of nature’s events, before anyone in Elmira, New York, had even heard the word. I knew exactly when and where in the forest to find jack-in-the-pulpits, followed weeks later by yellow trout lilies and amazing varieties of violets ranging in color from pink to purple to blue to white. . . . By the age of ten, I knew the calendar of phenological events for many wildflowers in upstate New York. I kept careful diaries to track all kinds of seasonality, from plants blooming to canopies greening to birds migrating to mosquitos biting to fireflies twinkling. . . .
As her passion evolves, even within this excerpt, Lowman writes very plainly, to a general audience, and with interest—and her voice never ceases to reveal a natural progression or age-appropriate sense of wonder. The excerpt is not only a comfortable read but a good example for anyone considering—and you should all be considering—writing a memoir. I challenge you to read a little, then let her thoughts start triggering your own memories. . . . Her recollections will trigger you to write about family cars, elementary-school friends, simple achievements and what seemed legendary defeats, passions . . . and details in between. Those are the stories your family will want to have access to some day.
Known familiarly as “Canopy Meg,” Lowman has become a global pioneer in forest canopy ecology—one of the world’s foremost “arbornauts”—exploring and studying forest canopies, which make up what she has termed the Earth’s “eighth continent.” She is a tireless educator, a supportive advocate for girls, women, and minorities in science, and an outspoken environmentalist. She is also known as the “real-life Lorax” (in reference to The Lorax, a children’s book about environmental damage, over-harvesting natural resources, and effects of pollution that was written by Dr. Seuss in 1971) and has a fascinating background. (Read more biographical information at her website, CanopyMeg.com.)
If you decide to read The Arbornaut, enjoy it, but also let it motivate you to put your story into words. If you decide to start writing about your life with the excitement of this excerpt—just keep at it (and let the-freelance-editor know if we can help). Good luck, either way,
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image information: Featured image via SRQmagazine.com, where it was used as artwork for an undated interview, “Canopy Meg: In the treetops with scientist Margaret Lowman”; the artwork was created by Chris Leverett, an artist/illustrator who earned his BFA in illustration from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Note: this post contains an affiliate link.