The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us

Trees are fascinating subjects. I am obsessed with tree books and try to read all that I can find. But most of these focus on a tree's root systems or how they influence the forest floor to support life. Not many of these books delve into the canopy of these trees, until now. This is the subject of Meg Lowman’s book The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us. Meg Lowman or “CanopyMeg” and the “real-life Lorax” as she is more affectionately known is an american biologist, educator and champion of tree conservation.  This book details the author's dual journey as she makes her literal ascent into the treetops and her rise to fame in a male dominated science community. 

The book starts with the author's childhood in rural upstate New York and how a love of wildflowers lead to a career in biology. The book goes on to chronicle how Lowman started her research studying the leaves in the canopies of Australian trees and then investigating the insects that were eating them. It details the moment Lowman made her own harness (out of an old seat belt) and started the first of countless journey’s into the crowns of trees. Loman also describes her experiences being an “aurbonaut” in the amazon jungle, in Indian forests with tigers and studying birches in the Scottish Highlands.The book also talks about Lowman juggling being a wife, mother and scientist at a time when that was not encouraged for women. Conservation is the main theme of the book and Lowman tells about many projects she’s a part of to get anyone and everyone, especially kids, outside. Lowman wants people to experience the canopies for themselves and does this by taking groups up into the tops of trees with harnesses, rope bridges and catwalks constructed in jungles and forests all over the world. These trips are to help people see the beauty and importance of trees in nature and understand the urgency to protect our remaining mature forests.   

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be very informative while being tremendously entertaining. A very interesting part of the book is the chapters in between Loman’s chronicles on different trees that are mentioned in the book to give extra background info on the likes of The Giant Stinging Tree and the Dark Red Meranti. Lowman talks a lot about tropical trees, which I found an interesting change from other tree books that focus on temperate forests of Europe and North America. My favorite part of the book is learning how much I didn't know about the canopies of trees. As Lowman describes “In the years ahead, treetop exploration would lead to the discovery that upward of half of all terrestrial creatures live about one hundred feet or more above our heads, not at ground level as scientists had previously assumed.” This book is a wonderful mix of memoir and nature and gives practical advice on being a positive contribution to the conservation of Earth’s forests. I would highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone who loves trees, nature and our incredibly amazing planet.

Review by Rachel Fowler