“I came to Alaska looking for hope in a graveyard. Ice melting, seas rising, longer droughts—in a world seemingly on fire, I chose to put myself in some of the worst of it.”
This is how author Lauren E. Oakes begins “In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World,” which was jointly selected as the Book in Common for the 2019-20 academic year by California State University, Chico President Gayle Hutchinson and Butte College President Samia Yaqub.
“In Search of the Canary Tree” is the first-person account of a young scientist as she designs and implements a study of climate-threatened yellow cedar trees in the rugged forests of southeastern Alaska. Oakes, a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and adjunct professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University, explores the urgent challenge of climate change by engaging the human relationship with local geography from multiple perspectives.
Recounting six years of research, including gritty details of freezing feet, improvised rain gear, and the personal costs of extended fieldwork, her research extends beyond the trees themselves to forest service employees, loggers, other scientists, and the Tlinget people, each with their own stakes in the trees’ destiny. In telling these stories, as well as her own, Oakes uncovers an inspiring resiliency in both nature and community.
The book also demystifies the process of becoming a scientist by narrating the process—forming a research question, figuring out a method, securing funding, working in a team—in plain language and vivid detail, including hand-drawn maps and images of plants and landscapes.
“Oakes’ depiction of community resilience in the face of loss will resonate well with Butte County readers,” Hutchinson said. “I look forward to rich and productive conversations about this book next year.”
The Book in Common is a shared community read designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues. It is chosen each year by a group of CSU, Chico and Butte College faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community. As in past years, Butte College, CSU, Chico, the City of Chico, and Butte County will sponsor panel discussions, lectures, and other public events to celebrate and promote the Book in Common.
“This is a beautifully written book that will engage students from any discipline and excite them about the processes of research and discovery,” Yaqub said.
Learn more about the Book in Common at www.csuchico.edu/bic.