Lab Girl and a Walk in the Forest

I finished Hope Jahren’s book, Lab Girl, last week – and I loved it. I thought a lot about Jahren’s book as I was walking through the forest at Rasar State Park on a camping trip this week…

“Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance— to take its one and only chance to grow. A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it…  When you go into a forest you probably tend to look up at the plants that have grown so much taller than you ever could. You probably don’t look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting… When you are in the forest, for every tree that you see, there are at least a hundred more trees waiting in the soil, alive and fervently wishing to be.” – Hope Jahren

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Maple seeds waiting…

“Once the first root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope (however feeble) of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous. Indeed, it will face frost, drought, and greedy jaws without any possibility of flight. The tiny rootlet has only one chance to guess what the future years, decades— even centuries— will bring to the patch of soil where it sits. It assesses the light and humidity of the moment, refers to its programming, and quite literally takes the plunge… If a root finds what it needs, it bulks into a taproot— an anchor that can swell and split bedrock, and move gallons of water daily for years, much more efficiently than any mechanical pump yet invented by man. The taproot sends out lateral roots that intertwine with those of the plant next to it, capable of signaling danger” – Hope Jahren

“The first real leaf is a new idea. As soon as a seed is anchored, its priorities shift and it redirects all its energy toward stretching up. Its reserves have nearly run out and it desperately needs to capture light in order to fuel the process that keeps it alive. As the tiniest plant in the forest, it has to work harder than everything above it, all the while enduring a misery of shade.All the sugar that you have ever eaten was first made within a leaf. Without a constant supply of glucose to your brain, you will die. Period… It’s inescapable: at this very moment, within the synapses of your brain, leaves are fueling thoughts of leaves.”

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Forest Canopy, Rasar State Park (photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

“Trees are a unique type of plant because their stems can be more than one hundred yards long and are made of this amazing substance that we call wood. Wood is strong, light, flexible, nontoxic, and weather-resistant; thousands of years of human civilization have yet to produce a better multipurpose building material. Inch for inch, a wooden beam is as strong as one made from cast iron but is ten times more flexible and only one-tenth as heavy… Every piece of wood in your house— from the windowsills to the furniture to the rafters— was once part of a living being, thriving in the open and pulsing with sap.” – Hope Jahren

“You may think a mushroom is a fungus. This is exactly like believing that a penis is a man. Every toadstool, from the deliciously edible to the deathly poisonous, is merely a sex organ that is attached to something more whole, complex, and hidden.” – Hope Jahren

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Mushrooms on Stump at Rasar State Park (Karen Molenaar Terrell)

“Plants do not travel through space as we do: as a rule they do not move from place to place. Instead they travel through time, enduring one event after the other, and in this sense, winter is a particularly long trip. Trees follow the standard advice given for any extended travel within a rustic setting: pack carefully.” – Hope Jahren

“There are thousands of different palm species, and they all belong to the Arecaceae family. The Arecaceae are important because they were the first plant family to evolve as ‘monocots’ about a hundred million years ago… The very earliest monocots soon evolved into grasses, and grasslands eventually spread across the vast areas of the Earth where it’s just a little too wet to be a desert and still a little too dry to be a forest.” – Hope Jahren

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Maple seeds waiting…

“Research has shown how a brief glimpse of green significantly improved the creativity that people brought to bear on simple tasks.” – Hope Jahren

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