Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

On my flight to Canada yesterday, I read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. This was a dive into a subject area I know so little about, despite the fact that it is a book about land plants - those 400-million-year old things that managed to cover our earth rapidly and to hold fast through so much of history, and which are now being disappeared at a terrifying rate due to globalization and urbanization.

Every other chapter serves as a small ode to plant life. Jahren does an exquisite job of anthropomorphizing trees in a way that shows how their lives reflect and contrast against human lives in their own ways. Though, I do not know if Jahren would agree with this notion - of their anthropomorphization. She is, in fact, investigating trees own agencies, far beyond and far before human life descended on earth. She is finding evidence to show that, not only does an environment impact land plant life, but land plant life alternatively impacts its environment - even dictates its environment. By studying plant life, she is instead seeing the world, not through their eyes, but through their leaves, stems, seeds and roots. In this ode, she calls on readers to fully witness and appreciate the wonder of land plants, and the emergency of their rising death toll in the face of smaller and smaller funds to aid the fight to save their lives.

Plants are not like us. They are different in critical and fundamental ways. As I catalog the differences between plants and animals, the horizon stretches out before me faster than I can travel and forces me to acknowledge that perhaps I was destined to study plants for decades only in order to more fully appreciate that they are beings we can never truly understand. Only when we begin to grasp this deep otherness can we be sure we are no longer projecting ourselves onto plants. Finally we can begin to recognize what is actually happening.

Our world is falling apart quietly. Human civilization has reduced the plant, a four-million-year-old life form, into three things: food, medicine, and wood...
— Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

That is one part of the story. The other part is Jahren's own memoir, each chapter a ring to her trunk, if she were a tree. We learn about her cold childhood, in more ways than one, and her envelopment in science studies. Through her eyes, we come to appreciate her lifelong lab partner, Bill, and the adventures they shared in- and outside of the lab. We learn of her mania, an unexpected element to the book that enthralled me all the more, and we learn of her recovery, her downfalls, and her re-recoveries. In a world where she would one day read this post, I wish to thank her for sharing this truth about herself, because, in addition to facing lifelong stigma about being a female scientist, she also faced bipolar disorder. And she showed us just how competent she was and how this often-thought disabling disease did not prevent her from becoming an incredibly prestigious and successful scientist. And it did not stop her from being a mother, or a wife. 

With that determination and drive, she may also not be stopped from bringing her lab to life, through her writing of this book and the work I imagine she will produce in the future. I hope so, for the sake of plant life but also for all our sakes. How beautiful the world is when green!

So humor me for a minute, and look out your window. What did you see?
— Hope Jahren, Lab Girl