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On the morning of June 12 2018, I was sitting at my desk on the 24th floor in an office on Broadway, New York. I was scanning through the emails which had arrived in my inbox overnight. One of them was a daily climate change newsletter. Amongst the slew of headlines, one caught my eye:

Giant African baobab trees die suddenly after thousands of years

I lived in Malawi, in south-east Africa, for a year before I went to university and I know baobab trees. The story filled me with grief. The researchers attributed the sudden collapse of these thousand plus year old trees to climate change. It was a spear in the heart moment for me. What were we doing to these beings and so many others, not to mention fellow human beings?

The story stayed me with all day. I got home that evening and wrote in my notebook – a new notebook, no less, to mark the significance of the event – “I have my book concept. ‘A history of the future of the world in 12 trees’. Or maybe 10.”

And I listed out trees: baobabs, eucalpytus, cedar, birch, oak, mangrove.

Since then, I have been developing the idea, and making preparation for the research journey to visit the 10 trees throughout 2019. (In the end, I decided 10 rather than 12 would be more manageable). I have visited the 10 trees in different ecosystems, in different parts of the world, and which are being affected by climate change in different ways. I listened to the stories of the trees and the stories of the people whose lives are intertwined with the trees – which ultimately all our lives are.

I wanted to understand what we can learn about what the future holds from what the trees are telling us now – and what we can do in the face of this future. It was also a personal journey for me, of deepening my connection to trees and nature, and understanding what does it truly mean to listen to and learn from the trees.

The trees I have visited are:

Due to the pandemic, I never made it to the baobab, the tree that began this whole journey. Perhaps I will still get there someday. 

I am now in the journey of writing the book. You can keep up-to-date through my Substack (free to subscribe). The name of the Substack is the title for my book, To Hear the Trees Speak. 

Picture on this page: Stirling National Park, Western Australia. Olivia Sprinkel

Olivia Sprinkel
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