For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt most at home in the lap of nature. I prefer hiking and camping to commercial, tourist-y stuff. Moving to a greener city has helped my after-work mood. I have even started my own little garden. And going by social media, most people are like that. We can never really be not connected to Mother Nature, I guess.
This sentiment is encapsulated in every chapter of Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities by Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli.
Apart from making you long for your childhood (the book mentions games and activities that depended on the presence of a tree, and yes you most probably have played those games as well), the book also educates you on the intricate lives of trees, the lives they support. Each tree is a tiny ecosystem in itself, and if you didn’t know that already, this book will make you pause and marvel at the trees in your vicinity.
The book talks about cultural meanings and practices attached to trees; some chapters even have recipes for dishes prepared using parts of the tree discussed.
Personally, I learnt a lot more about pollination: the way the lives of figs and wasps are intertwined, buzz pollination, or how jackals are important pollinators for the amaltas tree. There is something for everyone in there. I also learnt about the role of global trade, Mughal rule, and the British Raj in modern urban greenscape (is that a word?).
Depending on where you are on the conservationist spectrum, the book can make you feel anywhere between mildly sad to heartbroken about how humans have majorly prioritized aesthetics over our ecosystem, thus making not-so-great choices when it comes to urban trees.
While it doesn’t seem to take a stance on strongly debated topics (exotic vs native species, for example), it does educate the reader on all tree-based debates happening around the world.
This book made me think of how, if the botany textbooks at school had had similar content, the subject would have been infinitely more interesting.
If you need one more motivation for you to pick this book up and read, well, just know that you can finish this book in one sitting.