Nalini Nadkarni- Biophilia Through Trees


I’m giving a little tribute today to the recovering Nalini Nadkarni, who is an amazing woman and ecologist. She has focused on tropical ecology and the ecology of trees most of her career. Maybe I admire her because my original passion in life was tropical forest ecology and I diverged from my path of research in those beautiful cathedrals. She’s worked with bringing nature into prisons and maybe her best contribution is to not be afraid to intertwine the spiritual aspect of ecology into her work and writing. I respect her for understanding, treating and speaking about trees as the wonderful living beings that they are and for taking E.O. Wilson’s biophiliac observations even further.  

In July 2015 she fell 50 ft from one of the trees she was climbing for research. Despite many broken bones and serious injuries, she survived and is recovering. We can learn from her perspective after this life-threatening incident.


I picked-up her book Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees a couple of years ago at a conference. Here is an excerpt that resonated with me because it brought me back to my thesis research days spent in traversing Costa Rican forests measuring trees along transects to understand how the forest revives after being cut down, held in a perpetual grass state for years to provide for cattle and agriculture, then left to reclaim itself.

Nalini deeply understands that spiritual and social connectedness between nature and ourselves because we are Nature. I’m sharing this passage and her video because I think they speak to the need for allowing ourselves those moments of grieving when a gap appears in our life so that we can move through the experience to the point that we know the gap has made a space for sunlight to enter the darkness and help hidden seeds awaken, take root and bring forth new life. 

Contrary to the image we often hold of their being ancient, timeless places where time stands still, forests are dynamic. On a blustery day in the windy season, I walked out to my study plot in the tropical could forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Three miles up the trail, one of the largest trees in the plot had toppled, an individual I knew intimately from scores of trips up and down its trunk. I had named this tree “The Mansion” because its giant crown suggests a gracious home of many rooms, each branch festooned with orchids, bromeliads, and ferns and inhabited by a diverse assemblage of arboreal animals. But the tree had fallen in the previous night’s windstorm, tearing open a huge gap in the fabric of the forest canopy, which created a sunlit area on the ground that had previously been held in deep shade. I took a seat on the toppled trunk, feeling sadness at its transformation from vertical to horizontal, living to dying. Yet the sunlight that could now penetrate to the previously dark forest floor, I knew, awaken the dormant seeds that lay buried in the soil at my feet. (p.49)”

Connection to Food Forests and Urban Parks

Food forests not only nourish our bodies through the food they produce, but they nourish our souls and our psyche  as well by connecting us to the healing aspects of spending time in nature, remembering we are Nature, and connecting us to others, reminding us despite all other differences, we share the same basic needs as other organisms for survival. Needs for safety, belonging, connection, respect, food, water, and sunlight, in all of its many forms. For some urban populations the little patches of forests and parks are the only places one can go for reflection, for peace, for a moment of quietness, for going inward in order to see out more clearly. Consider designing your community food forests with spaces that allow for reflection and other activities you’d like to see more of in society and to help foster the culture of which we want to be a part.

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