From the tree to the whale, by Jordi Serrallonga

I had a date with a queen in the Barcelona Museum of Natural Sciences and I was afraid to be late. Jane and Tarzan would have crossed from L’Hospitalet to the Forum, from the Forum to Gràcia and from the town to the sea swinging and hanging from vine to vine. But, let’s face it, not even in the concrete jungle do we have optimal tree cover, nor do I possess the athletic body of Johnny Weissmüller; Neither was that of the biologist and forest ecologist who was waiting for me in the museum: the “Queen of the Forest Canopy.” I opted for another type of vines and branches, public transport lines and, at full speed, I was able to meet Nalini Nadkarni (Bethesda, United States, 1954). A jovial scientist who shook my hand without demanding any protocol. There was no physical crown, she is just a brave and enterprising woman who studies the ecosystem that develops in the treetops of tropical and temperate forests.

My relationship with plants, in addition to picking blackberries during the holidays in Sau, comes from the article that, as a kid, I read in the magazine ‘Mundo Científico’; I was attracted to the cover, It was about a 19th century naturalist: Gregor Mendel. He worked with the pea plant on hybridization issues and I decided to reproduce the same experiments on the balcony at home. A disaster. I filled the house with pots, soil and various flowers. Everything ended up withering.

Some time later, in the sixth year of EGB, on the occasion of some coexistence in Ogassa, I saw a herbarium for the first time. Being taught to identify, collect and press plants was a revelation. Darwin must have felt the same way when his professor at Cambridge, Henslow, showed him the fundamentals of botany. There, near the old coal mines, my unconditional love for ferns was born. Yes, these plants so old that they do not always arouse passions by not displaying beautiful and brand-new flowers. Monotonous? If they have it all! From the tiniest ferns to the arborescent ones they have wonderful shapes; in addition to his aforementioned pedigree. And it is that where I found the living fern, we also found a fossilized fern on a stone plate of the Carboniferous: more than 300,000 million years.

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And is that plants should deserve more attention. We had placed them at the bottom of a false pyramid of life; when evolution is precisely in the form of a tree. We share a common origin with all plants, although they live in the shadow of the fascination that animals cause in us; Why do most of them move and look better in documentaries? Because they have expressive eyes that touch the viewer? Exactly, we usually fall apart at the gaze of a cub, but we are indifferent to a vegetable sprout. Until the colossal Sir David Attenborough appeared as a modern José Celestino Mutis. He explained to us that he had to convince the directors of the BBC to let him film a miniseries about the plant world: ‘Life of Plants’ (1995). In its six episodes – which became a worldwide bestseller – he had us follow a mangrove seed across the ocean, until it landed and germinated on an island, with the same passion and tension as a hunt in the Serengeti.

And one gets excited listening, spellbound, to Nalini Nadkarni. One day before being awarded the PremiNAT 2021, we sat under the skeleton of ‘Brava’; the fin whale that presides over the entrance to the Museum of Natural Sciences. The reason was to chat about his work and communicate it to the public. You give in to his way of explaining how with ropes and harness ascends to the highest part of the trees, like Jorge Mederos in Collserola; also with cranes and hot air balloons. Climbing up the trees carries so much in our blood that, having had the harness close by, taking the ribs as branches, we are perched on the whale’s canopy. He looks at her with a mischievous face. Because it’s just the queen there in the canopy, At ground level, Marta, from the museum team, is hugged: “We are sisters!” He also hugs Cristina and Gemma, and sends Carlota hugs. To me, still drenched in sweat – like I’m in the rain forest – he shakes my hand and smiles. “See you tomorrow, Jordi.”

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