Immediately after the world’s last male northern white rhino died on March 19th, a team of vets got to work. Within 30 minutes, they had collected tissue from the ears, gums, spleen, windpipes, and testicles of the 45-year-old rhino, named Sudan. The precious genetic material was put in a solution and then frozen at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, where Sudan spent the last nine years of his life. Those cells could one day bring the northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction.
Dozens of scientists across the globe — from the US to Europe to Africa — are working together tirelessly to figure out ways to breed rhino embryos in the lab. The effort resembles in some ways the popular de-extinction projects that are attempting to resurrect the woolly mammoth or the passenger pigeon; all want to reverse extinction and in some cases, fix the damage humans have done.
My career as a rose gardener begins in December of 1995, when I am shown an apartment in Brooklyn by a broker who apologizes for it as soon as she opens the door.
“It’s small,” she says, looking away, as if the sight of such a small place offends her and possibly also me. We walk into a large studio with high ceilings, the wood floor buffed to a high gloss. Beyond that, a sliding glass door shows a small wooden deck that leads to a yard at least as large as the apartment, a mud slick striped by a stone walkway. Wooden seven-foot-tall picket fences line the sides, and a chain-link fence closes off the back.
I don’t respond to the broker right away, because, as I enter the apartment and the sun fills the back window, I see, like an apparition, roses tossing in the air like a parade, pink, orange, red, white, all lit up by the sun. They appear and then are gone by the time I am fully inside the apartment, as if painted on a curtain someone has now drawn back.
No less a writer than Margaret Atwood has said of Richard Powers that “it’s not possible for him to write an uninteresting book”. On the evidence of The Overstory, he is continuing a remarkable run that began when he came to prominence in 2006 with the National Book award-winning The Echo Maker. This is a mighty, at times even monolithic, work that combines the multi-narrative approach of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas with a paean to the grandeur and wonder of trees that elegantly sidesteps pretension and overambition. Early comparisons to Moby-Dick are unfairly lofty, but this fine book can stand on its own.