Profile: Driven Up a Tree; December 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Lewis; 2 Page(s)
Perched at the top of an oak tree, Margaret D. Lowman surveys the tips of tall palms and jungle plants and the fragment of Florida sea peeking through the foliage way below her. For her, the climb to the little platform wedged in the branches was effortless; despite the humidity, there's not a bead of sweat on her forehead. She inhales the early morning air and exudes contentment. The 45-year-old botanist later confesses that she prefers coming down to clambering up. "Man was not made to live in the trees like monkeys," she declares. It's a strange observation for Lowman to make. She's come about as close as anyone to giving monkeys some real competition.
Lowman has made thousands of climbs in her quest to discover more about one of the earth's last frontiers: the rainforest canopy. The difficulty of getting up into the canopy had preserved its status as one of world's most uncharted territories-until Lowman and a handful of other highminded scientists devised various means of scaling those heights. When she's not using ropes to haul herself into the treetops, she might rely on a hot-air balloon to suspend herself over them or a crane to lower herself into them. When she was pregnant, she squeezed into a cherry picker to continue her research. Her pioneering work on ways to get into the canopy has taken her to Cameroon, Peru, Belize, Samoa, Panama and Australia and was recognized in 1997 when she was made a fellow of the venerable Explorers Club, one of 12 botanists among its 2,800 members.