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Canopy Career Chronicles

Story title:  Felix, the Research Leader.  It take a lot of imagination to think like a tree.
A man wearing a backpack consults a map. He thinks to himself, "Where the heck is this place?" In front of him is a small, single-engine airplane. A man waves to him from the steps of the plane.
Felix, the narrator, says, "My childhood under the blue Texas sky definitely didn't prepare me for this." Two men stand in the middle of a jungle. One, the professor, is using binoculars to look up into a tree. The other, Felix, is taking notes in a field notebook. A large snake peers out of the foliage.
Felix, the narrator, says, "I appreciated the opportunity to join my professor in the field, but I didn't enjoy it much at first." He stands looking up at a monkey in a tree. He slaps at a mosquito on his neck as rain pours down and forms puddles on the jungle floor.
Felix is showing the notebook to his professor. The professor points to something he's written and says, "So remember, when you spot a primate, record all the data we discussed. I'll see you back at camp at sunset."
Felix, the narrator, says, "Chasing primates around was hard work. After months I'd only get a sliver of data." He stands in the jungle, holding binoculars, notebook, and pencil. He looks annoyed as he stands in the pouring rain. He says, "Where did that monkey go this time?"
Felix, the narrator, says, "But something unexpected started happening. I was spending more and more time identifying and observing trees." He has stopped to examine the large, outspreading roots of a tree in the jungle. He says, "Whoa, look at the root system of this Shorea acutissima!" The professor, impatiently walking ahead, says "Um, our primate went that way..."
Felix, the narrator, says, "And I began thinking about trees as very different organisms. Their unique approach to life fascinated me." He sits high on the branch of a tree, feet dangling, hand resting on the trunk. He holds a notebook and a thermos sits next to him.
Felix, the narrator, says, "So, I shifted gears from primatology to botany and have been studying trees ever since." He stands next to a large tree, looking up and gently touching the trunk with one hand. He holds a notebook in his other hand.
Felix, the narrator, says, "Our perception of trees is that they appear to be inert -- they don't really do much." He and a bare tree stand in silouette against a stark background.
Felix, the narrator, says, "But when you look at them closely, you discover how dynamic they really are." Two trees stand out against the sky. Their roots stretch out underground, and arrows point out the flow of nutrients and water. Other arrows indicate the movement of insects and other organisms.
Felix, the narrator, says, "The life of a tree is so alient to mammals -- no muscles to move or pump blood and fluids, no central nervous system to coordinate action. And yet they are some of the most successful organisms on earth! How do they do it?" A tree is surrounded by question marks. Arrows show how nutrients and fluids move through the roots, trunk, and branches.
Felix looks at a tablet displaying a chart. He points and says, "They're sending out signals through chemicals they release in their leaves. Amazing!"
Felix is imagining the secret life of trees. He says, "It's like different parts of the tree are talking to each other." An image of a tree is showing in the background. Ants are on one of the branches, and Felix imagines the tree saying, "Eeek! We've got insects eating up sector 16." A lower part of the tree responds, "Roger that. Invaders in the area. Be on high alert!"
Felix, the narrator, says, "What drives research at the Center for Tree Science is that trees largely remain a mystery. We know discrete, separate things about them and their behavior and activities but we haven't integrated all of these things." He stands and watches as three people take measurements of a tree. A woman kneels on the ground, looking at the roots. Another is using a magnifying glass to look at the bark. Someone else is high on a ladder, looking at a branch.
Felix, the narrator, says, "For instance, how do all of the trees in a forest synchronize to release their pollen at the right time, which is often just a week or two window in the spring?" An alarm clock and question marks are superimposed on a tree. Flowers on a branch release pollen into the air.
Felix, the narrator, says, "So we're creating what I call the "tree observatory." We collect a variety of data giving us the baseline for a single tree." He's working on a laptop, facing a tree in the distance. Around the tree are three different observation tools: a band around its trunk, a tube extending below the ground, and a drone circling its canopy.
Felix, the narrator, says, "To understand a tree's 'heart rate' and 'blood pressure,' we use a tool sort of like a Fit Bit to measure sap flow -- the movement of water and nutrients from its roots to leaves." He stands by a tree, looking at a tablet in his hand and gesturing with his hand. The tree has a band around its trunk with a device measuring sap flow. Felix says, "Because it's cloudy right now, the flow is slower."
Felix, the narrator, says, "Kind of like a doctor checking vital signs during a checkup." He is imagining himself as a tree doctor, wearing a stethoscope and taking the tree's blood pressure. He says "Deep breath and relax..."
Felix, the narrator, says, "The data gets uploaded to the cloud so that we can monitor it in real time." Felix and a colleague are looking at a tablet displaying a chart. Outside of the window, a tree looks like it is giving off signals.
Felix, the narrator, says, "Drones are exciting tools for us too." He stands on the ground, looking up at a drone circling a tall tree during winter.
Felix, the narrator, says, "By taking photos from different angles, we can build a 3-D model, helping us understand the tree's structure and how it functions, which we can observe over years." He looks at a 3D model of a tree on a computer screen.
Felix, the narrator, says, "We're also working with a Canadian researcher who's trying to use drones to collect leaf samples or deploy sensors up in the canopy. This would be far faster than having to climb them!" He climbs a tree, reaching up toward an upper branch with one hand while clutching a container in the other. A woman on the ground with a controller flies a drone past him up to the top of the tree. She says, "I've got this." And Felix replies, "Oh, yeah. That's way easier."
Felix, the narrator, says, "From soil scientists to chemical engineers, we need people from all kinds of fields to building this tree observatory." He stands in a chemical engineering laboratory, talking to a female colleague in a white lab coat. He says, "You could really help us understand fluid dynamics and how it affects sap flow." Nearby, a flask, test tubes, and a microscope sit on a lab bench.
Felix, the narrator, says, "Each tree is unique, just like we're all unique from each other. In fact, I'd say they vary even more than we do. Understanding trees as individuals may help us better care for them in the future. " He stands in a forest, looking at an unhealthy-looking tree with drooping branches and sparse leaves. He thinks to himself, "What's causing this tree to struggle while the others are flourishing?"
Felix, the narrator, says, "We're on the cusp of discovery. It's really just the limits of your imagination holding you back." He and two other people stand looking upward at a tree with a band around its trunk. Two of them are holding measurement devices. Felix says, "We have access to so many tools--it's exciting to be able to put them to use."