Koalas spark unholy terror in me. Based on little knowledge, I’ve conflated the species with the Great Barrier Reef, something that will (so goes the idea in my head) disappear from our planet during my remaining lifetime, so that my grandchildren will never really appreciate either. But as I indicated, while I understand the Reef reasonably well, my background on koalas is weak, so I jumped at the chance to read “Koala: A Life in Trees.” Danielle Clode is one of Australia’s finest natural historians, naturalists, and writers on nature-related subjects, so I expected a portentous text but instead, what I got as I sank into these pages, was the author’s own urgent but unhurried quest to understand this iconic Australian creature. Mixing tales of her own journey of discovery, factual education of the reader, and lyrical essaying, she digs into the koala’s evolution, including its fossil evidence; anatomy; ecological history; dietary niche; fall and rise and fall within modern human history; and status amidst the climate crisis. I won’t reproduce her findings here because much of the wondrous joy of this book is the author’s relentless pursuit of the truths behind the myths and ignorance. Let me just say that the realities and mysteries of this creature’s place in our Australian ecology are utterly intriguing. “Ecologically, as well as evolutionarily,” the author points out, “koalas really do sit alone on their tree.”
Perhaps what stood out most for me during my read—and what I wish for you, astute reader—was a nuggety sense of inquiry and adventure that sent her down alleyways of fascination. I slowed down as I read and my pleasurable absorption restored to me my intrinsic curiosity about a different natural world subject that I had recently let go of. All of us, even the most “expert,” are curious children when it comes to the natural world, and Koala: A Life in Trees is a blissful journey through exploration and revelation. This is one of the two natural science triumphs I have read in 2022 and I commend it to any serious reader.