National Geographic : 2014 Apr
8 national geographic • april 2014 Survival Guide Art: IstvAn BAnyAI. photo: LAwrence Boye, UnIversIty of UtAh Nalini Nadkar ni national Geographic Grantee expertise Forest Ecologist Location Costa Rica Caught Up I’ve studied the plants and animals that live in forest canopies for 30 years. It’s like climbing mountains—there’s always some danger in moving up and down a tree. when you climb day after day, though, sometimes for months on end, you forget that you’re up more than a hundred feet. eating a sandwich and an apple up there can seem like having a picnic on the ground. I used to wear my long hair in two braids that I kept tied up behind my head to keep them out of the way. one day I forgot to tie them back. I noticed a tugging on my rappelling gear a few feet down. within seconds the rope was so taut that my chin was pressed against it. there is a metal clip called a whale’s tail that the rope loops through to create friction to help you control your slide. My braid was caught in it— and it was getting tighter and more painful. I tried pulling myself up, tried yanking my braid out. It was futile. After five minutes I thought, I’m going to have to cut this thing off. I had always identified myself as someone with long hair. My father was from India, and hair is a source of beauty and honor there. somehow my ancestral motivation wasn’t quite as strong when I was strung up. holding myself up with one hand, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a penknife and starting sawing. when the last hairs were cut, my weight went back into the harness and my braid dropped to the ground. I made my way back to the forest floor and snatched it up. we had a museum of odd things we’d found in the canopy. I put my braid on display as a reminder that every moment—like this one, 150 feet above the forest floor—you have to be fully aware.