2023 Magazine - Gold

With vibrant, often lyrical writing, Lauren Fuge took her readers to the Grove of Giants in southern Tasmania, where she strapped on a harness and scaled an 80-meter (262 feet) blue gum tree to join researchers studying island canopies aloft that teem with life. It wasn’t until the 1990s, she notes, that botanists first climbed into the worlds at the tops of giant trees. “Yet, our bodies still hold memories of our ancestors’ arboreal lives,” Fuge wrote. “My hands grip the rope with opposable thumbs that stuck in our evolutionary line because they’re useful for grasping branches. ... We were shaped by forests for millennia before we became Homo sapiens. My muscles may have forgotten how to climb, but this isn’t a journey into the unknown: it’s a return.” She added, “Just like us, every plant on this planet is constantly breathing in and out, creating and maintaining the composition of the thin blue skin of an atmosphere we all depend on.” With her whole weight supported by a “living pillar of carbon and water and sunlight,” she wrote, “I’m beginning to see how much our lives depend on it.” Judge Deborah Nelson, associate professor of investigative journalism, University of Maryland, called Fuge’s story “a masterpiece of science writing. More than a great read, it’s an experience as Fuge tethers us to her waist with her vivid, deeply researched commentary and climbs 70 meters into the ‘biggest blue gum in the universe.’” In a comment on winning the award, Fuge said climbing into the canopy was “an intensely profound experience for me, and it's gratifying to see that experience resonating across continents – especially in this time of crisis when we must recognize our interconnections with each other and with all the beings we share a world with.” She also thanked Ian Connellan, Rob Blakers and Steve Pearce for the striking photography associated with her story.