Remarkable Trees
Of the World

Thomas Pakenham
(W. W. Norton)
You and I travel around the world to look at cathedrals and castles and eat strange foods and speak (or try to speak) strange languages. Thomas Pakenham travels around the world to look at funny trees.

His journeys have taken him to Australia, South Africa, Washington State, Kekova, Turkey, Napier, New Zealand, and the California Desert. He carries a camera, makes gorgeous photographs, and has stories about each of his arbolic friends.

For instance, the Baobs of Derby, Australia can exceed eighty feet in girth, and may be over a thousand years old. One was used as a jail for Aboriginals who had been accused of stealing cattle. This was possible because the trunk was commodious, mostly empty, and round and fat.

A page is given over to bonsai. Seems that these trees, the Tiny Tims of the hardwood set, demand as much loving care as Elizabeth Taylor, with the same result. You have to clip off the older roots and manicure the trunk, because

    Bonsai experts believe that a bonsai might become virtually immortal --- or at any rate live for thousands of years --- if properly disciplined.

A popular new magazine, Bonsai Discipline opines that these minuscule trees should be beaten daily around the back of the trunk with tiny whips made of pussy willow to keep them in line.

The lumpiest trees are the camphor trees --- Cinnamomum camphora --- and the Baobab --- Adansonia rubrostipa. The latter grow most fecundly in Madagascar. There are six varieties, "taking the form of demons, skulls, bottles, and teapots." Bottles are the most common and, says the author,

    it's quite an experience to see a family of 40-feet-high bottles, the colour of pink elephants, advancing silently towards you through the long grass.

Aficionados of The Little Prince will recall the duties on his planet involved caring for a fox, cleaning a volcano, and watering a Baobab. It's understandable why Saint-Exupéry chose that tree: next to the Boojum of Baja California, it's as weird looking as you could want. The author tells us that the "Avenue of the Baobabs" at Morondava is a sight for sore eyes:

    The trunks rise like tapering metal tubes; the branches crown the trunks like propellers.

When he finally got a photograph of the dozen or so Baobabs, he asked himself,

    Was it for this that I have queued in the airless corridors of 89 airports, circled the globe on 12,000 miles of dusty and dangerous roads, stayed at 62 seedy motels in 18 countries? Was it for this I had risked my neck climbing up gum trees and under razor-wire fences?

Evidently it was.

--- S. J. Worthington

Mr. Patterson equates the murder of Jews, homosexuals and gypsies between 1939 and 1945 with current medical experiments in the United States on animals, practices of meat-packing plants, and civic animal control.

A typical passage moves from the murder of prisoners at the Belzec death camp in Poland to the American meat industry and the USDA. At Belzec everything proceeded "at top speed, so that the victims would have no chance to grasp what was going on." At Union Stock Yards in Chicago, slaughter-house workers "swung the hogs up ... without a pretence of apology, without the homage of a tear."

At Auschwitz

    the vast human slaughterhouse had reached the peak of its efficiency. Long trains transported Hungarian Jews to the annex camp of Birkenau on a three-track siding that went right up to the new crematoria working at full capacity....

Next paragraph:

    While the American meat industry has had more than a century to streamline its operations, the acceleration of line speeds in the last twenty-five years has greatly increased the pace with which the meat and poultry industries slaughter animals.

§     §     §

In our college classes in Aristotelian logic we were shown that a may equal b and b may equal c but c does not necessarily equal a. Patterson is saying:

    a] Mistreating and murdering people = bad;
    b] Mistreating and murdering animals = bad;
    c] Mistreating and murdering people = Mistreating and murdering animals

When one equates Jews in the holocaust with pigs going to slaughter, something very screwy is going on. A people is not a pig. Au contraire, if I call someone a pig, it's insult of the highest order.

Patterson is obviously well-read and has done his homework. He quotes with affection the great Yiddish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer. We would guess that Singer would have a fine time writing about someone who can devote a single book to such a huge lapse of logic.

I have a dog named Rover who is a good friend, and a cat named Hodge that I put up with, even though she obviously barely puts up with me. But over my beloved Hodge and Rover I hold an even higher regard for the human species --- despite the proliferation of fools, murderers, terrorists, insurance executives, politicians, and fundamentalist preachers.

If I know of an animal being tortured, I don't like it and --- if presented the opportunity --- would move to protect the animal. But if I know of a human being tortured, my level of discomfort goes up by a factor of 1,000, and I would do even more to stop it. And if I know of children being neglected or brutalized, my discomfort becomes rage, and I would move heaven and earth to stop this travesty.

Patterson tells us of a man named Dietrich von Haugwitz who visited Mexico, saw a bullfight, and, when the bull was killed,

    broke down --- emotionally and physically. I had never witnessed such unabashed animal torture before and simply couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Mexico at the time (the 1960s) was a third world country. In coming to and going from the bullfight, von Haugwitz would have passed dozens of children, five, six, seven, ten years old, in rags, without shoes, begging for money.

But von Haugwitz's heart went out to a cow; he didn't even see and does not mention the children starving, in agony all about him. It's a rather peculiar set of values.

Eternal Treblinka is so topsy-turvy that I thought I was reading satire --- a modern-day Dean Swift, Voltaire, Lord Byron --- or a Joseph Heller, Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe clone. However, after 300 pages of strange and unbelievable parallelisms, I came to the conclusion that not only was I wrong, but that this guy could do with a month or so at the museum of the concentration camp he so casually uses as part of his title.

--- Lolita Lark


Finding Hope to
Begin Again

Wendy Murray Zoba
(Tyndale House)
Wendy Murray Zoba is the wife of an evangelical pastor, has published four books, once worked as a correspondent for Time, and writes for Christianity Today. Facing Forward is a chronicle of her mid-life crises --- the depression that came to her after her three sons left home --- coupled with the agony of menopause and the self-doubt that comes with these upheavals.

Facing Forward is billed as a straightforward memoir of troubled times in mid-life, but there is much more going on here. There are pages devoted to 9/11, questions about the exact nature of God (what he demands of us; what we demand of him), thoughts on the shootings at Columbine, the harshness of growing up in a dysfunctional family, her father's breakdown (and shock treatments), and meditations on gays vs. evangelicals. It ends with a visit with the Christian author Frederick Buechner.

Zoba can be acute in her writings --- especially passages dealing with people of the street: taxi drivers, bag ladies, casual drunks. She tells of a 73-year-old street lady named Dottie who visits her husband's church, once went to Toledo (Spain, not Ohio --- she pronounces it correctly) and speaks in capitals HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, PRETTY LADY. YOU'RE SO BLESSED TO HAVE SUCH A HANDSOME SON. HE'S SO MASCULINE (this said to Zoba and her son at church).

Meeting Dottie reminds Zoba of the Catholic Worker's Dorothy Day, once seen visiting with a bag lady at her offices. The writer Robert Coles comes in, stands around for awhile, and finally Day turns to him and says "Are you waiting to talk with one of us." Coles wrote,

    With these three words she had cut through layers of self-importance, a lifetime of bourgeoisie privilege, and scraped the hard bone of pride.

§     §     §

However, memories of being mother to three boys commands the most heart-rending passages. They are angels when young but then they --- as all children must --- grow up and turn away from her. One son "tortured me with unexplained absences and late nights out." Her reaction, [and her italics]:

    I didn't create this character. What has gone wrong?

She spends three days baking a birthday cake for son #3.

    "How big a piece do you want?" I said to my son.

    "I'm not having any."

    I looked at him.

    "I'm full," he said. He pushed his plate away.

    I ate the piece of my heart in silence. I lifted my glasses to my eyes. I carried my plate to the sink. I retreated to my room. A day later he said to me, "I'm ready to stop living in this house." I wanted to say, "I know the feeling."

I helped you draw your "Space Pig," she says of one of them. I baked you heart-shaped cakes she says of another. I drew Ewok for you. I pushed you in strollers up the hill. I made memory books for all of you. "I have suffered," she is saying, "and what do I get for it? A kick in the pants."

At one point, she looks in on the three of them sleeping in the same room. "My sons, together, sleeping in their beds, safe from the world, home. Mine." Later, she spells it out: "My children were mine."

Now it's a fine line between raising and loving children and owning them. Zoba shows us the pleasure of having them as youngsters, but then as they age and she becomes more fearful, she comes across as a needy woman with a desire to possess. That need of ownership could well flaw the reciprocal love of motherhood; it certainly would help to drive away those that she most cares for.

I remember once reading that a Buddhist family treats its children as honored guests in the home. To Zoba, these children --- if we are to believe her words --- were not guests. Rather, they were possessions.

It's no accident that throughout Facing Forward, she returns again and again to the story of Peter Pan. She tells us that it was the love of that book that caused her alcoholic father to name her "Wendy." Peter Pan, we are reminded, is the eternal boy who had no mother.

§     §     §

There is one other peculiarity in Facing Forward. Zoba is very good in her descriptions of everyday life of the people of the streets. At the same time, there is a crudeness, if not a cruelness, in some of her observations of people less fortunate than herself.

Waiting for an airplane, she spots a woman waiting in a wheelchair and thinks [italics hers]:

    I'd rather die than sit alone in a wheelchair in an ATA waiting area, wearing a fuchsia pantsuit and a blue wrist corsage.

She sees two other disabled people waiting in line for the same flight:

    Behind the woman with the corsage was a wheelchair bound man whose hair didn't look gray enough for him to need it by virtue of age.


    In the third wheelchair sat a woman in tinted glasses, with a puckered look, as if she forgot to put her teeth in. She wore shiny pink too, a jacket, with turquoise polyester pants.

Zoba finishes off, [again, her italics]: Shiny pinkish outfits must be the rage in Florida-bound geriatric women's casual wear.

There is a hostility here in the description that reaches far beyond merely painting a picture for the reader. You can be in a wheelchair, she is saying, but if so, you should conform not only to my taste in clothes, but to my view of disability. This is coupled with the phrase, repeated at least three times, that puts us disabled people into orbit: "wheelchair bound."

For one who claims to be steeped in Christian fellowship and tolerance, these passages demonstrate an antagonism towards those who are not able to move around as she does. Zoba sees in the disabled a picture of her future, and she doesn't care for it at all. She asks,

    Was I destined one day to sit alone in an airport, wheelchair bound, with gnarled hands pressed into sad eyes? Is this where it ends? Wearing shiny outfits, poised with others in wheelchairs waiting to board a plane for Florida?

The Sufis say that what we fear the most must come to pass. Thus, in response to Zoba's question Is this where it ends? the answer has to be

Of course.
What the hell did you expect?
--- L. W. Milam

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