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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Early Environmentalist Influences

I happened to be thinking about a story I once read in the third grade, perhaps it was read out to me, I don't remember, but through this "lost and found" trip down memory lane I could feel the same sorts of emotions that I did when I first came across this story. In fact, there are two stories that I recall but can't remember the names of, and both were equally poignant and heart-rending.

The first book in question, as it turns out, is The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. For the uninitiated, at least as far as this story goes, it is about the "Once-ler" who comes to a paradise-like place, discovers its many This picture of the book's cover was taken from Wikipedia.orgnatural riches, exploits them for personal wealth, ends up destroying the land, and then regrets that he had ever done this. The character of the Lorax appears when he hears the "thwacking" of machines taking down "Truffula trees", trees that the Once-ler needs to make his "thneeds". This little orange ball of fur with the yellow mustache, who gets more adorable the more annoyed he becomes, is the advocate for the animals that live in the forest. In fact, he is the champion of rights for the forest itself. He constantly asks the Once-ler to stop what he is doing, and points out all the damage being caused because of this greed. I happen to believe that the Lorax, is the Once-ler's conscience, or at least the voice of nature that tells us that we are doing something wrong; so often heard, yet so easy to ignore, unfortunately.

I remember when I first got my hands on it, I felt my heart break every single time one of the many creatures left the "Truffula Tree" forest because it had become that much more uninhabitable. When I watched in the 4th grade, and I remember my eyes welling up because of all the sadness and misery the greedy Once-ler was causing. I couldn't help but control my rage and sense of wanting to "let the Once-ler have it" because he was so uncaring and had no remorse. It's surprising to me that having grown up, at least on the outside, I find myself wanting to adopt the role of the Lorax in this world. The funny thing is, I have yet to be able to shake off my Once-ler-i-ness to be able to do this with a clear conscience...lest the Lorax show up and give me a piece of its mind! This is definitely a must-read and a must-watch for all you kids out there! And I mean "kids" figuratively, of course.

The second book told a much more sad tale. How sad? Well, when I read the synopsis to see if I had the right book, I couldn't help but shed a tear. Sniff. But seriously, this storyThis picture of the book's cover was taken from Wikipedia.org makes my eyes well up even to this day. What story am I describing in earnest but refusing to reveal to you even though you can see it in the picture? 'Tis none other than The Giving Tree, by Shel Siverstein.

The story finds a child enjoying the company, and as it turns out, the utility of a tree. The tree, able to respond to and communicate with the boy, is always giving. I don't know if I have all the events correct, but I seem to remember that it gives the boy fruit when the boy is hungry, it offers him a branch to tie a swing on so that he can play and it offers shade when the sun is too intense. Then, as the boy grows and his needs change, the tree offers up its fruit so that he may sell them for money, and it even offers up its trunk so that he may make a sailboat and leave. In fact, and this was the tear jerker for me, when he is old and has nowhere to go and the tree seems to have nothing else to give, it offers it's stump to the old man so that he may sit down and rest. That still gets to me, for some reason.

Strangely enough, it seems to get to other people as well because there is apparently a lot of debate about what the connotations of the story really are. In fact, here's a link to an online symposium that deals with what the book really means and deals with. Scary. I think that it appeals to me for the same reasons that it appealed to me when I first encountered this story: that man was destroying a planet that was only too happy to give, ultimately, leading to the destruction of both. The only difference is, and I remember thinking this even then, there isn't going to be a moment for the human race to go back to the tree of life and find its stump to sit on. Again, a most definite must-read book for everyone out there. I'd love to see if they have this in some animated form, actually. Then I can bawl my eyes out and sob like a... like a... little, whipped Malayalee.

More than 20 years on after reading these books, and the fact that they were written way before I was born, it's sad to see that the conditions they describe or allude to haven't really changed much.

Wow... :-(


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Acknowledgments:

1) All the information and the images of the book covers for this post was taken from Wikipedia.org. Thank you.

2) I would like to thank Google Video for making the animated version of The Lorax available to everyone. I believe it's an important story for people -- especially children -- to be aware of. Thank you again.
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