Thirty years ago, the renowned novelist, John Fowles published a sort of mediation on nature and humanity’s relationship to it. Fowles is known as one of the best novelists of the twentieth century with The Collector, The Mangus, and most widely known, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Ecco is bringing out a special edition of The Tree and it has never been more relevant.
Born near London between the two World Wars and therefore shaped by both, Fowles’ father was an inveterate pruner and controller of nature. He had a mini and very productive orchard growing up and instead of becoming like his father, he grew up to value not restricting nature.
Just as Fowles had trouble putting into words just how he felt about nature, this review is rather tough to write. He made so many great points that we all need to think of, that it is hard to narrow it down.
Here is what I walked away with…
We spend so much time “classifying” nature and the natural world that society has tended to keep it at arm’s length. What does it matter what Latin name something has or what yield it will give if pruned “correctly”? Are we so caught up with controlling nature and “saving” it that we are too busy to really experience it and truly treasure it?
I read this while taking breaks from yard work and the timing was uncanny. (it is only 80 pages long, so it is a quick read) While busy cutting back roses and trying to decide what shape to trim a bush in my front yard, I pondered what I was really trying to achieve with precious hedge trimmers. Was I doing it because I wanted to, because it was ascetically pleasing, because I like to be able to see my front door? Or was I busy trying to control one of the few things in my life that I, seemingly, have the ability to control.
The Tree was a totally new perspective on the environment and the green movement. It made me question the things that I do and the causes that I contribute to. That is major.
In case you are curious, I more of less answered my question of why I was busy trimming. I was doing it because I figured that my landlord would be a bit miffed if I let the yard go into a jungle. At the same time, I was shaping things and choosing my own hedge shapes because I still needed that measure of control in my life. Some may call it just a hedge, but it is my hedge for gosh sake, and it is going to be rounded!
No fruit for those who do not prune; no fruit for those that question knowledge; no fruit for those who hide in trees untouched by man; no fruit for the traitors to the human cause.”
The Tree by John Fowles