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The New YorkerWhile walking in South Africa in 1829, the British missionary Robert Moffat came upon a giant fig tree so large that, according to his report, it housed seventeen huts in its branches. The historian Thomas Pakenham, in Remarkable Trees of the World</-a>, spent four years searching for such giants -- "trees with noble brows and strong personalities" -- and recording their mythologies. The baobab, native to Africa, Madagascar, and Australia, was of special interest to him; according to African legend, trees were gifts to animals from the Great Spirit, and the hyena, enraged to be given the baobab, speared it into the ground, leaving its tangled roots to become branches. American trees are equally impressive: one of California's ancient sequoias, the "Stratosphere Giant," stands taller than a thirty-story skyscraper.
In 1848, New York needed trees: they were considered the "lungs of the City," according to a new field guide published by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, New York City Trees, written and illustrated by Edward Sibley Barnard. The guide describes more than a hundred local species, and it also explains which park was razed by Civil War soldiers, why Orchard Street is so named, and where to find the city's little-known sassafras thickets.
The environmentalist Robert Marshall's The People's Forests first published in 1933, urges public ownership of forestland to guard against logging and other urban perils. On the other hand, Marshall acknowledges the persistence of nature. "The death of the forest and the death of man are not quite the same," he writes. "When a man dies it is the end."( Lauren Porcaro)