I’ve been thinking about such a moment in my own life. It took place in a most unexpected setting, an introductory ornamental horticulture class at theUniversity of Florida, about 1980.
Our professor, Dr. Bill Barrick, was a gifted man of plants. He was younger than most of the other instructors, dressed stylishly, and invited us graduate students to elegant dinners at his home. He’d roam the classroom, speaking to us in a restless, confiding manner, stepping up and down the graduated rows of chairs among the hundreds of us would-be landscape architects, designers and greenhouse growers. His task was to introduce us to cabbage palm, azalea and Shumard oak, and hundreds more, plant friends he knew we needed to know, the tools of our trade as horticulturalists.
But one afternoon, he began the class by reading aloud to us the whole of Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax. Students around me wriggled, and shuffled their papers, and averted their gazes. What notes could be taken, what exam could be given, on the subject of “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees…?”
But me, I came alive. Maybe the tears that flooded my eyes were a simple response to the tragedy of the Seuss parable. Or perhaps as my heart broke open, I felt an unfolding recognition of the course of my path, that I would be using my words as a conduit for the swallow-tailed kite, the snowy plover, the black bear, the islands of my adopted coastline.
I never read The Lorax aloud to my son when he was small. I never wanted him to see that book, at all. I am sure I am not the only parent who wished their child could retain his original innocence and relationship to the Earth. I only wanted to show David–and all the children in my life–the good and the beautiful and the intact. The bald eagle, but not its endangerment. The Suwannee River, but not the farms siphoning away its waters away. One Fish, Two Fish, but not The Lorax.
But the young ones found out anyway. And many of them are leading the way out of the catastrophe we human are causing on our planet.
It has taken many decades to understand and acknowledge my purpose on the Earth, to claim my desire to give voice to other-than-human voices. I am grateful for the courage of Dr. Bill Barrick, a man unafraid to shake up a classroom of young horticulturists on a sleepy summer afternoon, in Gainesville.Share On: