Category: CULTURE & HISTORY

Where Did the Phrase “Tree-Hugger” Come From?

BRYAN FARRELL—Despite this powerful history of nonviolent resistance, we still consider tree hugger a derogatory term. Meanwhile, a current example of forest protection in Brazil, where the country’s environmental agency has a special ops team that hunts down illegal loggers, gets all kinds of glory. Not that it shouldn’t, considering Brazil has cut deforestation by nearly 80 percent since 2004. But do environmental heroes need to, as the BBC recently described Brazil’s forest agents, “wear military fatigues, with heavy black pistols slung casually on their thighs” in order to get any respect?

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KULTURALIA: Putting the Red in Redcoats

MARY M THEOBALD—Finding cochineal would have been easier if the English had known what it was. To the naked eye, the dried bits of cochineal look like tiny peppercorns. Some said cochineal was a seed; others said it was an insect or dried worm. Some had it both ways, calling it “wormberry.” In an age when rotten meat was believed to spawn maggots and clams were thought to grow out of sand, spontaneous generation was a reasonable explanation for any mysterious form of life. Cochineal, some said, was a cactus berry that turned into a red worm.

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Thomas Wolfe In Asheville: “Surely he had a thing to tell us.”

GAITHER STEWART—William Styron remarked that it would be difficult to exaggerate the effect Wolfe had on youth and especially on those from small-town, southerly backgrounds. Himself from Virginia, Styron said that Wolfe influenced him to become a writer. Perhaps no southern writer expressed Wolfe’s total, all-consuming influence on him more than the young Pat Conroy who admitted that Thomas Wolfe took his boyhood by storm. Wolfe simply transmitted to him his fire. “Ride the trains with Thomas Wolfe in this book [Of Time and the River] and you will never look at trains the same way again,” Conroy writes. His mother, after reading Look Homeward, Angel, urged her son to become “a Southern writer.”

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A Writer’s Last Port of Call: V.S. Naipaul

ED CURTIN—Outwardly at least, the story Naipaul tells in The Enigma of Arrival is impersonal, slow-paced and almost boring in its progression (much like ordinary life). After twenty years in England – “savorless and much of it mean” – having failed in his effort to leave England with its history of colonial exploitation and become “a free man,” his spirit broken and his nerves shattered, he settles in a “cottage of a half-neglected estate, an estate full of reminders of its Edwardian past” on the Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge.

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