Sunday, May 30, 2010


Tree Huggers

J.A. Cochrane, Dr. Johnson's Printer: The Life of William Strahan (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), pp. 151-152, quoting from The Illustrated London News (March 16, 1861):
In New-street, Shoe-Lane, until within a few weeks, stood an old house, the property of Mr. William Spottiswoode, formerly the residence of his great grandfather, Mr. Strahan, the great friend of Dr. Johnson. Its removal has exposed to public view an old lime-tree, known by the name of 'Dr. Johnson's Tree'; not that it was planted by him, as it appears to have been a full grown tree in his time, but from the peculiar notice he seems to have taken of it. The Doctor was a frequent visitor at the house. It is related that in some of his particular fits of abstraction the Doctor would go out, regardless of weather, and even without his hat, and would hug this tree for a considerable time, apparently absorbed in his own thoughts and heeding nothing around him. There were then and for half a century after his death several other trees in the garden, but they have all given way to time and the atmosphere of an increasing town. The house itself, which was built immediately after the Great Fire of London, worn out with hard work, has been obliged to give way to one more vigorous and better suited to the requirements of the day. And even 'Dr. Johnson's Tree' although it has outlived its former associates, is not destined to survive long, its top being near decayed and showing every year less vitality.
Archives of The Illustrated London News are available on the Internet, for a fee, but only to institutions, not to individuals, so I don't know if this passage represents the entire article, or if the author of the article is anonymous. It appears to reflect an oral family tradition ("it is related"). It is unclear how much reliance can be placed on the tradition, more than seventy-five years or four generations ("great grandfather") after Johnson’s death. It is the type of story one wishes were true.

The first historical tree hugger known to me is Passienus Crispus (see Pliny the Elder, Natural History 16.91.242). William Wordsworth hugged a pine tree on Monte Mario in Rome.

Thanks to Eric Thomson for tracking down the source of the anecdote about Samuel Johnson.

The online Oxford English Dictionary (OED), s.v. tree, defines the noun tree-hugger as follows:
chiefly U.S. a person who cares for trees or the environment, an environmentalist (usu. depreciative); (also lit.) a person who adopts a position embracing a tree to prevent it from being felled.
The OED's earliest citation is from the Appleton Post Crescent, September 10, 1965: "The battle was between the tree huggers and the city. The city won, 100-0." This led Mark Peters, "The history of tree-hugging, and the future of name-calling," Grist (October 12, 2006), to assume that there was a "battle in Appleton, Wis., between 'the tree huggers and the city.'" But in fact the newspaper article came from the Associated Press and described a protest in Chicago, Illinois, not in Appleton, Wisconsin. Thanks to Google News archive, here is the entire article from another newspaper on the same day—"Chicagoans Cling to Past in Vain: Road Crews Fell Park Trees Around Protesting Group," The Blade (Toledo, Ohio, Friday, September 10, 1965):
[col. 1]
CHICAGO, Sept. 10 (AP) The battle was between the tree huggers and the city. The city won, 100-0.

Conservationist Stuart Chase described the holding action on the lakefront yesterday:

"They started up their chain saws and, with blades whirring, charged at us and cut the tree off right on top of us. They tried to drop trees on people and waved whirling chain saws at everybody. If people had been chained to trees, they would have been cut in half.

"People were hugging trees and standing next to trees, and they'd see how close they could cut. I swear I thought they'd cut Bernie Baum's hand off."

Dr. Bernard Baum, 39, a sociologist, had sawdust in his hair as he talked to newsmen, his back pressed against a large tree:

"I wrapped my legs around one tree trunk a little while ago," he said, "but they cut it down anyway."

"Don't you feel like a brute?" one tree fancier asked a workman.

"How did Lincoln ever build his log cabin?" the worker retorted.

[col. 2]
One hundred trees fell as the city began widening and straightening South Shore Drive through three city parks—including Jackson Park, site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and one of the country's most beautiful urban parks.

The 75 or so stalwarts of the Burnham Association—named for Daniel Burnham, who designed Jackson park—say the $6 million, high speed, eight-lane divided road is no substitute for 800 trees and lost park space.

"What are 800 trees against a saving of, say, two lives a year?" Commissioner Milton Pikarsky of the Chicago department of public works asked in an interview.

Mr. Pikarsky said there were 500 serious accidents—four of them fatal—in 1962 in the 20-block stretch of road to be rebuilt. The drive snakes through the parks, abruptly narrowing from eight lanes divided to six undivided and then back to eight. Some sections are more than 35 years old.

He said that Burnham and other groups had ample opportunity to offer suggestions, some of which were accepted.

[col. 3]
"He's not a planner, not an architect, he knows nothing about traffic," Mr. Pinarsky said of Mr. Chase, who is a statistician. "But he feels that if you sit back for another year, someone will come up with a plan."

Told that Mr. Pinarsky said all trees would be replaced, Mr. Chase retorted: "Yeah—with smaller ones right in front of a carbon monoxide-filled highway. They'll die in a year."

"The park is considered the greatest example of controlled landscape architecture in the world," his wife, Joan, 29, interjected. "And this is what Mayor Daley is running an eight-lane, federal, class 1 highway through. Parks and expressways can't mix—it's like oil and water."

Mr. Pikarsky said land taken for the road would be restored as parks—with a two-acre bonus.

He summed up the attitude on the South Side when he told a newsman that he had received dozens of telephone calls.

"The kindest thing the callers told me was to drop dead."
It is appropriate that the name of one of the protesters was Bernard Baum, as Baum is the German word for tree.

One might guess from Google Books that there is an earlier example of the expression tree hugger from 1960, but one would be wrong. That example actually comes from a 1990 English translation of a 1960 Finnish novel by Kalle Päätalo (1919-2000). The Finnish title is Koillismaa, and the title of the English translation by Richard A. Impola is Our Daily Bread. I don't know what Finnish expression Impola translated as "tree-hugger" on p. 259:
In the same instant, the policemen shifted to either side of him and pinioned his arms.

"Let's go now, tree-hugger," gasped one of them.

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