Wednesday, December 21, 2011

`Its Intrusion, Its Siege, Its Intense Presence'

“Whoever comes here with the palette of an Italian landscape painter will have to abandon all sweet colors. The earth is burnt by the sun, parched from drought, it has the color of bright ash, sometimes of gray violet or violent red.”
The Texas Forest Service reports as many as half a billion trees have died as a result of the state’s “unrelenting drought.” The species hardest hit in Harris County – that is, Houston – is the loblolly pine, a native of the Southeast, a tall, scrappy-looking tree that resembles a bottle brush. More than 5,000 dead trees, most of them loblollies, have already been cut down in Memorial Park. This greenest of cities has grown two-tone, with unbecoming bald patches. Loblolly means “mudhole” or “mire.”
“The landscape is not only before your eyes but beside you, behind you, and you feel its intrusion, its siege, its intense presence. Tall trees are rare; occasionally a lofty oak – the Zeus of trees. Clumps of greenery cling to the slopes, small bushes stubbornly struggling to survive. On the roads, on gentler hills, the wild olive tree with its slender leaves mobile as fingers, silver-green underneath. Low against the earth, thyme and mint—the aromas of heat.”
In “Attempt at a Description of the Greek Landscape” (Collected Prose: 1948-1998), Zbigniew Herbert writes of the Mediterranean world he loved and honored. For him it represented the root of civilization, the harsh, dry garden of our culture. As a Pole who survived Nazis and Stalinists to practice his craft, he knew humans can flourish in arid, unpromising landscapes, just as they can wither in well-watered places.

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