By Jon Schwedler, The Nature Conservancy
I’m going to admit conservation sacrilege: I never read The Lorax as a kid.
Despite being born the same year as the book (1971), the first time I laid eyes on it was when a girlfriend gave a copy to me for my 28th birthday. By that time my conservation career was already well established, and the book offered was purely tongue-in-cheek.
While I am very thankful The Lorax planted the seed of conservation in the minds of my generation — bearing fruit today in efforts to save Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and restore America’s forests here at home — for me inspiration did not spring from the stump of a truffula tree.
No, instead my personal Lorax came in a different, although equally prickly, form: my grandmother. Born a century ago at the foot of New York’s dark Adirondack Mountains, my grandmother was exactly the kind of formal, no-nonsense type lady you would expect of that generation. It was clear on our yearly visits to her home we were to be seen and not heard — or face the wrath of 88 pounds of baby-powdered fury.
Besides her temper, she also was a bit quirky. She was terrified of bees; she only took baths; and for some reason never explained she referred to me as “Joachim” (no one else called me this).
One day I wandered into her small library room, with stacks of books reaching the ceiling. I discovered many of these books were about birds and started leafing through.
I froze; her tiny shadow menaced while still only filling a quarter of the doorway. She raised a pointed finger, but only to aim past me, out the window to a bird on a feeder.
“That bird is in that book.”
From that point on my grandmother took me under her wing. Anytime a bird landed on her feeder she sent me to the library to find it in her books. Every birthday and Christmas she gifted a wildlife book to me. At her suggestion I read Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf at age 10, and then Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard the following year. Both are favorites of mine.