01
Nov
10

Book Review: Tree Where Man Was Born

The Tree Where Man Was Born (Classic, Nature, Penguin)The Tree Where Man Was Born

by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book before I knew who Peter Matthiessen was, namely, one of the greatest nature writers of all time. Because of the book’s title, I thought the author would tie present day East Africa to a by-gone era when man was primitive and evolving and nature ruled. I read the first one-hundred fifty pages and put it down for five years before returning to it. At that time, I was lost in my passion for the life and times of early man and not so interested in anything that rhymed with ‘present day’.

Then, after finishing that portion of my writing, I returned to what might be Matthiessen’s greatest nature book (well, there is Snow Leopard and At Play in the Fields of the Lord. Hard to pick). When I picked it up the second time, I couldn’t put it down. His descriptions of nature, the depth of understanding he voices for the people of the land, his vivid descriptions of what happens around him are like no one else. Here are a few of my favorites:Soon vegetation crowded the road, which was crossed at dusk by a band of bush-pig, neat-footed and burly, neck bristles erect, as if intent on punching holes right through the truck

  • Soft hills inset with outcrops of elephant-colored boulders rose beyond a bright stretch of blue river
  • Kamande Gatora is a contained person with the watchfulness of the near-blind; he had taken the Mau-Mau oath and been imprisoned, in the years after his mistress had gone home to Denmark, despite ‘the kind deeds I was receiving from her untold and the old life we stayed with her
  • Marsabit in June: great elephants and volcanoes, lark song and bright butterflies and far below, pale desert wastes that vanish in the sands.
  • By morning the wind was blowing up in sandstorms. Flights of sand grouse, seeking water, hurtled back and forth over the cracking palms, and a train of camels etched a slow crack into the desert to the south.
  • Inland, black boulders climb to far-off ridges that rise in turn to the Kulal Mountains, in Rendille Land.
  • …because the heat is dry and because the wind is never still for more than a few hours.
  • Since gnu are ever willing to stampede, the crossing is a hazard for the calves, and one morning of early winter more than six hundred drowned.
  • By late afternoon, when the predators become restless, raising their heads out of the grass to sniff the wind, those calves would already be running.

This only covers to pg. 127… Does it take your breath away, too?

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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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