The Lorax: He speaks for the trees

“Way back in the days when the grass was still green,
and the ponds were still wet, and the clouds were still clean…”
from “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss

In my haste two Thursdays ago, as I rushed about photographing Seuss-inspired sculptures for my previous post, I missed this guy — the visiting bronze figure most relevant to the the zoo’s environmental mission. The placard below him quotes the rallying cry from the author’s 1971 not-just-for-children’s book: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

“It” and “nothing,” of course, refer to clear-cutting forests, with Truffula Trees (drawn by Seuss as tall, slender palms with soft neon fronds) logged with a “Super-Axe-Hacker” to make vaguely sweaterlike Thneeds  (“a Fine-Something-That-Everyone-Needs!”). Living in the trees’ shade are the vaguely mammalian Brown Bar-ba-loots (which eat Truffula fruit), Humming Fish and Swomee Swans. The Lorax tries to defend the trees against invasive industry, and this sculpture of him has found its perfect temporary home beside a pond that contains actual trumpeter swans. The book, like the zoo, emphasizes the connective threads that bind species to species, plant to animal; no creature exists in a vacuum, and removing one domino from the ecosystem can trigger a collapse.

This weekend I went out and bought “Six by Seuss,” a collection that includes “The Lorax” and “Yertle the Turtle” — also a visiting sculpture on  the zoo’s Lakeside Terrace, and also a morality tale. Where “The Lorax” takes aim at industry’s obsession with “biggering and biggering,” King Yertle feels compelled to rise higher and higher on the backs of more and more lowly turtles, to view more of what he considers his kingdom, until he’s toppled by a lowly turtle’s burp. Here’s the sculpture:

And showing the Seussian spirit, here’s fellow volunteer Marlene, a kind and faithful commenter on this blog, sporting one of the “Cat in the Hat” hats the zoo has on hand for volunteers to wear during this Seussian springtime. She graciously allowed me to photograph her when we crossed paths in the Tropics trail aviary.

I’ve learned a lot about Ted Geisel in the days since these sculptures arrived. He married twice (the second time as a widower) but had no children; he started writing for publication in his thirties; his first book was rejected by 30 or 40 publishers. He was born the same year as my maternal grandfather (1904); that first book (“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”) was published the year of my dad’s birth (1937); he died on my mom’s birthday in 1991. And he pondered the delicate relationship between humans and the natural world, with delightful results.



Seuss on the loose at the zoo

When I grew old enough to babysit my five-years-younger brother, our go-to bedtime story was “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” which I never tired of reading aloud to him. Ten years later, my ultimate college roommate had the book on her shelf, and we recited stretches of it in unison, from memory: “Look what we found in the park, in the dark. We will take him home. We will call him Clark…” Years later, I bought the book for my brother’s two kids. So I’m all excited about the Dr. Seuss traveling sculpture garden whose zoo visit officially starts tomorrow and runs through July 4. Equally charming are the four Seuss-themed cutout-art displays placed strategically around the zoo, especially this “One Fish” -themed display titled Animals on Parade:

The five bronze character statues include the Cat in the Hat on the zoo’s upper plaza and Sam I Am (of “Green Eggs and Ham” fame) on the Lakeside Terrace. I squeezed in time to visit them yesterday as my weekly zoo shift ended:

Joining Sam I Am (see him below) on the Central Plaza and Lakeside Terrace are Yertle the Turtle, the Lorax and the Grinch.

The first Seuss art I saw yesterday was this McElligot’s Pool cutout display by a shark-tank window in Discovery Bay:

I’d never heard of “McElligot’s Pool,” a very early Seuss book described in a review at as “a single poetic variation on the theme of adult skepticism that’s no match for childhood faith and daydreaming.” I really didn’t know that much about the author; this mini-biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel is a good quick read for others in the same boat.

The zoo is serving up Seuss story times, costumed characters and a scavenger hunt during the next several weeks. It will be sad to see the statues go in July, but that’s when the penguin exhibit opens and the permanent new excitement begins.