A splendid episode of Nature on PBS last night brought us the latest news, you might say, of the Lipizzaners of Austria: “Legendary White Stallions.” The subject is close to home because, as I’ve had occasion to report quite a while back now (link), my Father was a dedicated patron and practitioner of dressage, the peak, you might say, of equestrian pursuits. Yesterday’s program (a rerun, I can’t find when it first aired) centered on the horses, their breeding, training, and ultimate retirement. This is a highly traditional activity, evidently very well funded, and seems to preserve, but in a fully-alive version, something grand that, surely even when it began, in 1565, in Vienna, would have seemed as strange and wonderful as it still appears to us today. This, then, is one of the echoes from the past I want to note.
The other begins with the program itself, Nature. Nature is the production of THIRTEEN, the New York-based PBS station. A lonely tree in what appears to be a desert-like region is its signature. I forget how this linkage got established, but I can never see that picture without immediately recalling a mini-series of the 1980s called The Flame Trees of Thika—indeed thinking, when I see it, that Nature’s logo is a flame tree. Yesterday I stood corrected. Brigitte, who is a great fan of that image, was a little startled when I called it the “flame tree” yesterday. “No, it’s not,” she said. “Thika? That’s a different sort of tree.” So off I went to check this matter out.
As always, in such situations, I was convinced that Brigitte was right, of course. Her eye for shapes is as infallible as is Pope Francis when addressing faith and morals formally. What I wished to discover is why I had made that linkage.
The first clue here was that both Nature’s tree and the Flame Trees are African. Nature’s image is an African acacia. And the Flame Trees of Thika? Well, the mini-series was made from a memoir written by Elspeth Huxley about her childhood in Kenya. Elspeth Huxley is part of the Huxleys—of whom Brigitte and I very fondly remember particularly Laura Huxley, the wife of Aldous, whose books, particularly This Timeless Moment and You Are Not the Target helped us cope with life in the long ago. So here is another echo. But back to those trees.
I bring two images. The first, by Peter Pazucha, a retired photographer (link), shows a panoramic view of flame trees. The second is one of the covers of Huxley’s memoir itself, showing the same shapes but not quite so prominently.
So it’s all in the shape of the trees. But here is a little more. Some of the flame trees (or those so named) belong to the same family as the acacia: the Fabaceae. But the Kenyan tree is most likely the Spathodea, family of Bignoniaceae; it has red flowers that resemble flames in bloom. Odd how things sometimes resemble one another even when their physical linkages are extremely distant. But in our memories certain things converge and signal the presence of values never forgotten.