Saturday, 29 April 2017

Wonderful, life-affirming 'Treehab' by Bob Smith

Bob Smith’s book of linked essays about nature, love and living a good life, ‘Treehab’ is like a breath of fresh air. It’s like spending a few days in wonderful company with a gentle, clever and generously funny man who’ll point out interesting stuff about nature, tell silly jokes, divert into an amazing anecdote about a friend and then suddenly get furious about an issue dear to his heart.

He’s a gay stand-up comedian and a novelist, a self-confessed ‘Nature Boy’, a father and a man suffering from a life-threatening neurological disease. All of these factors pay into every one of these essays – whether they’re about childhood fossil-collecting, salmon-fishing, gay activism, comedy, family history or novel research. It’s a lovely slim book of seemingly disparate parts that add up to a whole and coherent life story.

I love his tales of stand-up comedians in New York and their acidulously funny camaraderie, and I love his visits to Alaska and cold nights with hotties and various new friends. He writes about food and flowers and birds so beautifully and vividly. I love the way he seems to have the whole thing sorted out, and he has a wonderful, challenging bravado in calling out the assholes who’ve wrecked the world – the anti-enviromentalists and greedy governmnents and industrialists. He tackles asshole religions in a specially-dedicated chapter and it’s hilarious, but well-argued and fair. No, we shouldn’t respect any religion that is vicious and does wicked things to living beings – he’s quite right.

An elegant and witty book that combines the sacred, profane, the funny and the mundane. My very favourite moments of this volume celebrating nature are actually in the urban landscape. There’s an essay that has Bob describing an average walk around Greenwich Village with his boyfriend Michael and their beagle-basset, Bozzie. It’s homely, gorgeous and profound.

And my other favourite moment comes early. It’s to do with one of those times when you meet a great hero of yours, and no one else in the room realizes how amazing this person is. The anecdote is about a famed archeologist, Mary Leakey, whom Bob reveres, and met when he was waiting tables at an academic dinner where she was being honoured, but mostly ignored. She was a woman, he knew, responsible for finding fossilized footprints from our oldest freestanding survivors. A family group’s footsteps, preserved forever because of this distracted-looking woman at a glitzy dinner. Bob describes the moment he got to tell her how much he appreciated her years spent quietly-chipping-away at the truth, and their meeting and short exchange is, I think, magically told.

Mary imparts a tiny bit of brilliant wisdom – that by following her own instincts and inclinations always, she had enjoyed a wonderful life. It’s clearly a turning point in the young writer’s life, and thank goodness for that. After that he devoted himself to his art. (I love the fact he always talks about comedy and comic writing as art with a big A.)

This book’s full of those kind of moments, when you feel the shivery pleasure of having wise stuff imparted to you. Never pompous or hectoring. But ribald, gossipy, and sometimes cross. This is like a series of happy days and evenings spent with a friend (and several of their friends. And their dogs.)

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