Visit Me in My Fake Tree, and Other News


On the Shelf

“Artificial tree-trunk, open,” from Richard Kearton’s Wild Life at Home, 1898. Image via Public Domain Review


  • On a sunny spring weekend, I like to go to the park and hide in a false tree trunk I’ve built. There I stand, whiling away the hours and waiting for the birds to come around. I didn’t invent this hobby. Don’t give me that look. There are thousands of people like me. The whole thing started with Richard and Cherry Kearton, turn-of-the-century British nature photographers who went to ingenious lengths to capture their subjects up close. Artifice was their greatest ally, and they weren’t afraid to waste many hours hoping for something to happen. John Bevis writes, “It might stretch credulity for Richard Kearton, a benign man in a benign profession, to be labeled ‘the Machiavelli of bird photography.’ But the fact is that he and his brother, Cherry, adapted a number of the tactics of dell’arte della guerra in their search for ways of going undercover into ‘Birdland’ to secure untainted images of wildlife at home. Between the years 1897 and 1903, their experiments included variations on such quasi-military techniques as the smoke screen, in which surprise through deception is achieved by camouflage; the feigned retreat, when a false sense of security leads the foe into ambush; the Trojan horse, famously gaining admittance to a restricted area under false pretenses; and further ploys under the catch-all heading of misinformation … In 1898 came the ‘Artificial tree-trunk,’ anticipating by nearly twenty years the observation trees, made of angle-iron and camouflaged with bark, that were used by the British and French on the Western Front. The Kearton tree was a pantomime prop-like contraption whose wigwam frame of bamboo uprights was dressed with mesh, and covered with fabric camouflaged with paint, moss, and lichen. The photographer stood to attention inside, pressed against his camera, whose tripod legs could be only partially spread. It may have lacked versatility, but when it came to photographing a bird perched six feet above ground level, in woodland, the dummy tree trunk was hard to beat.”

  • Before acid was the much-ballyhooed countercultural symbol we all know and love, it was a therapy tool. And among its greatest proponents, as Xan Brooks writes, was Cary Grant, who tripped about a hundred times at the peak of his career and believed that the drug changed his worldview for the better: “Grant submitted himself to weekly sessions with Dr. Mortimer Hartman at the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills. The effects were startling. ‘In one LSD dream I imagined myself as a giant penis launching off from Earth like a spaceship.’ ‘He claimed he was saved by LSD,’ explains Mark Kidel, the film’s director. ‘You have to remember that Cary was a private man. He rarely gave interviews. And yet, after taking acid, he personally contacted Good Housekeeping magazine and said: I want to tell the world about this. It has changed my life. Everyone’s got to take it. I’ve also heard that Timothy Leary read this interview, or was told about it, and that his own interest in acid was essentially sparked by Cary Grant.’ ”
  • The internet’s once unslakable thirst for personal essays has been … slaked. Jia Tolentino looks at the end of an era for online writing: “It helps to consider what gave rise to the personal essay’s ubiquity in the first place. Around 2008, several factors converged. In preceding years, private blogs and social platforms—LiveJournal, Blogspot, Facebook—trained people to write about their personal lives at length and in public. As Silvia Killingsworth, who was previously the managing editor of The New Yorker and took over the Awl and the Hairpin last year, put it to me, ‘People love to talk about themselves, and they were given a platform and no rules.’ Then the invisible hand of the page-view economy gave them a push: Web sites generated ad revenue in direct proportion to how many ‘eyeballs’ could be attracted to their offerings, and editorial budgets had contracted in the wake of the recession.”