Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baker's Early Years

More from the writings of Richard St.Barbe Baker

New Earth Charter

My Life My Trees

My Comments About Baker's Autobiography and his Earth Charter

Today I want to share some more material from the writings of the Baha'i environmentalist, Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889-1982). First I include the text of his earth charter -- written long before the UN was presented with the present proposed earth charter. Then I will share the first installment of the first chapter of his autobiography, "My Life, My Trees."

My Life, My Trees surely ranks way up there with Ben Franklin's autobiography as one of the best ever written. It will be especially historic if, as I think they should, a world government decides to follow through on Baker's proposed desert reclamation project, which would draft the world's armies into tree planters, turning the massive surface of earth's land mass that is now desert into fertile, productive land. I plan to cite here the first and the second chapter in their entirety, then with the rest of the book restrict my quotes only to what is of interest to Baha'is.

It is a pity that the editor and publisher of My Life My Trees was so avid to take Baker under his control and to deny the fact that Baker was a Baha'i. He tacks on at the start of the book an amusing, mildly distressing preface written by himself. He is clearly avid to deny Baker's faith as a Baha'i and to assert that he was an animist like himself. This is not helped by the fact that Baker's personality is infused with old-school British reserve. When I got the book in the mail I paged through, trying to find any reference to Baha'i but I could not. Only as I was carefully reading the whole book did the brief references start to pop out, and at least one requires a certain knowledge of the Faith in order to recognize it as a reference.

With this book project the editor and publisher seems like a bird taking Baker under his wing. If you find God in a forest, he assumes, you must be worshipping the god Pan. It would be nice if the Baha'is could do for My Life, My Trees what they did for E.G. Browne, that is, buy up the copyrights to his books and reissue the books with a Baha'i editor and publisher. After all, the UHJ has already called him the "illustrious" Baker, so this would be a good teaching project.

As for the New Earth Charter, Baha'is will recognize a glimmering of the Master's words in His first speech in the West, given in a church in London.

"This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity of the sons of men and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant, destroying the foundation of true humanity." (Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 19)


New Earth Charter

I Believe in the oneness of mankind and of all living things, and the interdependence of each and all.

I Believe that unless we play fair to the earth and practice the law of return, we cannot exist physically; unless we play fair to our neighbour, we cannot exist socially or internationally; unless we play fair to our better selves, we cannot live as individuals.

I believe in the development of a fuller understanding of the true relationship between all forms of life, in an endeavour to maintain a natural balance between mineral, vegetable, animal, and human life.

I believe that the blossoming desert foretold by the prophets of old is now being fulfilled by the steady reclamation of the Sahara. This should be the scientific answer to the world's dilemma for it will provide a one-world purpose unifying East and West.

I believe that the Lord's Prayer has been answered and that it is in the process of being fulfilled. We are entering a new era of human power and all horizons are becoming luminous for this coming together of the sons of men, and that the Earth will indeed become as a garden of paradise.

I Believe that this generation will either be the last to exist in any semblance of a civilized world, or it will be the first to have the vision, the bearing, and the greatness to say:

`I will have nothing to do with this destruction of life, I will play no part in this devastation of the land; I am destined to live and work for peace for I am morally responsible for the world of today and the generation of tomorrow.'

I Pray that I may be just to the Earth beneath my feet, to the neighbour by my side, and to the light that comes from above and within, that this wonderful world of ours may be a little more beautiful and happy for my having lived in it.

So may it be.


My Life My Trees


Chapter One: I Am Led Forth

Part I, early childhood

In sleep of helpless infancy

Trees were the arms that cradled me;

On Tree my daily food is spread,

Tree is my chair and Tree my bed.

-Teresa Hooley

I was born in the country in a house on a sunny hill on the fringe of a pine wood in the south of Hampshire. Beacon Hill it was called because just above the house there had been the old telegraph station with high wooden arms which signalled messages --in twelve minutes -- between the Admiralty in London and Portsmouth.

As soon as I could walk I used to sit in a sunny spot on the pine needles and listen to the soft sounds of the wind in their make-shift leaves. It was like music to me. When I was two I had my first little garden. The first things I grew were nasturtiums and soon after that with the help of my Nanny I scratched my name in the soil and sowed white mustard seed. A week later I was proud to spell out the letters of a green RICHARD.

At four with the help of an old sailor I rigged up a little flag pole made from a larch that grew in the wood. I was proud of my flag pole which I had barked and painted myself; it was the centre of the little garden. Each morning I hoisted a flag and each evening I took it down, carefully rolled it up and tied it correctly ready to hoist and 'break' the next day. At the entrance to my little garden I stuck two withies and made an arch just big enough to allow me to pass under it. In a month's time to my great delight they started to grow leaves. It was a great thrill, for until then I had not grown anything more ambitious than nasturtiums and mustard.

... On Saturday evenings instead of playing cricket, as a great treat I was allowed to help my father sow tree seeds in long narrow beds I had helped to make. As the little pine seedlings came up they wore a little 'cap' which they seemed to be raising in salute.

I was fascinated by the regiments of tiny seedlings and I protected, weeded and watered them. Their care was more important to me than any game.

At the age of four I used my father's tools and my first effort in carpentering was to make a soap box for my mother, used for many years in the scullery sink and afterwards for further years at the stables.

My forebears had originally lived in Kent, having been granted lands by Henry I, who married off one of his paramours to a young knight. For generations Sissinghurst Castle was the Baker home until it was commandeered and used as an internment camp for French prisoners of war, who eventually burnt it down. It was then that the family were scattered and my branch went to live at Cawston in Norfolk. The Bakers who came from Normandy frequently intermarried with the St. Barbes who came from Brittany. Generations of St. Barbes lived at Broadlands, Romsey, until it was sold to Lord Palmerson, in Victorian times.

... As a boy I was told of my great-grandfather, Rector of Botley, Hampshire, for fifty-two years, who was one of the old-fashioned type of sporting parson. He used to wear a pink coat under a black gown, and he encouraged sport of every kind. He thought nothing of riding the seventy miles to London for a luncheon engagement, returning the next day. In order to promote the noble art of self-defence, a barrel of home-brewed beer was rolled out of the rectory on a Sunday afternoon in support of the local champion who would challenge all comers from Portsmouth.

He was a good boxer himself, as two highwaymen discovered one evening when they tried to relieve him of the money he was carrying home for his servants' wages. It was two footpads to one old man and a dog, and the Rector was attacked from front and back. But he got the better of his assailants, and with the help of his dog he marched them to the Bargate at Southampton. Then he walked home to Botley, arriving at the rectory cool and unperturbed, though his white shirt-front was covered in blood!

A former Scholar and Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, he had earlier exchanged his living at Cawston in Norfolk for the one at Botley. He drove the whole two hundred miles in the family coach, borrowing horses at various stages, until he reached his new rectory. Then the coach was left in a paddock, where it became family mansion for generations of free-ranging cocks and hens.

Great-grandfather Baker is buried in the family vault at the west end of Botley church. It is an ornate affair with a pointed pillar bearing the family coat of arms. The present Rector, the Reverend Duke Baker, told me that once when the Sunday School was leaving the church, one little fellow pointed to the vault and asked, "Is that where Jesus was buried?"

His eldest son, my great-uncle Richard, was a scholar too and coached his brothers for Cambridge. For a while he farmed the 800-acre glebe farm for his father, riding once a year to Norfolk to collect rent from tenants on the family estate. Then he decided upon a more adventurous life, so he went out to Ontario, Canada, where he cleared the bush and shot wild bear.

His nearest neighbour, George, lived seven miles away, and on Sunday afternoons it was Richard's custom to ride over to visit his friends. As a boy of ten, I used to find it thrilling to listen to letters read to me by my father, which he too had enjoyed as a ten-year-old. Long passages of these letters dealt with philosophical and religious questions, often in an introspective vein, but every now and then there would be a spicy bit about bears. It was then that I sat up and really took notice.

One incident stands out in my memory. George told Richard how one night he heard an alarming noise coming from the yard. Pulling a sheepskin coat over his nightshirt, he went out into the yard, and there was a big black bear struggling to lift his prize hog over the sty ... He had no rifle or gun with him, so he seized a spade and with one mighty blow laid the bear's skull open with the edge, killing it. It fell dead at his feet.

Dead at his feet! I kissed my mother and said good night to her and my father. Looking out from my bedroom window I could see my young trees in the moonlight. I searched in all directions, but there was not even a shadow that remotely resembled a bear. "I will go to Canada one day," I thought, "where I can kill bears with spades!"

Richard's brother was John Thomas Wright Baker, my grandfather. He went to Clare Hall (now Clare College) and, like his father, became a parson. He did duty at the Hampshire parishes of Botley, Durley, Sholing, and West End, where he lived in his own house with a large, tree-surrounded garden. Like Nelson's Admiral Collingwood, he would tuck acorns in the hedgerows along the fields of his parish. Seventy years afterwards many of the resulting fine oaks were felled to build the little rescue ships of the war.

He was a great walker -- it is recorded that he once walked forty-two miles before breakfast on a pint of beer -- and always undertook his pastoral visits on foot, except on Sundays when he was driven in a brougham. He was also a trained athlete and excelled at both high and long jump. Sometimes when my father and grandmother were driving in the chaise they would meet my grandfather returning from some visit. For fun, he would start running backwards in front of the fast-trotting pony and at every dozen strides or so would jump backwards over his walking-stick!

He had a reputation as an eloquent reader, and rich and poor would fill his churches to hear him bring to life the ancient characters of Scripture for their enlightenment and enchantment.

It seems that in his church views he was led towards evangelicalism by his forebear, that author of "The Penitential Psalm of David." He could not abide sacerdotalism and avoided using the word "altar" for the "Lord's Table", adhering strictly to the Church's rubrics. A life-long vegetarian, he considered the Lord's Supper a love-feast of bread and wine among His close followers, as he believed the Master had meant it to be.

His out-and-out evangelical attitude was frowned upon by his Bishop who wrote him a curt note on the subject. Being of a highly sensitive nature he was so deeply shocked by this unchristian reproof that the blood rushed to his head, and he dropped dead. He was buried in the graveyard near the west door of the church at West End, where later my grandmother was buried too.

My dear father, John Richard St. Barbe Baker, the only child, was fourteen at the time, and from then on his gentle mother, who had felt the blow most bitterly, became his responsibility. He devoted himself to her and to his woodlands, establishing forest nurseries, and training and employing a number of men.

He had been brought up to understand that the family money, which his aunt Sarah had the use of during her lifetime, would ensure his independence. At the time of her last illness he was spending his winter doing missionary work among the villagers of the mountains of Southern France. In response to a telegram, he returned just in time to be with the old lady and comfort her in death. When the will came to be read, however, it was found that (the) trustees had persuaded Aunt Sarah to leave most of the (fortune) to them.

My father asked his lawyer cousin's advice, and he took the view that it was God's will and therefore little (good would be done by bringing) the matter into chancery. The trustees, who were brothers and also bankers, retired on Aunt Sarah's money. The senior one bought a mansion in the country, furnished and equipped with servants.

On the very first morning after his arrival to take possession, the butler came in to draw the curtains. When there was no reply to his comment on the weather, he went over to the bed, where he found his new master, dead. He telegraphed the brother, who at once caught a train from London. He asked the guard to stop at a halt near his brother's mansion, so that he could take a short cut across the fields. As requested, the train stopped. Nobody alighted, so the guard walked along the train to find the younger brother dead in his seat.

My father agreed with his cousin that this looked like divine retribution, but the misdirected wealth still did not return to him, so he gave up all thought of living as a country gentleman and (turned) his hobby into his business. This was fortunate for me, for from earliest childhood I became intimate with trees in nurseries.

As a boy, my father had not followed the family tradition of going to Cambridge; he had instead a private tutor. At the age of seventeen he became interested in the Evangelical Revival of the eighties of the last century, and under the influence of Archbishop Trench's daughter devoted himself to God's work, volunteering to carry on when Miss Trench left the district. Though he was only eighteen he filled the village reading-room on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Later, he built a Mission Hall seating three hundred in his own garden. People from the surrounding villages came to this centre soon -- even missionaries from Africa and India.

It was about this time that my father proposed to the only daughter of the Squire. Charlotte Purrott had played the harmonium in her father's reading-room and enthusiastically helped Miss Trench and John Baker with the Mission services. It was she who had been Miss Agnes Weston's strong supporter when she founded her Mission to Seamen. Charlotte's father, who was the Vicar's Warden at West End, kept the best horses in that part of Hampshire and hunted with the Hursley and the New Forest Stag Hounds.

Although his daughter never hunted, he mounted her well. When my father asked her to marry him she said that, fond as she was of him, she could not possibly marry him as he would not be able to provide her with the kind of life she had been accustomed to enjoy. A few weeks later her father lost his money in the Devil's Dyke Railway Company. Charles Purrott had believed in the Australian claimant in the Tichborne case and, having promised his support, lost heavily when the case was not proved. He was perhaps forty years ahead of his time in this venture. The combination of these unfortunate investments cost him his house and property at West End. Servants went, horses went, and his beautiful house too. His daughter wrote to my father:

"Dear John,

My father has lost all his money. Please marry me."

And he did.

I was fortunate in having a charming grandmother who used to take me for walks to visit her old neighbours. Those were the days of polite calls and daintily served tea in china cups. One Tuesday afternoon when we were calling upon her nearest neighbour, Mrs. Anderson, we found her distressed because she had lost a little tabby kitten. My grandmother mentioned that on Sunday evening a little stray kitten had come to the house. It had probably followed one of the maids to the Mission Hall. I had befriended it and it had settled down and become one of the family. I was terribly afraid that I might have to give up my kitten to which I had become very attached. Happily Mrs. Anderson sensed my anxiety and asked me, "Do you love my little kitten very much?" I answered that I did and so she generously said I might keep it. That was the first and last call that afternoon. I hastened home to make sure that my kitten was safe.

I was now four. My father was adding a couple of rooms to his house and I spent much time with the carpenters. Having seen a funeral procession the week before, when my father had put on his frock coat and a black silk hat, I was taken with the notion that if my pussy were to die I must give her a proper funeral with a coffin. I made a box two feet long from ends of flooring -- even at that early age I could use tools with precision and drive nails. I fitted a lid with leather hinges and tarred it inside and out, plastering myself at the same time. I remember my nanny making me rub butter on my hands to remove the black sticky stuff before finally scrubbing my hands with soap and water. The kitten's coffin was put into the roof of the shed where it stayed until the cowman broke a leg off the milk stool. Then my black box served him instead for many years. My kitten lived to be thirteen and in the end walked off into the wood. I always thought she had a secret burial place, but search as I might I never found it.

When I was five my father said, "You are getting a big boy now. This will make you strong," and he cut a slice of meat from the servants' joint. Although he was practically vegetarian himself, he provided a weekly joint for the cook and the housemaids.

"Father, I don't need it," I protested, and soon ate up the vegetables and baked potato.

"But Daddy says you must eat ittake it to your room and do not come down till it's gone!"

It was a beautiful Saturday and it seemed unfair that I should be punished in this way. Every now and again my father would call up the stairs,

"My boy! Has that meat gone?"

"No, father," I would have to admit.

I looked out across the lawn to my seed beds where whole regiments of little trees were awaiting my attention, and as my eyes ranged nearer I saw my kitten on the lawn just under my window. In a loud whisper I called, "Kitty," and threw out that horrid slice of beef. She snapped it up. A great fear came over me. I crouched on the floor beside my bed in the corner waiting in terror of what might happen next. After a seemingly interminable time, the voice came again:

"My boy! Has that meat gone?"

"Y-y-y-e-s, Father," I called back tremblingly.

"Good boy. You may come down."

I escaped to my little trees and a hot tear dropped into the watering can, for I had deceived my father whom I loved. I never had the courage to own up to what I had done. He had been obeyed, at least so he thought, and that was what mattered to him. He never tried to make me eat meat again and I proved for myself that it was not necessary as a food. My health was good. I was strong, and as I grew up I could walk or ride long distances.


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