Dear Matthew Alice: A number of times recently I have read about "Tree Huggers.” What are Tree Huggers? Do people really go out in the yard and hug trees? Why do they do it? Or is the term really a joke or cover for some other strange activity? — R.C. Catron, Rancho Bernardo
What the heck have you been reading lately, R.C., moldy philosophical musings by Ronald Reagan and James Watt? Without knowing the source, my guess is the tree huggers in question are environmentalists — people who cringe every time another piece of old-growth forest is leveled to make another condo in another housing development. It’s a disparaging term for those conservationists who are accused of standing in the way of economic progress for the sake of some bit of nature. A few of the more militant ecofreaks do chain themselves to trees to keep them from being turned into lumber, but the put-down is now broadly applied to those who might otherwise be known as Spotted Owl Kissers or Dolphin Fondlers or Whale Worshipers. The whole thing has a lot to do with the politics of the name-caller.
On a much less divisive note, there’s a slim chance that your tree huggers are kids who’ve been taught survival techniques through the local “Hug-a-Tree” program. It’s a set of techniques for kids who go camping or hiking and who run the risk of becoming lost. One of the basic rules to maximize their chances of being found by search parties is to “hug a tree,” that is, once they realize they’re lost, they should stay in one spot and not move until they’re found. I’d like to think these are the tree huggers you’ve been hearing so much about, but somehow I doubt it