Have library access?
  • Journals
  • OpenAccess

Botanically Adrift: Writing Ecological Estrangement in Two Trees Make a Forest-On Memory, Migration and Taiwan



This essay contributes to literary criticism on ecobiography through an analysis of Jessica Lee's Two Trees Make a Forest. A genre of life writing which reflects on the imbrication of a human and their ecosystem, ecobiography can be defined through two main themes: the dissolution of the human and non-human, and attention to local environments and ecosystems. However, Two Trees Make a Forest challenges the first of these themes through the obvious disconnect between Lee and the natural environments of Taiwan. Lee attempts to uncover her Taiwanese history following the deaths of her grandparents, and travels to Taiwan for three months to learn the language and explore the island's natural environments. Throughout her ecobiography, she continually reflects on her unsettlement in Taiwan given her estrangement from her history, and expresses this through reflections on Taiwan's geology and plants. More subliminally, her disconnect from her maternal family's culture is expressed through the way she chooses to write about Taiwan's natural history. Her accounts privilege writing by travelers and colonizers, rather than Taiwan's Indigenous peoples. This may be attributed to language difficulties-Lee's main language is English and she accessed translated, printed material-and because of her Western education. Lee also aestheticizes the environments through which she moves, dwelling on their obvious attractions (particularly the plant life) rather than the incursions of human habitation and industrialization. This necessarily leads to a rewriting of one of the themes of ecobiography, in that ecobiographical texts are not so much about representations of the dissolution between the human and its ecosystem, but about the desire for dissolution, and how this can be attained, or not. The essay closes with a meditation on whether one can simply belong to a place by accessing that place's language, and on the need for time to acquaint oneself with an ecosystem and the cultures that it supports. It concludes with the suggestion that arboreal companions can prompt us to think about human relationships with local ecosystems on a much longer scale.

Parallel abstracts


Parallel keywords

生態傳記 自然書寫 台灣 生態系統 原住民


Aarts, Bas. “The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.” The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2nd ed., Oxford UP, 2014, p. 367.
Adawai, Jason Pan. “Taiwan.” The Indigenous World 2019, edited by David Nathaniel Berger. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2019, pp. 302-310.
Brewster, Anne. “Can You Anchor a Shimmering Nation State via Regional Indigenous Roots?: Kim Scott Talks to Anne Brewster about That Deadman Dance.” Cultural Studies Review, vol. 18, 2012, pp. 228-46.
Chang, Chia-ju, and Scott Slovic. “Introduction.” Ecocriticism in Taiwan: Identity, Environment and the Arts, edited by Chia-ju Chang and Scott Slovic, Lexington Books, 2016, pp. ix-xxii.
Ch’ing-wen, Cheng. The Three-Legged Horse. Columbia UP, 2000.