My friend Oszkar


by Bill Moore....

... There are machines and there are people in the forest around us. With a humble bow to my friends of the Great Yellow Traktor Co. and others, I find the people more interesting than the cold metal monsters.
....“Oszkar,” says I, as I sit down opposite my friend in his little office in the Forest Faculty Building at the University of British Columbia, “tell me about the Egyptian Caper!”
....I am talking to Dr. Oszkar Sziklai – geneticist – not James Bond, adventurer, but I can say that my globe trotting friend has a bit of the glamour of a good Bond movie in his chosen field of work. Oszkar is called upon by countries all over the world to assist them in forestry problems relating to the growth and care of trees. So it is only natural for an inlet logger like myself to ask my friend, when I catch up to him, “Well, what’s your latest caper?”
....The Egyptian Caper referred to here is the program in Egypt to plant “fences” of trees to hold back the sands of the desert from the fertile agricultural land of the Nile Valley, under the Canadian Government Dev-elopment Research Centre, for which Oszkar acts as technical advisor. He has been sent to Egypt many times in the past few years to work on this project.
....Working with the Alexandria Uni-versity Agricultural people, they found that the Casuarina tree of southeast Asia, an evergreen, appeared to be the ideal tree to plant to act as a windbreak. The project is started and all things going well, Oszkar hopes the sands can be held back.
....In speaking of Egypt’s forests or trees, I am told they do not refer to acres or hectares of trees, but to actual count, somewhere in the eight million figure! Each one is counted, so they are precious.
....Before I leave this caper, he showed me a photograph of a drawing taken from the tomb of Queen Hat-shepsut (1500 BC) that depicts


workers carrying a shrub-like tree to be used for just such a purpose as Oszkar was researching in the 1970s. The root is wrapped in sackcloth and the inscription says the tree is imported from what would now be Ethiopia. Apparently the Queen’s caper didn’t work – but I’ll bet she didn’t have an Oszkar advising her.
....Dr. Oszkar Sziklai arrived in British Columbia in the fall of 1956 along with 196 faculty colleagues and forestry stu-dents from Sopron University in Hun-gary. The Russian army moved with a vengeance that autumn to quell the Hun-garian revolt against oppressive Russian domination. With little else but hand guns against tanks the action was soon over – but the western world will long remember the aggressive acts of the Russians in Hungary.
....Oszkar, his colleagues, students,

GLOBE TROTTING professor, Dr. Oszkar Sziklai, of U.B.C.


wives and children were able to cross the border into friendly Austria. As the forestry school was reasonably intact, the head of the school, Dean Kalman Roller, asked countries around the world to take the entire group in and let them continue their forestry studies. Through the efforts of Dr. Norman McKenzie and the forest faculty’s Dean George Allen, along with Hon. James Sinclair and Harold and Joe Foley of the Powell river Co., the Canadian government brought the entire group to B.C. and set them up to live and study on the campus of U.B.C.
....Those were traumatic times for the group – leaving loved ones and collea-gues behind, taking only hand luggage and heading half way around the world to a land of different language and ways. But they were determined to have their forestry education, which they did. Today those students and teachers are scattered in many parts of the world contributing their knowledge to better forestry for all of us.
....Well now, back to the capers. So I say to my friend “Oszkar, tell me of the Greek caper.” He laughs his nice laugh and tells me of a giant sycamore tree on the Isle of Kos in the Aegean that is said to be the tree that Hypocrites taught his theories of medicine under 2,400 years ago. Whether it is the tree or an offspring is not really validated, but what is important to a group of prominent medical people is that a gathering place for the advanced studies of medicine be built on this Isle of Kos, and that its symbol be the Hypocratic tree. So Oszkar was asked by his friend Dr. Bill Gibson to gather seeds from the tree, bring them to his U.B.C. laboratory and grow some small sycamore trees. These were then distributed throughout North America to bring attention and donations to the project on Kos.
....This May the project will be opened – called Aesclepion-on the Isle of Kos and I have a hunch an

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British Columbia Lumberman, April, 1979

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interested spectator at that opening will be Oszkar – standing, of course, in the shade of the old Hypocratic tree.
....“The China Caper,” says I, “what were you doing in China last summer?”
....Again the laugh – “Oh, 23 of us went on a tour and just sort of drifted into mainland China.” Drifted yet!
....I asked my friend what impressed him the most, after touring many of the universities, particularly in the forestry realm. He stated that with the emergence from the Mao period the Chinese have a very open desire to catch up to the western world in many fields.
....Oszkar has already begun an exchange program with forestry people in China for an exchange of seeds and seedlings. He is at present sending them seeds and cuttings of eastern sugar maple which the Chinese would like to introduce to their country. Better shape up you chaps in Ontario in the maple sugar business!
....An honor was paid Oszkar when he was asked by Nanking University to come this summer and teach genetics to their students. He is pondering the move right now.
....Then there’s the Queen Charlotte Islands Caper – the golden spruce tree near Port Clements on Graham Island. There on the bank of the Yakoun river stands this very rare and very strikingly yellow tree. Oszkar has been per-mitted to take cuttings from this tree and experiment with them. He tells me it’s a mutation – an evergreen tree without its proper proportions of chlorophyll. He relates it to an albino in a human being. – genetically deficient. My friend points out how important such a singular tree can be to a geneticist. In a growing area it can be most advantageous to know just how far the pollen from surrounding forests can affect the certain “pure” growing trees of a seed orchard. Oszkar hopes someday he can continue experiments with this extremely rare tree.
....Things have changed in his old homeland today and he returns to visit friends and colleagues in forestry. He is now collaborating on a forest genetics book with a Hungarian col-league in Hungary. The times are a bit different than in that sad autumn in 1956.
....But the caper I like the best is Oszkar’s latest – I call it the King Tut Caper. Not to be confused with the first Egyptian caper and the sand windbreak and the old queen – this one has real mystery to it. The good Dr. Sziklai was presented with 10 seeds, the size of a small peanut, from the tomb of dear old Tutankhamen. These seeds have come from the Carter estate in England. Carter being
the archeologist who peeked in the little hole to discover the dear chaps tomb and was reported to have stated – “Holy cow, there’s a mess of gold in thar!”
....Well, he has the seeds and he is trying to identify them and is also giving them various tests to determine their age and health. He let me hold one in the palm of my hand – which I trust won’t bring down the infamous curse of King Tut on this old logger.
....Oszkar and I have worked together for years on our Festival of Forestry program of environmental student tours and the promotion of Loggers’ Sports. I sometimes feel he has more enthu-


siasm and more good PR in him for our industry than do many of our upper chaps. I laughed the time he sent me a postcard from the pyramids stating – “Bill, this is a great place for the loggers to have an Obstacle Chokerman’s Race by going up and over the Cheops pyramid.
....Dr. Oszkar Sziklai – a man of the forest around us. An enthusiast, a promoter of good forestry, a globe trotting geneticist, a fine teacher of our forests – and a good friend.
....We could use more like him.

Keep out of the bight,
Bill Moore

British Columbia Lumberman, April, 1979  
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