Ms. Tchou is working on a book about her family and the cultural history of ferns.
“I liked Oaxaca as soon as I learned to say its name, all those airy vowels, each subsequent “a” a little fuller in my mouth. Last year, I was in the throes of a deep depression. But reading “Oaxaca Journal,” Oliver Sacks’s account of traveling that Mexican state to study its flora with the New York Fern Society, made me feel dreamy and brave. A flash of wanderlust, my fascination with the fern (which began when I failed at keeping one alive in my tiny Brooklyn studio) and a physical urge to escape the brutal careerism of New York all nudged me into opening my laptop, taking a chance on my savings and booking a one-way ticket to the region.
At the time I flew out, I didn’t know very much about southern Mexico or botany, just that after reading the journal, I wanted to experience the quasi-spiritual journey Dr. Sacks had reported: “Tree ferns, climbing ferns, filmy ferns, shoestring ferns, they are all here, in unparalleled diversity.” Endless gullies of serene maidenhair ferns and giant 15-foot horsetails, long streams filled with Kelly green hornworts — all tucked within the elevated cloud forests of the region, whose shrouds of mist seemed to hold the very healing power of natural wonder that Dr. Sacks, a neurologist and naturalist, loved to praise. At the time he wrote the journal there were 690 species in the state alone.