Wednesday, November 4, 2015

One leaf at a time...

Over the past 25 years I lived within a place that many people know as the Evergreen State: Washington.  You know it. Land of a few famous musicians, the Space Needle, apples, the Seattle Freeze, Starbucks.... blah, blah blah. The list goes on. But for me it was always the land of trees. Lots of them. All over. I'm a big fan of them, even the evil fir trees that like to try to kill me with their overabundance of pollen. 

In my life time I have always lived in areas where these lovely, green monstrosities are abundant. Between the Willamette Valley, the Puget Sound, and now western Pennsylvania I have always been near a plethora of plant life.  It's just comforting to me. Towering, living bundles of carbohydrates taking in the carbon dioxide we emit and giving back oxygen. Really, it's an amazing bit of symbiotic living.

Anyway, I'm on the tree kick right now because last week the kids and I planted a tree in the back yard. Yes, I know we are just renting this place for now, but it makes sense to make improvements. I've taken out some ugly shrubs but I still want greenery. I still want my kids to have a yard that shows my desire to improve the planet we live on. And, if all things work out well, we would like to make a bid on the house next year to make it our permanent landing spot.

So, we planted a pear tree. Funny. I don't like pears. Can't stand the texture. Don't like the taste. But we planted one. My wife loves pears as do my kids. So, we planted a pear tree. When it comes down to it I like they way they look, so it's all good.

Oddly enough, I have been asked why I would plant a pear tree. Why not a cedar, a maple, an ash? Really, it comes down to a few things.

Over the years the tree we planted (a red bartlett dwarf pear) will yield about 1-3 bushels of fruit a year. That means in a couple of years the tree will be keeping us (or whomever lives here) stocked with pears for eating, canning, drying, etc... But that's not the only reason. In time the tree will provide a modicum of shade for the backyard. Not much, but the tree should grow to about 15-20 feet tall with a fifteen foot spread. That is just enough for a young adult to lay under and do homework or simply day dream. It will also be a marker of time. Right now it's about a foot taller than the kids. I plan on keeping a photographic history of the tree for as long as we're here. I grew up in a house where my parents planted young Douglas firs that were the same height as me. Now they are well over thirty feet tall. I love looking up at them and thinking that they grew up with me. With luck, my kids will do the same, though they won't be quite so dwarfed in the end.

The thing about trees is they aren't just pretty. They don't just provide food. Trees are natures bio-filter. They are natures carbon-sink. Did you know that an acre of trees can capture the same amount of carbon that you release when you drive 26,000 miles? It also provides enough air for 18 people for the year. They clean the air and remove particulates simply by catching in their leaves and bark. Heck, they even save water. All the shade a tree provides keeps extra water from being evaporated from the ground below. That means healthier plants beneath and less watering for your lawn. Plus they release moisture into the air as they transpire (you know... tree breathing). Plus, that shade and water release helps cool the air around us. Every tree you plant helps keep some of that pesky sunlight (this is my redhead bias coming through) from hitting the ground and heating up the ambient temperature in the city.

Think of it, if we planted more trees in vacant spaces of the cities around us the leaves would be catching the sunlight and prevent the pavement nearby from being quite so warm. The released water from transpiration would also cool the air slightly. That same sunlight would be providing food for the trees, which allows them to grow more and in turn absorb more carbon dioxide (you know... that greenhouse gas that we all breathe out that is helping to heat the planet). And if these trees are around homes we live in they can even reduce our cooling costs of our homes by also keeping them out of the aforementioned pesky sunlight. And, of course, less energy spent means a lower carbon footprint for our homes too.

By this point in time I'm sure you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah... I know. We've heard it all before."  Which is fine. Hell, I hope you have heard it before. (Repetition leads to remembering, or so I've  been told.) But it's not just for the financial benefit or for the obvious environmental impact.  Planting trees has a tremendous social impact as well.

When we lived in Tacoma, WA, we noticed that there was a very distinct difference between what was considered the "rich" and the "poor" parts of town. It wasn't the quality of the homes or their size. It was the trees, or actually the lack of them.  In the poorest sections of town most of the trees had been taken down. The towering evergreens were gone. The oak trees are barely scattered around. Nothing of any height can be seen for blocks and blocks. People complain about the amount of violence that happens in these areas. It has been found neighborhoods that lack tree cover tend have greater occurrences of violence both in and out of home than neighborhoods which are lush with trees. We are the human animal. We are part of nature. If we completely remove ourselves from it we suffer. It has also been found that trees are both calming and healing. Apparently people heal faster even when just given the ability to view nearby trees. Kids with ADHD exhibit less symptoms. Even just being in green areas is said to help reduce mental fatigue by letting our bodies just relax without being surrounded by so much concrete and synthetic materials around.

Now think about what would happen if we planted more trees in those poorer neighborhoods. If violent crime goes down, people are less stressed, and fear is reduced..... how much does that benefit the area? Immeasurably.  Pair that with the fact that well-planted properties can increase the value of a home by nearly 15%. That's a great thing. Happier people with more value to their homes. Add in the economic gains they can get by having the trees and the environmental benefit of helping the world in general. Well, that seems pretty much like a no-brainer.

So, trees. I've planted a few. I know I'll plant a few more. How about you?

Here's my deal. Two a year. That's what I'll do. A minimum of two. My challenge to you (the unknown reader of this long-winded post) is to do the same. They don't have to be just for you. Find a neighbor, a school, a church, an empty lot... whatever. Plant them. Tend them so they get established and teach people about them.  Other wise we appear to be destined to live in a world of only cement and glass.  I'll do the same. Together we can keep our world green. You know... one leaf at a time.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Unbreaking the Broken

I remember being young. (No snickering, please.) Not seven or eight, but from there all the way into my twenties. That is young in my mind now. I remember how everything affected me so intensely. In some ways I'm fairly surprised that I managed to even survive those years. I was always being pulled around left and right by everything and everyone. There were so many firsts during that time. It would be impossible for me to even begin to list them off. 

Despite the seemingly endless number of them, it is truly quite the opposite. We each have a very finite number of memories kept within our complex data storage device known as our brain. True, it would be near impossible to count, but since our years on this planet are truly numbered so are the memories we carry with us.

Over the years I have discovered that my number has actually dwindled far more than is expected from someone my age. Dementia? Not yet. I may be crazy, but I think I can fight that off for a while longer. By best guess I am actually partly to blame for these gaps, subconsciously at least. We have this amazing data processor shoved up in our craniums and apparently it sometimes acts upon its own to do what it thinks is necessary.  Most of the time this is a fabulous thing. (Hooray for the autonomic nervous system and all that sciency stuff.) Other times (sticking with the terrible computer analogy) it simply seems to delete certain things. And when it does, it doesn’t remember to do the weekly defrag. Nope. Just leaves it all a bit jumbled up afterwards. Anyway, as best as I can tell that is what my brain has done to me over the years.

I realized there were missing pieces, or gaps if you will, back in college. I was in Eastvold Auditorium hanging out in the south staircase with my girlfriend. Prior to that moment I had no idea there had ever been an impairment to my world. And then mid-conversation one of those jumbled up spots reorganized itself. And I remembered something I hadn’t realized I had forgotten:

I was seven or eight living in Forest Grove. There had been this older boy who lived down the block. He had a tree house in an old apple tree in the alley. And in the tree house he molested me for a period of months.

That was the first gap I discovered. Kind of a major one. (Thanks go to my counselor for the next few years of dealing with that.)

But this isn’t about that situation.  It’s about the fact that my mind apparently decided that particular set of memories were ones that I could not deal with until a later date. The funny thing to me was that it didn’t come back in the hazy dream-like daze that we are so used to seeing on television or in movies. Rather, it was a click. Things simply snapped into place. It was almost audible. One moment I was in a normal conversation with my girlfriend and then I just stopped and everything was back in its original space.

Fast forward a period of years and I discovered numerous other gaps. Or at least I assume I discovered them. It’s difficult to assess if you are missing something if you are unaware you are missing something. As communication on the internet developed, so did my contact with people from my life that had moved on. Eventually with the development of social networking I made contact with people from even farther back in my life. That is when the gaps truly became apparent.

With our seemingly innate desire to reminisce and talk about things from years past I found myself occasionally out of sorts. These people with whom at one point in time I had so much in common with would talk about things that we did together or about people we knew for years. Most of the time I would do the appropriate giggle, snort, groan, cry, chuckle…. whatever was appropriate for the memory discussed. But other times I would find myself at a loss.

I’m sorry, we did what? Who? Nope never heard of them. She and I were together? Right, she’d never give me the time of day.

I apparently have massive blocks of time that simply don’t exist. Major events that apparently I took part of… no clue. A few relationships that I was in have seemingly been wiped clean.  These gaps somehow permeated my first two decades of my life. Thankfully, with more contact from people formerly in my life I have remembered some things. Not all of it pretty, but when they come back it is a piece of who I am settling back into place. I am a little more complete.

The thing that gets me is I understand the blocking of major events. Trauma isn’t a nice thing to think about, let alone constantly remember. I comprehend the temporary and perhaps permanent deletions there. But it’s the other holes that make no sense to me. Why can I not remember the “relationship” portion of a friendship I had? Why do I not remember doing that show?

In all, what I have found is that there is a constant “state of being” associated with this phenomena. Broken. Not a bad broken, just… a sense of being incomplete. As each new/old memory is returned to me it is lessened, but it is my presumption that it is something I will simply live with the rest of my life. If for some reason my brain decided that certain things had to go, I am guessing there must be some good reason for it. And if that is the case, do I really want to go seeking it out?

So, that all being said, if you have known me from years before and we have a conversation which leaves me looking at you as if you have just told me that you are an alien come to take over the world, please give me a moment. Most likely I’ve encountered my newest mental pothole. I’ll catch up to you eventually. Just be patient with me. And if you really are that alien bent on world domination, please do me the favor of erasing that little bit from my memory as well.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Excess and Waste

I have been asked numerous times over the past year, "Why do you ask for things on Facebook?" In all honestly, it's a fair question. The answer I give is a simple one, "Why not?"

Saying that seems like such a simple answer, but I still find my self wondering how it looks to people. Will they wonder why I'm asking in such a public manner? How will it be viewed? Will it seem like begging? It is something that I might possibly have a hope of getting? Blah, blah, blah... There are so many potential self-doubting questions that if I allowed myself to ask them all I would never ask my questions on Facebook.

However, when you think about it, "Why not?" is a perfectly valid response. Especially here in America.

Take a look at your neighbors. Look at their "stuff".  Is it old? Worn out? Perhaps looking a bit shabby?  Okay, probably some of your neighbors might have a few things that way, if they are anything like people I have lived around and known for the umpteen years of my life the bulk of the things they own are newer. The funny thing is, they may not even notice it themselves.  There is a lifestyle of consumerism in America that pervades nearly everyone we know. It's not purposeful, but we have been raised in it. We are cajoled into it through media, We are taught that it's what we are supposed to do from the day we are able to understand any form of advertising. Buy more! Get more! Upgrade! Everything is disposable.

Honestly, I don't mind if my neighbors/friends/coworkers have the newer/faster/brighter thing. If I have what I need to make my life happy, I"m good, and good for them. They may need a few more things than I do. That's okay. But back to my question, "Why do you ask for things on Facebook?" Well, if people are upgrading and replacing the things they have, what is happening to all of the old stuff? If these neighbors/friends/coworkers of mine are anything like me they probably have half of it just sitting around in case they may need it. And then it's eventually forgotten about. And then replacement number three comes along and it starts again.


I come from a small town.  I am the odd blend of my college-employed family and my farm-working friends I grew up with. A tree-hugging hick. I like to recycle. I enjoy taking care of the earth we walk upon. Have an old pallet? I'll turn it into a bench or a dresser. You get the idea.  I gave up the notion that I would have all new things years ago when I realized I could be perfectly happy with things that are one or two iterations behind cutting-edge.

So, here we are as a nation with more stuff just tossed in our closets sitting around collecting dust than many other countries have access to. I'm pretty sure if I were to ransack a few of my friends' houses I would be able to come up with more spare computing power than I would truly know what to do with. Look in some other peoples' houses and I might find enough cookware to start three separate restaurants. In still other homes I may be able to stock a small used clothing store (some of it with clothing that has never left the original hanger).

So that's just it. I ask, because odds are somebody has something I may be able to use. I ask because they probably barely remember having it and so haven't even bothered to get rid of it. I ask because it is a simple form of recycling.


No shame there. I had them as a kid. My kids have them now. And why not? When it comes down to it the idea is perfect.  If you aren't using something, you aren't going to use it again, you aren't even going to bother getting rid of it.... why not give it to someone who wants it? To someone who needs it?

And in my world, it goes both ways. I am a user of hand-me-downs and I am a giver of them as well.  I have things that I have stopped using. Either I have grown out of them (literally and figuratively) or they are simply no longer of use to me. Much of it I donate to charity (ARC, Value Village, Goodwill.....) but some of it just kind of gets tucked aside because I "might" use it someday. Those things are my hand-me-downs that will go out when I hear someone else ask on Facebook (or in real life too), "Hey, does anyone have _____ that they aren't using?"

Yes. Yes I do. Here you go. 

I don't ask for financial gain. I don't give for financial gain. I just ask and give. Pass things along. Will I sell things that I have made? Absolutely. But if someone asks me if I have a used item that I don't need anymore then chances are it will become their used item. I would rather it were used instead of sitting gathering dust.

Hopefully that answers people's questions. Buy what you want to buy. Use what you need. Share what you can. Recycle things that you no longer want. Don't worry about having the newest, flashiest thing. Instead focus on what makes your life truly good. Use the the things you have and then share the things you no longer use.

We can't all live simply, but at times is nice to just simply live.