Trees Know More Than You Think

I just read a fascinating article, entitled, “Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees” by Brandon Keim. It was both gripping and educational from beginning to end. I strongly urge you to read it.

Here are but a few of the things I learned from this article:

  • There is a fungal/root connection that allows nutrients to flow, but it also connects trees to each other.
  • They form networks with mother trees at the center of communities, exchanging nutrients and water.
  • Plants communicate. They perceive and receive messages, and will change their behaviors based on those messages.
  • They remember. They learn.
  • When a forest is under attack, it actually emits a defense chemistry that you can smell.
  • Trees can recognize seedlings that are related to them, and give advantages to those seedlings over those of a “stranger”. They are capable of making that choice.
  • When a plant is stressed out, it releases serotonin, just like we do.
  • If you clip a plant’s leaves or put a bunch of bugs on them, their neurochemistry changes. They send warning messages to their neighbors.

Mind officially blown. I think I’ll be seeing my next hike in the woods entirely differently. Hopefully this new mindset will give me comfort, rather than the creeps. Like I’m being watched. Like their talking about me. Hmm…

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The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

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Peaceful Protesters Aren’t Rioters

There’s definitely a lot to protest about these days. Personally, I’m emotionally drained by it all. My whole life, I’ve never been more horrified by what’s going on in this country than I am at this moment. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own set of horrors. That’s the worst part about it. The list is endless.

The truth is that I’m glad people are protesting. It’s the only way that our voices will be heard. I’ve participated in a few protests myself. And every single one has been peaceful and nondestructive.

I get so frustrated when people equate all forms of protest with riots, looters, and vandals. Those things are a sickening side note that has nothing to do with the protests themselves. When a riot breaks out at a sporting event, as so often happens, do you blame everyone who attended the sporting event for that? When looters come in after a hurricane, do you blame the evacuees or the hurricane for that? When vandals tag a blank wall, do you blame the architect or the construction workers or the building for that? No? Then why are you blaming peaceful protesters? Is it because you really think it’s their fault, or because you want to add additional pressure to shut them up because you don’t agree with them?

In fact, according to this article, there is growing evidence that the trouble makers at these protests hold views directly opposite to those of the protestors. They’re trying to give them a bad name, when in fact it’s the right wing militia/domestic terrorists who should be accused. It’s horrific.

A lot of people are really angry right now. And unfortunately, some of those people are choosing to express that anger in very violent and destructive ways. That does not further their cause. In fact, it causes a lot of people to get hurt, tensions to ratchet up, and our tax dollars to be stretched even thinner to clean up after them, which depletes our ability to provide social services that might have prevented these problems in the first place.

But I genuinely don’t think looting, riots and vandalism have anything to do with the protests themselves. These destructive people are not trying to urge others to see their point of view. They’re just having a public tantrum, and using a protest as an excuse to get away with things that they normally couldn’t get away with.

I strongly encourage people to peacefully protest, and I genuinely believe that the vast majority of protests are, indeed, peaceful. There’s no need or excuse for things to escalate into violence or destruction. That would play right into the hands of those whom you are protesting against. Protesters know that. Please don’t lump them into the same pile with the destructive forces of this world. If anything, protesters care very deeply about this country and want to see it change for the better. Destruction doesn’t achieve that end.

What follows is the aftermath of some vandalism that happened at South Park Bridge in Seattle the other day. It’s a beautiful bridge, or at least it was. This does not win people over to your point of view, but I doubt that was the agenda in this instance.

As a bridgetender, I realize that I’m biased. I always hate to see a bridge damaged. It feels like a violation. It makes me sad.

A Most Solemn Occasion

Today Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be the first woman to ever lie in state at the US Capitol. And she has really earned that right. She fought for justice her entire adult life, and has done much to significantly increase women’s rights. She’s a personal hero of mine.

Because of RBG, women can have credit cards in their own names. Women can establish their own credit history and buy property in their own names. We can play sports in school. We can consent to our own medical treatment. Because of her, women in the military who get pregnant can both keep the child and keep the job. Military women also get the same family benefits as their male counterparts because of her.

Younger women have the luxury of taking all of the above for granted because of RBG. We older women know better. Women’s rights are tenuous at best, and there are people actively working to roll them back even as you read this. Many of those people are women themselves, and that’s a contradiction that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around as long as I live.

Think of this. Distinguished people have had the opportunity to have their coffins displayed in the Capitol since 1852. That’s 168 years. And in that entire time, only 2 females have been accorded such a privilege. The first was Rosa Parks in 2005. Again, she definitely earned that honor. But since she did not work for the government, she was said to be “lying in honor”, not “lying in state”. She was guarded by Capitol Police. Whereas Justice Ginsberg will be guarded the military. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the general public will not be able to be present at the ceremony.

But lying in that powerful building is a distinction that more women should be accorded. I cannot believe that only two women in 168 years have broken this glass funerial ceiling. This is the 21st century, after all. I can’t help but wonder what Justice Ginsberg would think.

I know, like all of us, she would be horrified to see her legacy besmirched by having the next justice rammed through in a few short weeks when it took an average of two months to confirm all the current sitting justices. I’m sure she’s spinning in her grave thinking that they’re going to confirm someone in an election year when the Republicans forced a slot to remain vacant for 8 months during the last election year. The hypocrisy is too much to bear.

If that really happens, then there truly is no justice. And RBG would be heartbroken to hear me say that. It’s the last thing she would want. In fact, those were her dying words: “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

I wish I had the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsberg in person. I wish I could be at the Capitol right now, to pay my respects. All I can do is hope that she rests in peace and in power, and that future generations will see all these political dirty tricks for what they are.

Rosa Parks, Lying in Honor, 2005

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It’s Your Body

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post called Tickling, about how tickling can be a form of aggression, and how it can often be very unwelcome and inappropriate. That blog post resonated with a lot of people. It’s short and to the point, so I hope you’ll read it.

I thought of that post recently. I was really impressed to discover that one of my nieces is teaching her two-year-old daughter that no one should get to touch her in any way, shape, form, or fashion, without her permission. Forget about good touch, bad touch. It’s her body. She gets to say who touches it, good or otherwise. We all have that right, but we often forget that.

Just because Uncle Fred is a touchy-feely guy does not mean that he gets a free pass just so you can avoid ruffling family feathers. If he’s making you uncomfortable, that’s never okay. Not ever. Even if you love Uncle Fred to pieces. And that applies to recipients of those touches of any age, not just children.

Also, just because someone is in a position of authority, such as a doctor or a dentist or a teacher or a boss or a politician, or even an older relative or a spouse, that does not mean they get to decide how you are touched. Absolutely not.

I’m not saying that every person who is touching you inappropriately is automatically a sex offender who is grooming you. Some people are just clueless. But it doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t comfortable in a tactile situation, regardless of your age, orientation, or relationship, it’s your body, not theirs, and you get to dictate what happens to it.

Your body is truly the only thing in life that you will always have all to yourself. That’s why it’s such an extreme violation when someone abuses it. I love knowing that there are children out there who are being taught their own agency practically from birth. That’s how it should be. I wish it had been taught to me.

Always establish your own boundaries and make them crystal clear. That’s not being rude. It’s appropriate. And I think that you’ll find that most people are a lot more comfortable, knowing the rules in any given scenario.

Never forget that your body belongs to you and you alone. Always.

Inappropriate Touch

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In Honor of the 200,000

By the time you read this, we’ll have blasted past 200,000 COVID-19 deaths in America, with no end in sight. That’s an inconceivable figure. Its so large that most of us can’t accept it.

That’s 200,000 grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, loved ones. Every single one lived and laughed and worked and loved and mattered. If each of those people only had 5 people on earth who loved them (a very conservative figure, in my estimation), then there are 1 million grieving people out there, right now, and it has only been 6 months.

We were all devastated by the victims of 9/11. Now imagine that 9/11 happened more than 67 times over, or basically every other day since this pandemic started. That’s what would have to happen to get to 200,000 deaths in that tragedy.

This is a grizzly thought, but given the average height in America is 5’6”, if you lined up the 200,000 dead head to toe along some rural highway, they would stretch for 208.33 miles. Driving at 52 mph, it would take you more than 4 hours to pass all those bodies. Seriously, that’s a lot of soul-crushing loss.

And lest we forget, dying of COVID-19 is a horrible way to go. Each one of those people suffered. Each one struggled to breathe. Each one felt as if he or she were drowning in their own bodies. And they weren’t even able to have a loved one there for comfort. They died all alone.

And the vast majority of these people died needlessly. Other countries have demonstrated that the death toll doesn’t need to be this high. Our COVID-19 death toll is 597 deaths per million Americans. That may not seem like much until you compare it to other countries. New Zealand has had 5 COVID-19 deaths per million. Japan has had less than 12 deaths per million. Venezuela has had 17 deaths per million. Greece has had 29 deaths per million. Australia, 32 deaths per million. Egypt, 57 deaths per million. What’s it going to take before we realize that something is seriously wrong with the way we’re handling this virus?

We need a leader who leads by example. One who doesn’t disparage those who wear a mask. One who does not encourage his base to congregate, maskless and shoulder to shoulder, to worship him. We need adequate testing. We need accurate reporting. We need financial support. We need supplies for frontline workers as well as the general population. We need a president who actually listens to his own staff, multiple members of whom have come forward to say that they’ve begged him to wear a mask, to set an example, to only share accurate information rather than insane speculation, and not politicize this virus.

In honor of the 200,000 people who can no longer do so, please be sure to vote in the upcoming election. Their silence was forced upon them. We have to speak for them. Please vote.

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A Really Bad Day 240 Million Years Ago

I love fossils. They are moments frozen in time. They often tell a story about what the world was like long before humans came along and mucked it up. We can learn a lot from those stories.

A truly fascinating scenario is the one posited by a fossil that was found in a quarry in southwestern China. It’s of a dolphin-like creature called an Ichthyosaur swallowing a lizard-like creature called a Thalattosaur. You might think that’s your typical day in the Triassic Period, but not exactly. Consider this: the predator was 15 feet long, and the prey was 12 feet long.

Burp. Needless to say, poor Ichthy bit off a bit more than he could chew. That would be like me swallowing something 4 feet long in one gulp. Hate when that happens. Neither survived the encounter.

But what are the odds that we would find such a fascinating fossil? I mean, a freak accident happened 240 million Years Ago, and we get to witness it. It’s like time travel and winning the lottery simultaneously. Woo hoo!

We have learned a lot from this fossil. Specifically, what Ichthyosaur liked to eat, or at least what he tried to eat. Just from this one stone snapshot, I can surmise that even though he looked like a cute dolphin of sorts, he was one aggressive, kick-butt dude. I wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with him. I also suspect that if I were around during the Triassic, I wouldn’t have been swimming. And I probably wouldn’t have been around for long.

Check out some really cool pictures and drawings of this fossil in this article.

Ichthyosaur

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The Fantasy of White America

If you want to know why so many white Americans want to Make America Great Again, all you have to do is look to Hollywood in the 1950’s and 60’s. Whether it’s Doris Day singing Que Sera Sera, or Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore singing Carolina in the Morning or pretty much every song from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, or Thoroughly Modern Millie, we could easily believe that we lived in a world where everyone was slim and beautiful and joyful and ultimately safe.

We could be assured that all endings would be happy ones and that everyone was living the American Dream, even those outside of America. Based on this footage, it was a time when no one had to lock their doors, when everyone dressed well, children were relatively respectful, there was no crime, and no one ever had a single hair out of place.

Ah, nostalgia, with its rose-colored glasses.

Lest we forget, the 1950’s was the era of Jim Crow. It was a time when people were violently resisting desegregation. Rosa Parks had to remind us that she had as much right to sit in the front of the bus as anyone else. Polio was a thing. It was also the Cold War era, and a time when paranoia had us seeing communists in every nook and cranny. Children were taught to hide under their desks. People were building fallout shelters in their back yards.

The 1960’s brought us the war in Vietnam and the subsequent protests thereof. It brought assassinations galore. We had the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs and Stonewall. Civil Rights protests became even more radical and dangerous. Birth control was pretty much nonexistent. The vast majority of women did not have higher education or employment.

My point is that it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the most of the population. There was poverty. There was domestic violence and substance abuse. There was discrimination.

Rest assured that this great America that so many seem to long for was only great for a privileged few, and to hell with the rest of us. What they long for is a time where they could keep their heads in the clouds and their high heels and polished shoes on our necks. They want to wear their pillbox hats and their pearls and their searsucker while we do the grit labor, keep our mouths shut, and know our place.

MAGA is a fantasy that cannot now, and in fact never did, exist. It’s a desire not to have to care about anyone but themselves. It’s a way to remain angry and discontent with the present. It’s a perpetual It’s-Not-Fair tantrum.

Unfortunately for them, the rest of America has grown up, and we’re not willing to play along anymore. Que sera sera.

Doris Day 111

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Mukbang

I’m on the ragged edge. Between this accursed pandemic, the thick blanket of smoke that’s blotting out the sun, the loss of our beloved RBG, unnecessary drama at work, and discovering that someone I love more than life went to a large, multi-day party and posted pictures of himself marinating in the maskless, close-knit crowd, when he knows I know firsthand how precious and fragile life is, and how it should never be squandered, I’m at the end of my rope. I mean, just look at me funny right now. I dare you.

Fortunately, there is a way to turn off my brain without the use of electric shock. It’s called mukbang. It’s a Korean word that loosely translates as “eating show”. And that’s about the size of it. You can find it all over Youtube. You just sit there and watch people eating way too much exotic food, often while talking to the camera.

Yeah, I know. Maybe this is evidence that I’ve lost it already. I have to admit that I find mukbang oddly comforting. Maybe it’s the crunch, crunch, crunch sound. Maybe it’s because when I’m really angry, I tend to eat, and these people do the eating for me. Maybe it’s just that I get to watch people just doing their weird thing at a time when the world seems so utterly out of control. I don’t know.

My favorite mukbang channel is Stephanie Soo. She sits there and eats and talks about true crime, which is another interest of mine. Check it out and tell me what you think.

My second favorite channel is Food Monster. This one shows footage of a girl working really, really (supposedly) hard in the Korean countryside, and then coming home and (supposedly) eating about 6000 times more than a normal person can eat. It’s kind of funny.

Yes, there is a reason to criticize mukbang. It promotes extremely unhealthy eating habits, food waste, and in some extreme cases, animal abuse. I don’t condone or encourage any of this. And yet I can’t seem to look away. (I’d never watch the animal abuse ones, though. Never. Give me a little credit.)

I know, this is nutty. But it takes my mind off the fall of civilization. And hey, I once wrote about my obsession with pimple popping videos. Surely this is a step up. Right?

Tell me I’m right. Please.

Stephanie Soo

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