Trees Can Die of a Heart Attack

Added to my list entitled “I Never Thought of That” is this poster, below. I saw it at a ranger station while traveling through Oregon, and thought it was a message worth spreading.

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Carving your initials into a tree seems so romantic. Young love, immortalized. B.A. + C.L. with a heart around it. People will gaze upon it and know your love is true, right?

Unfortunately, removing the bark from a tree can reduce its ability to transport needed nutrients throughout its system. It can introduce pathogens and invasive insects. It causes the tree to divert precious energy toward wound repair. At the very least, it results in ugly scar tissue.

It also will encourage others to take part in the same kind of vandalism, thus increasing the damage. Because people are, let’s face it, stupid. And they sure do love to leave their marks, even if it means destroying that which was already beautiful.

So, please, if you want to immortalize your love, how about planting a tree instead of causing scar tissue and potential death? Now there’s an idea…

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The Best of a Bad Situation

So, this happened recently: A U.S. Forest Service employee was in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington State, preparing for stream surveys. The next thing she knows, she’s got two wolves staring her down, and they refused to be scared off. She wound up climbing a tree to get away from them, which I think was an excellent move on her part.

Once she was 30 feet up the tree, I’m sure she was relatively safe. Wolves aren’t arboreal creatures, after all. But now, what to do? Fortunately, we live in the modern world, and she was able to use her cell phone to call for help.

A helicopter responded in 14 minutes, and that finally caused the wolves to leave the area. So all’s right with the world. Yay.

But what intrigues me, and what doesn’t seem to be reported anywhere, are those 14 minutes she spent alone with the wolves. One assumes, having a job like that, she is a nature lover. How awesome that she had that time. I hope she didn’t waste it playing Angry Birds on her phone or something.

Did she talk to them? Did she look into their eyes? Did she take pictures? Did they howl? What did that feel like, close up? Did she take a minute to contemplate what an amazing story she would be able to tell for the rest of her life? Because, honestly, who gets to have that experience?

It is said that she was pretty shaken up by the incident. I get that. But I hope she also took the time to live it, really live it, and, once she knew that help was on the way, realize what an amazing situation she was in.

Since she got away with only a few scratches, and no wolves were harmed, I kind of envy her.

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Let’s Talk About the Weather, Shall We?

I’m looking forward to a rare day of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and the temperature is expected to rise to a delightful 65 degrees. Spring! Happy dance!

Meanwhile, a dear friend in Kansas had to hunker down the other day in anticipation of 2 to 4 inches of snow. In April. This is not normal. The world has gone mad.

It used to be that the weather was considered to be the safest of all possible topics. We are all told to avoid politics and religion over Thanksgiving dinner, but the weather… we could all agree on that, couldn’t we?

Not anymore. The weather has become political. At a time when California is burning to the ground, islands are sinking beneath the ocean waves, there is severe flooding, drought, dust storms engulfing entire cities, super storms of all kinds, and unprecedented ice cap melting, we are expected to avoid the meteorological elephant in the room. Even governmental websites are deleting any references to global climate change.

I never thought I’d see the day when liberals would be considered the most conservative people on earth, but we are the ones that are wanting to take precautions to safeguard the planet. Even if you don’t believe in the overwhelming science of climate change, even if you refuse to look at the evidence before your very eyes, how can you justify not wanting to take steps, just in case? If this really does turn out to be our last chance to save ourselves, don’t you want to be aboard that ark?

What is wrong with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Why not recycle? Would it kill you to plant a tree? Is it really so hard to be a little bit smarter about your water usage? Why is expecting our corporations not to pour their toxic waste into our rivers and streams so controversial?

Seriously. Explain it to me. Because I don’t get it.

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Surely we can all agree that this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.

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Keeping Christmas

In A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, Scrooge utters a line that I’ll never forget: “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” As detestable as Scrooge may be at first, that sentiment has always made sense to me. Christmas should never be forced upon anyone.

Part of the reason that I see a spike in jumpers at my drawbridge at this time of year is that when you’re depressed, being told that you’re supposed to be merry simply because it’s that time of the year is, well… depressing. It’s almost as if you have to bear an additional burden of guilt during this season, because you’re not feeling all Joy to the World.

And people seem to forget that there are as many ways to celebrate the holiday as there are celebrants. Some people are extremely devout and focus on that aspect of the holiday. Others are secular and celebrate mainly due to family tradition. Some people go all out, filing their yards with a million lights, synchronized to music, and buying gifts for even the most distant of relatives. Others are very quiet and discrete in their observance of the day. Some don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Everyone has a right to keep Christmas (or not keep it, for that matter) in their own way.

I must confess that for a few years, there, I wasn’t really keeping Christmas at all. When Chuck, the love of my life, died in 2014, I just couldn’t find it within me to even acknowledge the day, really. I didn’t put up a tree. I didn’t exchange gifts or go to any holiday events. In fact, I basically did my best each year to keep my head down and pretend the holiday didn’t exist.

Since I’m not a Christian, my Christmas focus has always been about love and family and warmth and togetherness. And suddenly I found myself all alone. I really didn’t see the point in even trying to go through the motions, when that tsunami of grief was liable to wash over me at even the most unexpected of times. I wandered through an emotional wasteland, where all the mistletoe had long-since withered.

This year, though, I’m starting to slowly lift my head and come out amongst the living again. I’ve attended a lot of holiday events both alone and with friends. And while I still can’t justify the expense and effort of putting up a tree and decorating it when I’d surely be the only one to see it, I did decide to decorate in my own special way. The first step was taking my Christmas box out of mothballs.

I pulled out my Christmas lights, and affixed them to my bedroom wall in the shape of a (decidedly abstract) tree. (Those Command removable hooks are one of life’s great inventions.) I replaced those lights that had burned out, and that process made me reflect on the passage of time.

Decorating was a bittersweet experience. I realized that on some level I had really missed my Christmas ornaments. They’re almost like family members that I had been neglecting. Each one has a story. There was the Nisse that my grandmother brought from Denmark. There were the many ornaments my mother made for me, and some that I made as a child. Many are keepsakes that I got during various vacations, which brought back happy memories. Some were gifts from friends. I chose a few of my favorite ornaments to hang on my abstract wall tree, and I must say, they made me smile.

And then, like a blade through my heart, I came across this ornament that I had made for Chuck. I had forgotten all about it. I held it in my hand and tried not to cry. But I decided to hang it anyway, because he will always be a part of me.

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Another hard moment: Deeper in my Christmas box I came across the stocking that I had cross stitched for Chuck. I can’t remember if I ever had the opportunity to fill it for him. We only had 4 years together, and I don’t know when I made it. But I decided to hang it on my mantel so that the stocking I made for myself wouldn’t look quite so lonely. (I haven’t had a mantel since 2010, so it seemed worth decorating. Nice to use it for something more than a place to show off my book, which incidentally, makes a great gift. Just sayin’.)

After I finished decorating, I looked around, and felt rather proud of myself. Yes, I’m still alone. Yes there were tears in this process. There will probably always be tears. But I’m home. It feels like home.

To celebrate, I participated in one more tried-and-true holiday tradition: The annual humiliation of the uncooperative dog.

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From my house to yours: Happy Holidays!

Out There for the Holidays

The holidays can be painfully lonely for those of us who are single. At a time when joy is almost mandatory, it makes you feel that much worse when you can’t quite get there. Bah, humbug.

In years past, I’ve tried my best to pretend that the holidays weren’t happening. For example, it’s my New Year’s tradition to be asleep well before midnight. And I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving day, so no turkey for me.

But this year, I’ve decided to go about things differently. Rather than pull my head into my shell, I’m going to thrust myself, headlong, into the festivities.

First came the Holiday Bazaar that my little town puts on. Vendors and craftsmen galore. I was really impressed by the level of creativity. I treated myself to a few things, knowing that Santa hasn’t had me on his drop-off schedule in years. Usually I’m not really in to acquiring stuff, but what the heck.

On another day, I went to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum with my friend Paula. Being half Danish, this has sort of become my Seattle tradition. Again, I bought myself stuff, and also enjoyed the good food and the traditional music. But mostly I enjoyed spending time with a dear friend.

Here are some of the things that I got myself at these two events. The dog is not included. But the socks are. I like the symbolism of the chick emerging from its shell. A local artist paints all sorts of things on rocks, but this spoke to me because I’m trying to emerge, too.

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Next, I bought myself some pre-cooked turkey, some instant stuffing, some canned corn, and two types of pie (two slices). I had myself a Thanksgiving dinner a few days late. I even let my dog have a bit of turkey, as I’m thankful for him, too.

Then I went to my little town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Festivities included Christmas music by the high school band. And when the city councilman spoke, the speakers stopped working, which seemed like a gift from above, if I’m honest. Then the tree was lit, in the same square where I’ve enjoyed Tuesday Farmer’s Markets all summer. My town. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

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And talk about putting myself out there. While waiting for the tree to be lit, I noticed a man my age, all alone, and sans wedding ring, in the crowd. An old hippie, wearing a leather hat. Just my type. Unfortunately, he was not receiving my “please talk to me” mental telepathy. Normally I’d leave things at that and just feel lonely.

Not this time. I knew if I didn’t at least try, I’d regret it. So, heart pounding, I walked up to him and introduced myself. I told him I’d recently bought a house in the area, and this was my first Christmas tree lighting, and I wanted to see if I had the courage to walk up to a nice looking man and say hello. So… hello.

He thanked me. He said his name was Neal. He said I’d probably see him around. And that was that.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Men aren’t used to being pounced on, especially at our age. And if he’d have been able to switch gears that smoothly, and ask me for coffee or something, I’d have been shocked. (But I probably would have gone. And I don’t even drink coffee.)

Ah well. I tried. And I’m proud of me for that. Life goes on. This loneliness blanket that settles upon my shoulders is actually kind of soft and warm after all these years.

At least I’m putting myself out there. Next on the agenda: The Great Figgy Pudding caroling competition with my friend Amy, and then Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, the musical, by myself.

Do me a favor. On Christmas morning, remind me of three things: How much money I’ve spent on myself, how much fun I’ve had, and most of all, how lucky I am to have so many awesome people in my life, even if they aren’t there on those red letter days.

(But don’t be surprised if I still go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve.)

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It’s Ornamental, My Dear Christmas!

In case you haven’t heard me lament this fact before: I’m single. At this time of year, that means I don’t bother putting up a Christmas tree. It just seems like too much effort when no one but me will appreciate it.

But I can’t seem to give up one tradition: I buy myself a Christmas ornament every single year. I do this, knowing full well they’ll rarely see the light of day. I do this despite the fact that I really am trying not to accumulate stuff. (If moving across the continent taught me nothing else, I am now painfully aware that every possession I add to my pile is that much more weight I’ll have to haul from pillar to post, and I’m not getting any younger or stronger.)

The reason I can’t kick my ornament habit is that I don’t buy just a boring, featureless, round orb. My ornaments have to be unique. They have to invoke something I experienced that particular year. My ornaments have to be a part of my story.

I have ornaments I made in childhood. I have ones my grandmother brought from Denmark. I have some my mother sewed on her singer sewing machine. (I also still have the sewing machine.)

Many of my ornaments relate to my travels. There’s the tiny Navajo pot I got while traveling through the west. And, oh, look! There’s the blown glass Santa on his sleigh that I got in Venice, Italy. And there’s the colorful articulated fish that I bought the time I took my favorite aunt to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. And the greyhound in the Santa hat kind of brings tears to my eyes, now that my greyhound has gone to rainbow bridge.

I have never understood people who insist that their Christmas decorations be all color coordinated and follow a theme. I prefer my mad jumble of random baubles that takes me down memory lane. If I ever do put up a tree again, the person that inspired me to do so will be treated to my life story as we decorate.

This year, I bought what I consider to be the quintessential Seattle ornament. First of all, I bought it at the annual Yulefest, which is put on by the Nordic Heritage Museum here in town. Since I’m half Danish, this fest is rapidly becoming another Christmas tradition for me. And this particular ornament is a gnome, which is very Danish, indeed (although they call them Nisse in Denmark. Read my post about that here).

But this isn’t just any gnome. This one is dressed in the bright green and blue of the Seattle Seahawks, and he’s called the “twelfth gnome” just as Seahawks fans are called the twelfth man. Even though I am not a sports fan, how could anyone resist the twelfth gnome?

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

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A Christmas Thought

I am having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year, which has placed undue stress on my blogger’s heart. Fortunately, I am quite lucky to be surrounded by unique people with very creative minds. Not only is this Christmas tradition fun and entertaining, but it’s a financial God send for those of us who aren’t among the one percenters, and it’s a humane act for those poor neglected trees out there. Having said that, what follows is written by Chuck Guerra. His pithy commentary and delightful turns of phrase always warm my heart.

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Soon, it will be time to begin my annual Christmas tree rescue campaign. Each year, thousands of unsold Christmas trees are just discarded on December 24th, like so many unwanted puppies or kitties. The exploiters of the tree community just throw them on the street, waiting on the frozen asphalt to be picked up and ground into mulch.

Many years ago, I decided to do something about this inhumane practice. My children and I would go out to these “death lots” and pick up as many of these discarded creatures as we could fit in my truck and bring them to our house. We would set them up in the yard and decorate them. One year we rescued 15 or so and kept them until Valentine’s Day, when their time was done.

One lucky creature was chosen for our living room, which we decorated with the usual tinkle and garblins, etc. I am a socially responsible and caring man, who sees the irony of buying a $75.00 Scotch Pine and just throwing it away at New Years.

So, if you can just realize that Jesus Christ was born on December 11, 3 B.C. , maybe this Druid holiday could be offset by a week or so in your minds and you can see that Christmas, as most people observe it, is the celebration of the birth of the gross national product.

Amen and Amenhotep

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Perfect Moments

Andy Warhol said that we’d all get 15 minutes of fame. To that I say, “Pffft, what’s the point?” If you’re the type that wants fame, having only 15 minutes of it would be cruel at best. Fortunately, fame is not nearly as important to me as experiencing perfect moments in time.

Have you ever experienced one of those fleeting instants in your life when everything seems to come together and you know you’ll hold that memory close at hand for as long as you live? I honestly believe that those are the moments you will see when your life flashes before your eyes. Those brief interludes are when you get to taste pure joy. I have had a few. They always sneak up on me.

One time I was sitting on a lawn chair on a beach in Puerto Rico. The temperature was perfect, and there was a slight breeze. I had no place that I had to be. The surf was rolling onto the shore, and there seemed to be a million stars in the sky. I saw the Southern Cross just above the horizon. And BAM. There I was. In a perfect moment.

Another time I was standing on a rooftop in Istanbul, and all of a sudden all the mosques in the area began the call to prayer as I gazed over the city. It had taken quite a bit to get myself to that city, and yet there I was. Again, a perfect moment.

And then there’s every single solitary time I look at the full moon.

Then there was the time I stepped out my front door and the entire sky was, I swear to God, bright yellow. I have no idea why. And I’ve never seen anything like that before or since. But it was like I was on another planet. Everyone in the park across the street was just standing there, staring skyward. I wanted to take a picture, but that would have meant going inside to find my camera, and I didn’t want to miss a single second of it.

Another time I was swimming in a crystal clear cove in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I have never seen water so pure or a day so fine. Heaven could not be better.

The first perfect moment I remember was as a child in Connecticut. I was sitting on a rocking chair in the living room with all the lights out except those on the Christmas tree. I was in my pajamas and wrapped in a soft blanket. Safe and warm. And I just happened to look over my shoulder just as it started to snow for the first time that winter. Bliss.

The moment I cherish most, perhaps, is the first time I stood at the Craggy Gardens overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and I knew, I mean, I KNEW this was where I was supposed to be. This was what home felt like. I could breathe. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since.

Who needs fame? If I get 15 perfect moments in time, I’ll consider myself fortunate indeed.

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Habits You Didn’t Even Know You Had, or “Who’s Driving This Body, Anyway?”

When you get dressed in the morning, do you do sock, sock, shoe, shoe, or sock, shoe, sock shoe? Most people don’t know without taking their shoes off and trying it. And even THEN they won’t be sure that they’re doing it the way they usually do. Unless you’re extremely obsessive, your body is on automatic pilot most of the time, and you aren’t even thinking about this stuff.

Here’s an experiment. Interlace your fingers. Don’t just sit there. Do it. Okay. If you’re right handed, odds are your right thumb will be the one on top. The dominant hand always takes charge. Now try switching up the fingers so that your other thumb is the one that’s on top. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Sit like that for a minute or two. Become one with the strangeness of that feeling. Your brain right now is probably freaking out. Suddenly YOU have taken over. Your brain doesn’t know how to deal with that.

The fact is that every living thing has habits. Some of these are strictly for preservation, such as choice of habitat. (Habitat. Habit. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) If a turtle suddenly decided it should live in the treetops, it wouldn’t last long. Other habits are beyond our explanation. For example, why do some types of trees grow in conical shapes and others in dome shapes?

Any smoker will tell you it’s difficult to kick that habit, but often the blame will be laid upon the doorstep of nicotine. Granted, the chemical addiction is a strong one, but another thing one must consider is the behavioral habits related to smoking. For example, if you have a habit of smoking while talking on the phone, you can’t expect to just stop that. You have to replace that habit with something, or your body is going to constantly be in a state of discomfort similar to the one you felt in the experiment above. Your body and your brain NEED habits. Any good hypnotist knows this. They will not just take your habits away, or your body will find something to fill that void. They will replace one habit with a hopefully less self-destructive one.

So the next time you look up with a start and realize that you’ve been doing something without thinking about it, just remember that you’re not always in the driver’s seat. And most of the time, thank goodness, that’s okay. Unless, of course, you’re operating heavy equipment…