Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tree Hugging--Do It

A few months ago I met an Irishman in Edinburgh while at my daughter's graduation from the university there. The first question that was most pressing on his mind to ask me, as an American, was if we really made our houses out of wood. He was most astonished at my affirmative answer. His astonishment continued to amuse me as we, my husband and I, went on to tell him a lot of things about America, specifically the Midwest. Our blasé attitude toward tornadoes, for instance. The possibility of being within a continent of them was chilling to his sensibilities. But what we told him we paid for healthcare almost made him faint. It was a fun conversation which I will not soon forget.

Recently I was reading some reflections by G.K. Chesterton on his travels to the United States. He also was dumbfounded that we made houses out of trees. What is this about?

First of all, one must realize what British and Irish houses are made out of: stone. Stone that lasts. Stone that will still be there centuries from now. Stone that is solid. It won't be blown down, rot, or wear away at a rate that is concerning to any one home owner. They'll be long dead before they have to worry about the effects of erosion. Their gardens are walled and terraced with stone. Their sidewalks and pavement are sometimes cobblestone. Stone is, in fact, what they think of as building material. Trees, they do not.

I can't speak for Irish trees, but British ones are close to sacred. A tree planted is not cut down. It is revered, protected, and built around. You have to walk down a street called "Beech Lane" to appreciate the fact that, old as the houses may be, the trees are older still. Most I could I not get my arms around, and many would have taken several people to ring it in a hug. While the Irishman was astounded at our wood homes, I was speechless at the British trees. I began to appreciate all the literature I've read that takes a few moments to describe, in reverent tones, the trees that the gentry loved and lived with.

Americans are still settlers--people on the move. Trees were in abundance when Europeans arrived here, and it was expedient to build shelter immediately. A few generations of wood-home dwellers, and a new custom is established. We have yet to appreciate things of permanence, and both trees and homes are often tossed aside for the latest and newest. I once heard a humorous definition of a developer: someone who cuts down all the trees, builds houses, and names the streets after the trees he cut down. If  you start paying attention to street names, you realize how ridiculous they often are: Blueberry Ridge in a perfectly flat area, for instance. But "Beech Lane" you will not find in America for a few more centuries.

If you live in Michigan, it should be required for residence that you visit Hartwick Pines State Park to see what Michigan used to be covered with: white pine forests with tree trunks eight feet in diameter. Hartwick Pines is the only virgin pine stand left in the lower peninsula. The forest is a natural cathedral that inspires awe and silence.

All this said, I am not ashamed to live in a wood home. Wood is a renewable resource, it is flexible, affordable, and easy to use. The American Dream is to own a home. Trees make that possible. But I am also glad to be able to say I have white pines in my yard--for me, but also not for me--but for someone I will not meet in my lifetime. I hope the pines are there until it takes a whole family to ring it round in one big hug.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Less Than Desired

I just saw another one of those "Eat this and never diet again" posts. They are like a seductive voice tempting people to just believe their lies, and their dreams will come true. Here's how it really works. If you're not the weight you want to be, then you need to eat less and exercise more--preferably weight lifting and resistance exercises that build muscles which burn more calories up to maintain than fat does. Then when you are down to the weight you want to be, you step on the freaking bathroom scale every morning. If it shows you are over your ideal weight by even half a pound, you eat less than day. If you find you are eating less than you want nearly every day, you have it about right.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mind Snatchers?

Dave Coverly has a comic--sorry, I can't copy it--of a mother and two kids. The mother says, "When I was your age, I had to write in a style called 'cursive'." The two kids standing before her text messages to each other. The boy's text reads: WTH is mom saying? The girl texts back: IDK.

This comic strikes terror in my teacher's heart on so many levels I can hardly type fast enough.

First of all, my grandmother was a penmanship teacher. Cursive writing was her specialty. She lived to be ninety-six, and her handwriting was as beautiful at the end as you can imagine. Even strokes, lovely curves, not a wobble or hesitation in any letter. It was a work of art--something that is going to be lost, if not already, in the next decade--maybe forever. Even when people do not express themselves well in words, their penmanship can demand respect. Words are precious. A beautiful hand shows how each word is labored over.

Let's look at the male dumbhead in the comic next. He is so slovenly, that he expects his reader to know what he means by WTH. Sure, we can guess quickly enough, and some of these acronyms, BTW, are so well-known that they hardly need a second thought. But then again, what the heck/hell is a writer doing making his readers guess at his meaning! Wash ten hippos. Welcome thy highness. Where's the happiness? Wish to hiccup. Why try, hothead?

His sister is even worse. She can only manage the first letter of each word she wants to say, and she can't spell, so the reader is even more challenged.

Beyond these first reactions come deeper ones. They are in the same room, but they are not conversing. Texting is not conversation, it is flash messages. They don't respond to their mother. They don't even look at her or each other. They are incapable of any communication that is harder than a twitch of their fingers. They are conversational couch potatoes.

Their communication style, which is anemic, is nothing to their lack of cerebral activity. They are almost intellectually dead. They don't know what "cursive" is. They don't have enough curiosity to ask their mother to explain herself. They don't even have the intelligence to figure out that she is the one they should ask the question to. The boy at least has listened to his mother's statement enough to arouse some uneasiness, but the sister is a rock.

I hear statistics of how much time people are spending on these handheld weapons of mass social destruction. It is frightening. Will they get over the fad and reenter real human interaction? It is too soon to say, but it feels like an invasion of the mind snatchers?