What the trees remember

Photo by Caique Silva on Pexels.com

The day will soon come when my son won’t need me to walk him to school anymore. So last week I worked in one of my mini-nature talks about what the trees remember. I want him to respect the trees as living beings. I want him to recognize their place in the world. Not only as a natural resource from which lumber is made, but that they live and grow and die as we do. They remember the years they had to fight off bugs and diseases. They remember the summers of wildfires where their brethren and maybe they themselves had been burned by fire. The smoke and scars all get trapped up into their growth rings. They bear witness or injury from human historical events as well. Miles of mountain tops from Seattle to the Pacific ocean are barren except for the millions of stumps, like gravestones, that harken the growth of the developing metropolises that became Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.

Seattle is the original home of the term “skid row.” It was a road or track where logs were pulled down on greased skids towards the sawmill. It also became where the destitute came to live and look for work, especially later during the time of the Great Depression in U.S. (late 1920s and early 1930s.) If you said someone was “on the skids” it meant that they had run out of luck and were sliding into poverty. The term “Skid Row” has since been adopted throughout many English-speaking countries across the world to mean a “poverty-stricken neighborhood.”

During the U.S. Civil War, General Sherman with the Union Army marched from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia in a campaign called “the march to the sea.” This march was notable for his use of what military agencies call a “scorched earth” policy. It’s as terrible as it sounds. Everything is destroyed in their path. People and animals are killed. Trees, fields, and buildings are burned. Transportation infrastructure such as railroads, roads and bridges are destroyed. For decades after General Sherman’s army had passed burned and living trees alike could be found with railroad ties bent around their trunks in what was called “Sherman’s neckties.”

General Sherman is not alone in employing the “scorched earth” policy, it has been used throughout the world since the beginning of ancient warfare. Many decades later, the Genova Convention of 1977 explicitly calls out for people who are not active participants of a war or conflict to be treated humanely (i.e. not killed). Were I in such a predicament to be facing an army using the scorched earth tactic I would not wait around in hopes they would abide by the conventions.

The threat of global warming in many ways feels like the beginnings of a war to me. The protection of natural resources vs the continuing onslaught of sloppy, lazy, greed. Throughout the U.S. court system corporations have managed to push for themselves the rights of “personhood” by hijacking the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which was meant to recognize the emancipation of Black Slaves after the U.S. civil war.  

This matters, in that it gives corporations undue agency to act in ways that may be counterintuitive to “the common good” or the will of the people in benefit of their community. I give you these examples based in U.S. History due to my stronger familiarity with it, but I assure you that none of these concepts are unique to the U.S. alone.

If you’re reading this from another country, can you think of any natural landmarks, trees or rocks, that have been marked by a significant historical events in your country? If so, I would love to hear about them!

Have you seen a landscape that’s been mined for heavy metals? Or a river sucked dry, poisoned, or otherwise starved of life? I have. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in the US, Canada, and India. I’ve seen communities of people, fish, animals and plants die by what was done on corporate and government properties, hectares of scorched earth, bled beyond it’s borders. So environmentalists are trying a new tactic to protect what they can by arguing for the personhood of river, lakes, forests and land. After all, if corporations can claim it, why not a river?

We must force governments and corporations to be environmentally responsible now and not just talk about doing it 20 or 30 years from now, by then any such architects of their plans will be retired and happy to let someone else deal with it. Corporations are not held to same level of responsibility as an individual person. If you crash your car into someone house, you don’t get the luxury to do something about it thirty years from now.

To be clear, I’m not anti-business. I recognize that there are several companies that are trying to be partners within the communities where they operate. I applaud them for not waiting 20 to 30 years to make substantial changes. In fact, when I see that a company is committed to making environmentally sustainable practices and not just greenwashing, I make a point to remember them and support them if I can. I’ll also write them an email and say, “As a customer, it makes me very happy to see that you use [carbon-offset shipping] practices and [biodegradable packing materials].” If you’re a business owner, please don’t put it upon your customers to do the right thing. I have a bunch of Styrofoam in my garage that I’ve been saving up for years to make it worth the time and gas to drive it to the special recycling center 45 minutes away.

We need to speak up, as customers, employees, and members of the community when we see thing done right, but also when we see that things could be done better. It’s humbling when you look at a tree several thousand years old and think of all that it has lived through. The civilizations that have come and gone while this tree remained standing. I consider the trees and wild animals in my neighborhood to be members of my community. I do not want to see a grand old tree chopped down and made into toilet paper or shipping boxes.

Related Links:

10 Oldest Trees in the World (Updated 2019)

 Yesler Way: the history & origin of “skid row” | The Filson Journal

 Sherman’s neckties – Wikipedia

The History of Corporate Personhood | Brennan Center for Justice

Common good – Wikipedia

Drought-hit California moves to halt Nestlé from taking millions of gallons of water | California | The Guardian

Uganda joins the rights-of-nature movement but won’t stop oil drilling (msn.com)

20 Firms Are Behind Half Of Globe’s Single-Use Plastic Waste : NPR

Pride Post: We’re all just people…or cosmic sand

When I was younger I used to say I could fall in love with anyone. That maybe my perfect mate was an alien and we just hadn’t met yet. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was signaling through dialog that I had an open mind. This often led to fascinating conversations with people who felt they could talk to me about anything without feeling judged. For a long time, it felt like a superpower, but now I understand that what we say and how we say it is an important part of expressing the dimensions within ourselves.

I initially grew up in a rough neighborhood, in a rough city. I learned that if you weren’t tougher than your adversaries, you better be faster and if you weren’t faster, you better be smarter. I was top dog at my elementary school. I had a friend with albinism and a friend in wheelchair. No one joked or harassed them in any way because I would kick their ass if they did. I could sweep a boy off his feet and step on his neck until he begged for mercy. I was badass. I had also learned Martial Arts from library books. My friend in the wheelchair died. I couldn’t fight the fragility of her body, only admire the spirit of her soul.

My mom and I moved right before the start of middle school. We moved into the rich kid school district. I was not the top dog. I was a poor kid, a loser, “rough around the edges” and ostracized. Slowly I started to make friends with the other kids that were also ostracized either for being poor or different in some other way. I wanted to beat up my antagonizers but all it did was get me sent to the principal’s office. Message received; I was the problem. So instead of retaliating I withdrew from reacting at all. I became a dispassionate observer of the human psyche. These rich kids: they fight with words, they fight with posturing, they fight with their network of resources available to them, but most of all, they tightly guard their weakness. They sit atop their mounds of freshly hidden bones.

To my mother’s chagrin I went from Country girl to Goth girl overnight. You treat me as different; I’ll show you what different looks like. I went back to the books. I read philosophy, books about competitive mindsets in sports training, business books about negotiating, mythology, folklore, and so on, and so on. I learned to fight with words, but more then that, I learned how to uncover their bones/weaknesses. I became an “other” like no other. My adaptions made me a sought-after commodity. Students and teachers alike sought me out for advice. I built up trust. I listened to secrets and never repeated a one. I demonstrated that being different didn’t mean being scary. As I got older; I let go of being everyone’s defender and gave them tools to fend for themselves. I learned that rich kids have problems too. I learned that everyone feels like they have something to hide. I learned that a lot of us are learning to adapt to survive in a way that reconciles how we feel with who we are.

My first love was an unrequited love. I couldn’t make him love me. I was floored when a friend confessed that she loved me as I loved him. I was sad and angry. Not at her, but at the situation. She said we couldn’t be friends anymore because it was too painful for her. I bitterly understood. Later that week, I too severed my friendship with the guy I adored because it was too painful for me. That was a shitty week. I lost two good friends and learned that sometimes you have to let love go.

A few years later I moved to Seattle. In 1998, I joined the march and vigil for Matthew Shepard. I didn’t know him. I only knew that he had been killed for being openly gay. Tortured and let to freeze to death in a field out in the middle of Wyoming. I thought about how scared he must have been and that he could have been a friend. It was a terrible reminder that there are still places in the world less tolerant of people being different.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I play too rough, or say stupid and insensitive things, but I also don’t keep quiet or back down when I see someone experiencing pain, hate or threats of violence because of who they are. I don’t have to embody the characteristics of every individual I meet to understand what it feels like to be rejected, hated, or ignored. What is it you fear when you see someone who is different from yourself?

Humanity cycles through the same age-old questions over and over. “Know Thyself” while attributed to Socrates is expressed in nearly every edict or doctrine throughout various religions. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with them?” Maybe the better question to ask is “Why does their difference upset me?” Why is it so hard to live and let live? None of us have been granted a divine right to be judge, jury and executioner over the lives of others. If you don’t like something or chose not to participate in it, it’s okay to say, “It’s not for me.”

Having sex with another woman, is not for me. Encroaching on another person’s autonomy, is not for me. I’m happy I’m not the center of the universe. I’m happy that I’m a small speck of sand in a greater community of….sand…people. I had my first existential crisis at age 13. The summer camp counselor told us to go around the circle and answer the question, “Who am I?” I panicked as I listened to the other girls go before me. Who…am…I? Why is this such a tough question? Megan defined herself as a girl who liked to ride horses and jump rope. Angel likes to paint because she thinks everything should be pretty. So are we defined by what we do? Are we defined by what we think? “I think, therefore I am? “  I am, I am what? By the time it was my turn I burst into tears and said, “I don’t know.” I ran out the door, barefoot through the woods, across the fallen log, and onto the small granite island at the edge of the lake where only the moon and stars could comfort me. I stayed all night. I’d like to say I was wiser the next morning, but I wasn’t. I was only committed to wanting to explore who I was with who I felt I ought to be. That journey still continues to this day.

We stand at the precipice of a new global event not seen in the history of humankind. We’ve had mini-ice ages in the past, but nothing like the global warming event coming on the horizon. Our modernized civilizations are already beginning to adapt both consciously and unconsciously to the future. Why should it be so wrong that some people within our societies find love among their own gender? Or seek to validate their body image when it doesn’t correlate with their conscious self? I have yet to meet a person who was content to live and die as a mayfly. (To live only to reproduce and die.)

If you think homosexuality and gender swapping are abominations of nature, then you don’t know nature very well.

Links to fascinating articles:

 8 Interesting Animals That Can Change Gender (whatdewhat.com)

Homosexuality in nature explained – PsychMechanics

Has the Earth reached its carrying capacity? | HowStuffWorks

Matthew Shepard – Death, Impact & Facts – Biography

   This Guy Went to Jail Because Police Thought His Hair Was Too Long (vice.com)

What say ye?

Update Log #1: New Tabs and Tidbits

I’ve spent the last few days tweaking this sit as I learn how to use the WordPress tools and widgets better. I can get quite obsessive about how I think something should look and feel. More changes to come. This blog lives and grows by hope and ambition. Your feedback is always greatly appreciated. Please note the new tabs near the top to find certain topics easier to find.

  • If you have suggestions to make this site easier to read or more accessible to you, please let me know. I am happy to try changing fonts or colors to make it easier for you to read.
  • If there is a Nature-led topic you’re particularly interested in please let me know. You can always email me directly if you don’t want to add your comment to a post (natureledlife@nature-led.org)

It is my intention to continue posting once a week. My co-pilot, Patricia Lezama, just moved, so we’ll let her get settled into her new place for a couple of weeks before I start barking demands for new content at her. I am also busy working on a collection of dark fairytales. I will likely craft a separate writing page and link it to here. I intend to make the first story free to read. I hope you will look forward to that project, as I am excited to share it! Finally, I would like to say that I am entirely too young to be retired in any fashion and must look for ways to make my own income. These are exciting times. There are so many companies, nonprofits and government programs invested in making the world a better place. I feel I have two paths before me. Do I find my niche within an existing organization or do I build my own? I will say that I prefer to be the brainy sidekick or assistant than the main character. My natural inclination is to lead from the side and amplify the abilities of the people around me then dominate the stage or setting.

Stay tuned for a Nature-led Pride Post tomorrow or Saturday. Until then, go outside and get some fresh air!

Magnolia Flower – Melanie Reynolds