Trees and greenbacks


On the subject of green, green in the form of money and green in the biodiversity of vegetation, a sea change is in order.  This must be addressed by all that live and breath in the way we set up our homes, our diets, our daily lives.  How do we get to work, where do we work and how do we apply our talents in order to survive?  What do we eat and where does it come from?  How is that food processed and what does it do to the Earth and our ecosystem?  

It has been 21 years in April since I moved to my last home in Minneapolis, each move to a smaller more appropriate space for my needs.  I had come from privilege, neither rich nor poor.  I consider it a privilege in a world of hunger and thirst to have had a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my stomach, though I had more.  I had two parents who loved me and educated me.  I had no worries about where my next meal would come from, while all around me from the time I was four, I saw many who didn’t have that luxury.  I saw it in the streets of Caracas and Maracaibo and in New Orleans….  I saw it in our maid Francesca who had to work raising other women’s children in order to feed her own, who couldn’t marry in the church for the cost of a wedding.  I saw it in an old Spanish artist, with cataracts in his eyes, who opened his rolled canvases on our floor to show my mother.  Canvases she bought.

Through it all, there were trees in my life.  Trees I could climb and trees that dropped their fruits on the ground for us to eat.  Trees that shaded us from the sun and rain, that breathed the breath of life, that cleaned the air and shielded us from the weather.  These were large trees with large communities to support … squirrels, chipmunks, birds of all kinds, iguanas, tarantulas, pileated woodpeckers, hawks, mockingbirds, falcons, fungus, robins … the homes and grocery stores for many.

Under the shade of these trees we could live.  We would thrive.  We saw the difference between places with and without trees.  Trees could make the difference between 10-20 degrees on a hot summer day.  In the winds and snow of winter, trees protected and provided.  The live oaks in Louisiana stood for centuries with branches that grew parallel to the ground like alternate pathways.  The bayous were filled with life and trees in the mangroves protected the land from violent ocean waves in hurricanes and typhoons all over the world.

Trees are more than wood for a fire.  They are more than fodder for a building or the floors in a house or cabinets in a new kitchen, or a table in a decked out living room.  Trees are life.  They are living, growing protectors of us all.  They shield us from climate impacts, buffer the effects of the daily weather roller coaster.  Trees provide more than greenbacks in our pockets.

As I looked out the window on a bus recently, viewing a line of trees all trimmed to maximize board feed for our urban forestry goals, to feed the furnaces and serve the lumber interests, I paused to look at one that was allowed to spread in a private yard, to serve as a living resource.  There was no comparison.  One was beautiful and thriving.  The others stood like soldiers, uniform, with no character of their own.  As  an artist, the difference was stark for me and the truth naked.

We build with this timber processed, often, for chipboard, which must involve glues and other materials that harm the environment.  We paint it with materials, most of which are made from fossil fuel.  There are over 6,000 derivatives from oil, manufactured into carpets, flooring of all kinds, wood lookalikes, and byproducts made to look natural but are often produced in unnatural ways …  Even beauty products contain oil derivatives.  Much of our food is dead and tasteless; so, we add salt and sugar to make it palatable.  Forests are being destroyed so that more of these dead products can be made devoid of trees.  Not good for our health in a world that needs these living giants more than ever.

All of this, so we can buy more of what we don’t need.  We build bigger and bigger houses to fill it with more and more stuff that we hardly ever use, so that we can feel as though we are keeping up with our neighbors who are building “bigger and better” always.  This is not unusual for animals to do.  You see this in many species … peer pressure is a powerful thing.  We have intellect though, or so we’re told.  So how is the human race any different than all other creatures if we can’t control our own innate instincts?

In some ways, I would argue, we are not as smart as our counterparts.  Even elephants know when to stop doing what is harmful.  Wolf packs have a system of maintaining balance.  Only man destroys without reason.  Money is less than that.  It’s useless without trees, water and air.  It’s useless without the resources we need for survival … and we need all that nature provides for free.  Only man must exact a cost for what nature gives for free.  Limiting supplies so that more money can be made.  Making everything in larger mass, larger quantities so that more and more greenbacks can be made at the loss of the only green that will create balance.

Our urban canopy of old growth trees is essential; and our forests are undeniably the canopy of this planet.  We destroy for profit at our own demise.  More chemical agents, more oil derivatives will cost us more than our trees.  This green carpet of diversity and fruitful balance is here for all species that require water; and that means everyone with the breath of life.  We must all be a part of the change … for love of wilderness and for love of life.

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