Friday, August 22, 2008

Hi. I'm new here.

I'm not feeling terribly creative or writer-ly but there are some fun things:

The new new stuff:

1. I've enrolled in a college course exploring the ecology of VT Rivers and Streams. It was strange to be in the "new student" roll again. Exciting and intimidating. I mean it's been, what, 16 years since I enrolled at Fredonia State College? I had to find proper parking and the admin. office. I had to use the computer lab and have someone walk me through the log-in procedure. I had to meet with an advisor, I had to order a text book. Walking through the school's hallways and looking into classrooms brought back the excitement and nervousness I'd always feel heading back to school each September. Will I be the same kind of student I was 12-16 years ago? I barely remember that person.

2. Today I started volunteering at our local co-op market. I used a price gun and stocked shelves for the first time since I worked at CVS 13 years ago or so. I just this second remembered the horror I felt while being shown around CVS on my first shift and my manager telling me, "We keep the guns right here under the counter". This was in tiny, rural Boston, NY with one stop light and I couldn't imagine we needed guns at the front counter. I mean, no one had even heard of Oxycontin yet! The guns were for pricing items. (Wow...back before everything was scanned. I'm gettin' old!) I didn't even know that memory was lodged back there in the ol' synapse soup!

3. Yesterday I hiked Mt. Washington for the first time. I've been saving George for the "perfect" day. Yesterday was that day. Mid-70s at the trail head, light breeze, sun predicted all day. The weather on Mt. Washington doesn't get better than that. Up until yesterday I'd hiked 15 of the 48 peaks over 4000 feet with friends who needed them for their "lists", none of them because my own hiking sensibilities took me there. In the Whites I've been a follower. I don't remember trail names, I don't remember distances or details. I just show up and hike. It's fun. But I didn't want to hike Mt. Washington like that for some reason. I didn't want to follow someone else's lead up the tallest mountain in New England. I also wanted to hike it for the first time via the most challenging trail, Huntington Ravine. Tons of scrambling, but not technical climbing, is required to make it up. The trail gains 650' of elevation in just .3 (that's three tenths!) of a mile. Overall the hike gains about 4250' of elevation over a distance of just a little over four miles.

4. Worms!!!! Beautiful, healthy, robust worms! In my compost pile, that is. I turned it over this week and wanted to run around the neighborhood to gather everyone to look at the gorgeous worms doing their wormy decomposing, aerating thing. But, I didn't because they may not understand the joy. My mom does, though, and it's for her that I've included it in this post.

New Old Stuff:

1. Since about December some very good friends of mine have been having major medical issues. One with type B, stage IV Lymphoma; the other discovering she needed major abdominal surgery and in lots of discomfort prior to getting the needed operation. These are two of my favorite hiking and hanging out friends of the past four years. Suddenly we weren't going on adventures or making plans. Instead we were awaiting diagnoses, scan results, biopsies. Then we waited through treatment plans and recovery. (Of course, as the non-sick person, I wasn't really doing anything, just lots of waiting and worrying and listening and stuff like that.) Several weeks ago we finally all were together for a party to celebrate some birthdays and the end of chemo for Nancy. All scans and tests indicate that Nancy's cancer is gone and has a very low chance of relapse. Meri is doing great after her major surgery and is back to hiking and kayaking on a regular basis. This party was the first time the majority of the "crew" were together all at once in ages. Pure joy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Goddess of the Trees

I need to learn their names, the trees' names. I'll add that to my list of "Things to Work On".

A funny (i.e. slightly creepy, sketchy, greasy, questionably sober, but very polite and friendly) backwoods Vermonter with a visible lack of dental care and significant signs of dental caries uses a Stihl chainsaw like it's an extension of his wiry arm. He wears no chaps, no eye protection, no hard hat. He's climbed up the tree on an aluminium ladder propped against the three-trunked evergreen that fills the space between our house and that of our neighbors. He swings the chainsaw, pendulum-like, with one hand until it reaches where he's aiming to cut. One foot on the skew ladder, one foot on the protrusion of an already cut branch. He makes quick work of this tree that has been standing silent guard between these neighborly spaces for years.

I think of all the photosynthesis that's happened, all the water and nutrients flowing through the tree's anatomy, all the growth that's happened. And then I think of the more human-centered measures of time: who planted the tree and when, how many families have come and gone, how many tears were shed in these separate houses over the years while the tree stood silently by, how many chickadees have sat and cheerfully scolded those who forgot to put out seed, how many winters the tree has held up under the weight of snow and ice and that it won't do any of those things anymore. I know the tree doesn't really care about that stuff. But I do.

So when a tree's life ends abruptly at human hands I feel an ache in my heart. So much life, so much work of complex systems leading to seemingly simple, stately beauty comes to such an unsatisfying end. One funny man (as described above) with a Stihl chainsaw and a ladder kills and lays to the ground in an hour what Nature took years to create.

Most mornings for the past five years, I've looked at the tree from my place at the breakfast table. Recently a pair of blue jays have been claiming the lower branches as their place to fight and squawk noisily. Every evening I've watched it's green boughs slip into the darkness of the night. And now, instead of the tree, I see blue sky, puffy white clouds, and worst of all--the next door house that used to be so well concealed. We're all exposed.

If I ever get tapped to be the goddess of something in Nature--you know, called upon for ceremonies dedicated to birth, growth and death and that sort of superstitious stuff--I think I'll choose to be a Goddess of the Trees. And it would be hard to resist exacting some small retribution on those who made such quick work of our protector trees. A splinter in the finger, a speck of sawdust in the eye, a toe stubbed on a log, that kind of retribution is all I'm talking here. I'm not a Tree-Hugger in the hippie-tie-myself-to-bulldozer way, though. I know trees are renewable resources and that they get damaged, rotten, find themselves in the wrong places at the wrong times, etc. They come and go. Such is the way of Nature. It's just that my heart breaks a little at how long it takes for a life to grow and the illusion of strength a life can have but how quickly, and unceremoniously, life--any life--can be deleted.

Stage One:

Stage Two:

Stage Three

Stage Four