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"The Stories of Saplings" (May 2010)


Thoughts on perspective through the eyes of 3-year old and in light of the recent tragedies in West Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico.

Madeleine and I planted a red spruce sapling a few weeks ago. It was a good chance to play in the dirt, and talk about trees, and talk about growing. The perspectives of someone not quite three years old on such matters is both entertaining and enlightening.

I've mused on perspective often. I embrace the inherent value in trying to imagine the view of the world through someone else's eyes. To a 3-year old, the concept of a long time is somewhere around 30 seconds. The idea that a tree will take a long time to grow is a little difficult to grasp.

Nonetheless, we spend time around the yard, the woods and the creek, discovering things together and talking about what things once were and what they could be as they grow and change. I am grateful for the perspective of someone who lives a good three feet closer to the ground than I do, as she sees things that I might miss. She recognizes the different sounds of owls and doves at dusk sitting quietly on our porch, and is developing some skill in differentiating which sticks will make a better throw into the creek.

Against the perspective of our little world, it is nearly unfathomable for me to imagine the scope of the crisis on the Louisiana coast. The amount of oil spilling, the depth of the well beneath the water, and the oil beneath the seafloor, and the immensity of the impact on fisheries, wetlands, livelihoods, economies. And somehow, somebody (along with a lot of other somebodies) has to figure out first how to stop it, then how to try to mitigate the damage.

Earth Day 2010 brought home hard lessons about our energy situation. The loss of 29 miners in a methane-choked labyrinth from hell in West Virginia's Coal River Valley, and the explosion that killed 11 oil platform workers while unleashing a seemingly unstoppable torrent of oil on our coastline, brought home that the status quo of domestic energy production is far from risk free. People put their lives on the line in many of those jobs, and while most live through their working days without paying the ultimate price to keep the lights on, that outcome is by no means a guarantee.

So it is heartening to see that in our own energy-intensive backyard of northern Virginia, plans are moving forward for a solar power plant with natural gas backup. If we wish to change our ways of energy consumption, it seems unrealistic to expect it all to happen in someone else's backyard. There are still hurdles to be overcome, and doubtless opposition from some quarters, but it certainly seems like a good idea to take some responsibility for generating our own electricity, and in a primarily renewable, low/no carbon footprint manner.

While understanding these large and difficult concepts is still a few years away in her world, Madeleine is learning a lot about how things are interconnected. I explained to her when we planted our sapling that it would be a place to "remember Daddy's friend" who can't be here, and that the tree would be small for a long time, but it is growing just the same.

It occurred to me in a whole new way how those visions of the future intertwine with faith. Whether it's having children, or planting trees, we have no real idea for certain what will happen, of course. And yet in these ways and many others, we just believe that it will turn out ok whether or not we are still around to see it through. Fundamental changes in the way we live can and do happen. Technology makes the impossible mundane. The ways of nature go right on in spite of our activities, if given a long enough period of time.

The saplings were given to us at a memorial service for our friend Keith Pitzer. The red spruce is a dominant species of the high country of his home state of West Virginia. Keith's life legacy, along with his beautiful music, is tremendous progress in stopping acid drainage coming from dozens of orphaned coal mines in his beloved Cheat River Valley. Future generations will read about the orange-red streams that once dumped into the Cheat and try to imagine it. 

A great many saplings were planted in Keith's honor, from Ohio through the mid-Atlantic states. I keep track of our sapling by how much it grows relative to the little person who helped plant it. It seems they have both grown an inch in the last two months. Our perspective is like nature and life - never constant, but often changing too slowly to detect. I am glad nonetheless for the inspiration to look closely for signs.

 

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