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Category: Humans

Keep It Simple
As the young woman at the checkout counter begins sliding my items over the bar scanner, she glances up and asks, “How’s your day been?”

She’s at the end of her shift, and has probably asked that question hundreds of times today alone. Still, it’s a good question: engaging without demanding engagement. I am ready to engage, however, so I respond, “So far, so good.” If I’m ready to keep the chat going, I’ll add “Checking off the list, one by one,” and wait for the free-form portion of the chat to start…or not.

I cannot count how many times I have participated in that opening conversational gambit. It takes place at least once every time I go out on errands. In some ways, it is like the errands themselves: mostly disposable, nearly automatic, demanding neither intellectual nor emotional effort. It’s good to do errands, and it’s good to have pleasant interactions with your fellow humans.

I’m not going to suggest that such a mundane formula is the secret to a better world, but you could do worse. Imagine if we all just did the little jobs we know we’re supposed to do, and, while we’re at it, tried to be nice to the people we meet along the way. That might turn out to be a pretty good place to be.
Fair & Rainy
It has been suggested to me that these essays have tended to skew to the dark side. My gentle readers seem concerned that I might be dwelling too much on the vexing aspects of our world without giving hope and optimism their due.

Let me just say that I am touched by these expressions of care. Rest assured, all of you, that I am at heart a warm and fuzzy person. It’s just that I keep my fuzz closely shaven and my warmth set just a hair below room temperature.

But I love rainbows! Gosh, who doesn’t? When I see children’s depictions of these magical natural wonders, I am always filled with joy. Unless, of course, the colors are arrayed in an incorrect order. Red should be at the top of the rainbow, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Come on, people! It’s simple science.

Furthermore, the sun should never appear in the same frame with a rainbow (though, in a depressing number of these drawings, it does just that). For the rainbow effect to be even possible, the sun must be behind the viewer, with the water vapor in the sky refracting light back to the eye of the observer. It is only because I love rainbows so much that I demand that they be accurately portrayed.

Also, I think unicorns are adorable. So graceful, so lovely, so pink, so purple! But let’s be clear, kids…they do not exist! Flying horse-like creatures would defy the laws of physics that we all love. And if they did exist, that alarmingly sharp horn or antler or spear or whatever it is on their foreheads would have to be removed in the interest of public safety — and the welfare of the innocent little children who believe in them.

I want to be clear as well that I admire books and movies and other works of art that are life-affirming. We certainly do need more light and positivity and family-friendliness in this dreary world. Just don’t ask me to actually read these books or blow my twelve bucks on such films. I’ve had all the saccharin and aspartame and acesulfame potassium I can stomach in this lifetime. But please keep cranking out this dreck, because my beloved fellow humans seem hopelessly addicted to it.

Babies of any kind never fail to lift my spirits. I would be a cold person indeed if I were not charmed by their big, trusting eyes and their cuddliness. When they are not squalling, or soiling the furniture, or creating havoc in our lives, they can be irresistibly cute. Unless they are insects, that is. Or snakes, or fish, or germs, or anything too large or too small. Keep those things away from me, if you don’t mind. Kittens and puppies, however, are wonderful — if adequately deodorized and restrained.

You see? I am brimming with glad tidings. In fact, I have to have myself hosed down with Lysol on a regular basis.
Homo Mean and Stupid
I was channel-surfing yesterday and came across Remember the Titans, a movie about racism and high school football. Denzel Washington plays the tough-love head coach who fights racism while building a winning team.

I like the movie — it’s a serious topic and the movie has a serious take on it — but I do have a quarrel with it. It’s overly harsh in its depictions of lowlife racists. They are all sneering, thin-lipped white people filled with molten hatred toward anyone with a non-pasty complexion. Mean and stupid seem to ooze from every pore, and every temple throbs with hate-fueled rage. It’s the kind of unfortunate stereotype we have come to associate with a history of forced inbreeding and God-fearing lovelessness.

This kind of “othering” is wrong. If we are to move on from racism and the internal divisions plaguing this country, we will have to bring along the lowlife racists on our march into a kinder, gentler future. After all, they are people, too. For the most part.

It should be noted that I speak here as a white guy whose own pastiness borders on the translucent. I am human, too…for the most part. I consider myself a proud homo sapiens, but I’ve got my share of Neanderthal DNA and maybe even a little homo erectus in there as well. After all, we’re all Africans here on planet Earth, even if some of us have evolved a Gollumish skin more suitable to a subterranean lifestyle.

People who are otherwise complected are still my brothers and sisters, and so are the lowlife racists. We all have common ancestors, and those connections are a lot more recent than we might think. So I think we should really try to stick together. — try to connect with our inner homo habilis and co-habitate as well as we can. That’s what Denzel’s Titans ended up doing, and everybody went home happy.

Except, that is, for a few of the lowlife racists. The ones for whom mean and stupid is a way of life…especially the mean part. In Titans, they just left the story, never to be seen again. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them here in the real world. They are fellow homo sapiens, after all...part of the human family.

But I’m not inviting them to Thanksgiving.
Big Doug
There is no denying that the Douglas fir can be a beautiful tree. It grows tall and straight and reassuringly symmetrical like any good conifer. It grows fast, too, making it a favored source of building materials. Truckloads of doug fir studs and joists and beams pour out of the Pacific Northwest to building sites around the country.

It supplies the bone structure for my own home as well, and its strong silhouette joins the local redwoods and oaks to form the woody horizons around my mountain community. It is a familiar and plentiful cohabitant of my world. But the Douglas fir is no friend to me. Indeed, by some measures it is my mortal enemy. Or more precisely, my nemesis.

Still, I have no choice but to coexist with it. Doug fir is everywhere, and there are many more of it than there are of me. There is one growing in my front yard now that is thirty feet tall. It appears to be healthy and well on its way to 200’ or more…if it is allowed to live.

Its future was not always so promising. During its early life, it lived in the shadows of several large tan oaks, and had a spare, spindly look that seemed to foretell a short stay here. But through the years, the tan oaks came down one by one, succumbing to to the ravages of sudden oak death and infestations of bark beetles. Their passing let the sun shine in fullness on the fir, and it responded vigorously. The trunk is now quite thick and it has branches and needles in abundance. It will be a shame to cut it down.

I had chosen to let it grow because I was charmed by how it responded to its sudden change of fortune — struggling against the odds in its early years then seizing the opportunity fate had given it. And, as I have said, I had already decided to live peacefully alongside its species when at all possible.

But it would be foolish to ignore our history with the Douglas fir here on the mountain. It has proven to be an unpredictable and dangerous neighbor — like the time thirty years ago when a big one tried to kill my wife.

We had been hit by a particularly strong storm that spring night, one that carried lots of water and the high winds that can whip up to 60 mph or more along our ridge tops. This Douglas fir snapped very close to ground level, at a place where the tree was nearly five feet across, so it must have made a terrific noise. The wind and rain were making a racket of their own, however, so I never heard it.

I could not miss, however, the blow it struck across our roof. The whole house shuddered. The door to our second floor master bedroom flew open, and my wide-eyed wife charged out and down the stairs. “What the hell was that?”

We tentatively ventured out into the storm and found a tangle of limbs and a cracked tree trunk wedged against the house. “A doug fir,” I said. “Where did that come from?” I didn’t recognize the tree. Not from our property, anyway.

By morning, the storm had passed, and the sobering truth was revealed. The 120-foot-tall fir had stood up the slope from our home. When the high winds struck, its rotted bole had split, hurling the massive tree toward us. As it fell, gravity kicked in, accelerating the fall. If it had struck unimpeded, it would have made short work of the doug fir skeleton of the house, even the big four-bys. At the very least, it would have blown through the rafters above the top floor and demolished the entire second story bedroom. Right where Jane had been sleeping.

There had been only one object in the path of the falling fir. A mature madrone, perhaps twenty inches in diameter, grew at a slight tilt at the edge of our property. Its hardwood trunk t-boned the fir as it fell, taking on a big part of its momentum and slowing it enough to save our home…and the life of my beloved.

Now, all these years later, we still have reminders around us of this event. There is a long, straight dent across the ribs of our steel roofing., The carcass of the fir itself still lies in the woods, finding its way back to the earth. And the madrone — whose mighty trunk had been flattened in its heroic effort — now sends up a host of saplings from its root ball.

As if I needed a reminder. The Douglas fir is my nemesis. Its soft, pitchy wood is a worst-case wildfire waiting to happen. Its straight, healthy appearance can be a lie, concealing a rotten core. It is a killer, lying in wait to crush unwary humans or assist in their incineration. Let it flourish along a distant skyline. Let it provide the framework of my home. But it should not grow here.

So, this plucky survivor growing in my front yard — so blessed by fate and my own forbearance — will fall soon. There will be no remorse, no wistful remembrance. Just a pile of chips and another rotting carcass on the forest floor. Good riddance.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon