Dear Tree…

Did you know that in Melbourne, Australia, you can email a tree? The city of Melbourne has cataloged its trees and has set up a map. It gives information about the type of tree, how old the tree is, and how healthy each tree is. Each and every citizen with access to the internet can look up information on the life span of each tree, the urban forest board’s tree planting schedule, and even become a citizen forester.

I personally love trees in cities. While some walk by with their heads down staring at a 5 inch phone screen, I am taken by how resilient those trees need to be to survive in a world that is constantly throwing countless pollutants on them. The fact that Melbourne has found a way to engage people with the trees that surround them is fascinating. You can teach children how to observe the living things around them by providing a way for them to contact their tree. Granted, it isn’t the actual tree that is responding, but a lovely group of volunteers that provide tree-facts and information while responding to emails. By providing an avenue for people to contact the urban forest team, citizens can report on unhealthy or dying trees.

This story delighted me and opened my eyes to a great way one of Australia’s cities is engaging its citizens. The episode is from the HumanNature podcast at Wyoming Public Media and you can listen to it here – https://humanaturepodcast.org/podcast/episode-17-the-ents-of-melbourne/

Row, row, row your boat

Although most podcasts I listen to are in an attempt to learn something new – history, politics, obscure internet knowledge – occasionally I listen to something just for the story. A story from a regular person, telling something true from their real life. These podcasts allow me to listen and not have to think critically and absorb all information. I’m allowed to just get caught up in the story.

Tim FitzHigham’s story about crossing the English Channel in a bathtub is easily one of my favorite stories. His storytelling is compelling; it snatches your attention and brings you into the bathtub with him, rowing relentlessly across those 19 nautical miles towards France. I revisit this story any time I need a good laugh, so I’d like to share it here, in the hope that it will bring you some joy today.

Audio here – https://themoth.org/stories/all-at-sea 

Made in America

I have always been fascinated by the messages and stories that can be conveyed through songs. Many musicians have used their talent and considerable influence to create messages regarding politics, social justice, even regional pride. Musicians hold a unique position within the folds of society and are therefore able to inspire their listeners all over the country (and sometimes around the world) to think about what is happening in the world around them.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s album 4 Way Street, for example, is littered with references to political events that were occurring in the late 1960s. Chicago calls attention to the trial of the ‘Chicago 8’ – eight men who were arrested for inciting a riot outside of the Democratic National Convention in 1968, during a protest against the Vietnam war. One of the men, Bobby Seale, was bound and gagged during his trial – referenced in the first line of the song  -“So your brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair.” Indeed, in the live recording of this song, they say “This is a song for Mayor Daley” – the mayor of Chicago at the time of these riots. Ohio draws attention to the fact that national guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio during a protest over the announcement by President Nixon that US troops were invading Cambodia.

Michael Jackson famously used his Superbowl performance in 1993 to promote racial equality and world peace – even getting the entire crowd involved. U2 used their moment in the big game to pay homage those lost in the 9/11 terror attacks. Beyonce used her appearance in the 2016 Superbowl to promote her song Formation, which many see as anti-police, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But with music, even entire genres can be indicative of what message is sent or even the ideology behind an entire group of people. With our country so divided on so many major issues at the moment, it is insightful to hear the take of musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding break down the two songs titled “Made in America” released in 2011. Their analysis shows several different ways in which country and hip hop differ on the traditional American values. This episode is well worth the listen!

Audio here – http://www.switchedonpop.com/48-made-in-america-toby-keith-jay-z/

Masters of Scam

The past week has been exhausting and tough. Attempting to keep up with the assault on the rights of women, immigrants,  and even the scientific community is a challenge for concerned Americans. We must be vigilant constantly, and I’d personally like to thank all the journalists who work so hard every day to write about the barrage of things changing in the United States. I keep finding myself thinking ‘How the hell did we get to this point?’ Obviously there are a lot of complex factors that allowed for Trump to become president; challenge to the outdated idea that this country belongs to white people first, everybody else second; the refugee crisis being so publicized and contested all over the world. But a lot of it was Trump saying a lot of things his followers wanted to hear.

A recent Slate article explains the process of how Trump will get away with most of his promises, even if they remain empty after his term in office. Many Trump supporters have already accepted that he has not ‘drained the swamp’ at all, but has surrounded himself with billionaires completely out of touch with middle class america.

“There are many who hope Trump’s supporters will hold him accountable. That they will insist he fulfill his promises about jobs or universal health coverage—and when those promises are broken, that their fervent support will turn into rage at having been duped, causing Trump anguish and eventually costing him re-election.

This is wishful thinking. Trump’s rise to power has followed a similar trajectory to that of quacks who peddle panaceas to the desperate—a bizarre and heartbreaking world I’ve long studied. Just like them, Trump will fail to deliver. But his supporters will find a way to exonerate him.”  

There are many that will not hold Trump accountable because of their ingrained ideology that America is not currently great, or that Obama somehow drove America to the ground, or that Trump is the one savior that can make our country great again. And this should terrify everyone who is against Trump. If supporters of our new president don’t come to learn that he won’t deliver on his promises they will continue to support him blindly. (That being said – there is an entire twitter account @Trump_Regrets devoted to those who are upset in one way or another). Trump essentially used tactics employed by quack scientists to rise to power – exploiting people’s fears, their hope, and anti-elitism sentiment.

One of my favorite podcasts, Reply All, put out an episode on the professional life of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Dr Brinkley conned people out of money for years, performing surgery to cure impotence – using goat testicles. He used his wealth to start his own radio station, advertising this new ‘miracle cure’ to impotence. Dr. Brinkley’s supporters spouted praise about him – even when it didn’t ‘work’ as they were likely too embarrassed to come forward – his entire working career, even when over 40 people died at his clinic in Kansas after undergoing the operation (a lowball number, as this does not include the number of people who may have died once they left the clinic).

I highly recommend this episode, as it breaks down why and how people in the early 20th century were duped – and why it may have occurred again. Audio here – https://soundcloud.com/replyall/86-man-of-the-people

Day 1: Strange Fruit, Updated

As we say goodbye to one of the best presidents our country has ever known, it is important to remember that we still have a long struggle in front of us. Yes, most of those invested in the progression of this country have realized this, with the president-elect’s cabinet picks, his sketchy stance on foreign policy, and his complete denial of the science that points to the fact that life as we know it is completely going to change (climate change guys). But it’s also incredibly important that we remember that racism throughout this country has not been eradicated. It has been transformed. Just like almost every aspect of life has changed in the last hundred years – from clothing, to travel, to world population, entertainment, technology, food supply – we have been fortunate enough to live in a time when sharing and collaboration has become easier in a myriad of ways.

While there may not be public lynchings like the 1930 occurrence that inspired the Abel Meeropol poem “Bitter Fruit”(later made famous as a song by Billie Holiday) there are still countless examples of institutionalized racism apparent in our country. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought this issue to the forefront of our country’s consciousness and if you don’t know their story or message by now EDUCATE YOURSELF. Now more than ever it is important to stand, rise, resist.

There is also the issue of ‘mob mentality’ or ‘the bystander effect.’ For Tom Shipp and Abe Smith, unfortunately, the mob on that night in August of 1930 was frenzied enough to break them out of jail, beating and kicking them on the way to the tree where they became the ‘Strange Fruit’. In 2017 you’re more likely to get a mob into a frenzy after a sports team win. But you will still regularly be witness to the bystander effect; not helping because you believe that someone else will surely step in to assist. Apathy will get us nowhere in this new administration’s reign. We must stand up and stand together for the rights of all Americans, no matter their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

As we say goodbye to the Obama’s, we also say goodbye to a scandal free eight years in the White House, one where everyone in America could look up to the example set by two highly educated, caring, sympathetic, loving people and their daughters who showed us what a terrific first family should look like. I know many of my millennial friends, most of whom Obama was the first president they ever voted for, will view today as a day of mourning. But we need to remember to hope and listen to President Obama’s wise words “I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.” From the bottom of my heart, thanks Obama.

Don’t be apathetic. Don’t be a bystander. Don’t stop resisting.

The podcast that inspired this post – https://soundcloud.com/radio-diaries/61-strange-fruit-updated 

A third member of our team joins us.

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After an incredibly boring, exhausting drive straight through Nevada, we arrived at Zion National Park in southern Utah. My sister Krista had decided to drive down from Durango, Colorado to meet us at Zion, which is why we drove straight through Nevada. As some of you may know, this year marks the centennial for the National  Park Service. August 25, 2016 was the official 100th birthday, so the entrance fees for the parks around the country were free. So we were lucky to have the busiest weekend of the season to explore this park. But that wouldn’t stop us from enjoying the sheer beauty of Zion canyon.

We had the whole weekend to explore the canyon and everything it had to offer. And man, was this the place to be. Zion is one of those places that is kind of indescribable by words. Yes you can try and explain the sheer red walls, with subtle layers of various colors that seem to sneak in there. You can try show through words the exultant feeling you get while navigating the narrow ledges of the Angel’s Landing trail. But really, the only way to truly understand is physically going there yourself to experience it.

Zion is one of those places where, no matter who you are, what your status in life, you sit and marvel at the beauty that is around you. From Angel’s Landing to the Narrows to the short Canyon Overlook you cannot go wrong at Zion.

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Drive up to Canyon Overlook Trail
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Hello Mr. Sheep!
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At the terminus of the Canyon Overlook Trail
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Stunning canyon walls
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Looking over the edge!
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The full stunning view of Zion Canyon

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Some of the rocks looked like they were flowing!

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I just want to hug all of the trees.

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Redwoods!

Ever since I learned about the redwood trees, probably in some science class, I have wanted to visit them and just marvel at their sheer size. Let me tell you, they did not disappoint. The preserved old growth forests of Redwoods National and State Parks were one of the things that I was most excited for during this extended journey of ours. Tall doesn’t even begin to cut it while describing these trees. Wider than a car and so tall that it starts to hurt your neck looking up at them. It’s a good thing the short trail we went on was deserted, as I’m sure I would have caused a traffic jam – I just didn’t want to stop looking up towards the top of these magnificent trees.

 

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Looking up to the tops of the trees

It’s hard to describe the exact combination of feelings I got while being around those trees. Joy. Insignificance. A feeling of being centered. Calm. Peace. Hopelessness. Melancholy. Connectedness. The flurry of emotions both had me believing that this was a place of refuge at the same time I was lamenting the fact that the world is changing so much and the redwoods might not survive what is in store for our future. I can’t imagine attempting to describe the redwoods to future generations. There are only so many synonyms for tall, giant, and magnificent that you can use. It’s really something that you need to discover for yourself. And if we change the world too much, we’re going to have to start using the past tense for describing these beautiful ancient trees. A horrible concept.

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These trees were remarkable

Rather than dwell on the disheartening prospect of the future of these trees, I attempted to live in the moment and enjoy the beauty in front of me. Walking through the groves was amazing. Some of the trees had been burned out, so you could walk into the middle of their trunks and look straight up walls of charcoal. The amazing thing (well, one of the amazing things), was that some of these trees still appeared to be thriving in their upper branches. Nature man; it’s incredible.

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The sea lions of Crescent City!

I did, of course get to hug a tree. And I felt tiny because of it. Our other major highlight while in Northern California was going to the shore of Crescent City, California, and seeing some sea lions. They were just sleeping (well, some of them were sleeping) on some floats within the little harbor. And man, were they LOUD. They apparently just wanted to talk to us.

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The trunks were huge!
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Look up while on the trail!
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Standing inside a burnt tree trunk
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I could spend all day here
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Light shining from beyond some redwoods
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Inside a burnt tree!
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Looking small hugging this trunk
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Fern Canyon
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Another shot from fern canyon