Book Report: The Overstory

If you know me or have read this blog a few times, you won’t be surprised to learn this, but I’ve always been a tree hugger, and I mean always. My poor mother (happy birthday wherever your spirit is) used to find me as a toddler wandering around the yard talking to the huge oak trees on our property. When I moved away, I mourned the loss of my tree friends around the town, and even now, when I go back I make sure to check in and see who’s still around and who’s gone.

That may explain why I have been reading so many books about trees, forests, and how they work for the past few years. It may explain why I became a Master Naturalist. It certainly explains why I have a hard time with cutting down trees for human convenience, though I am trying my best to be cooperative with other folks’ agendas in that respect. It explains why I bought the parts of the Hermits’ Rest ranch that I did – there were lots of trees, not a monoculture of non-native grass. I was born an annoying hippie tree hugger!

Of course you use your Sierra Club bookmark on the tree book.

So, then, why did I wait so long to read The Overstory, by Richard Powers? It won a Pulitzer Prize last year and everything! And it’s about trees! Anita and I both ordered it this time last year and planned to read it, so I had good intentions.

But, the first chapter was so sad it made me cry. And the second chapter had nothing to do with the first chapter, so I got confused, put the book down, and read all those other things I keep writing about (of interest to no one but me).

I ran out of books I hadn’t read last week (at least ones I could easily locate). I gritted my teeth and picked up The Overstory again. This time I looked at the table of contents, which was quite helpful. There, I saw that the first chapters were all about different people. I figured I’d just need to hold my horses through those first chapters and it would all come together in the gigantic middle section. Spoiler: it does.

Table of contents that makes reading the book easier!

By the way, they aren’t kidding when they say this is the greatest novels ever written about trees and perhaps one of the greatest about anything. There’s nothing I like better than a complicated plot that weaves new knowledge and a much-needed perspective on how to change the world. No, make that a much-needed perspective ON the world, one I share.

That Richard Powers. When I was in grad school, he was already a legend, the topic of many a conversation in the English department. He left just a semester before I got there (I was in another department, but many of my friends were in the English department with my brilliant boyfriend). Probably because I got sick of hearing about him, I didn’t read his first book. I got bogged down in The Gold Bug Variations (about music and genetics) but should probably go back and find that one to read.

Because Powers is such a polymath and so incredibly gifted, he crams a lot into a book. It’s not one of those quick summer novel kind of things. It’s more of a book to read when you are all alone, overwhelmed by real life, trapped by a pandemic, surrounded by people who don’t want to talk most of the time. Hey, that’s ME! I was in the right situation to immerse myself into the interwoven plots, make it through the deep despair the novel can raise in a tree hugger, and come out of it with my personal beliefs validated.

I sort of needed “Do Not Disturb” signs when I was trying to finish The Overstory, because it came right when Lee was in one of his talkative moods. My sometimes elusive goal is to stop what I am doing when he starts talking, so I had to re-read a lot.

Maybe that was a good thing; maybe it drove the message home. I’m finding it very helpful and very comforting to take that message to heart. We are not in charge of the earth. There are other minds and other forces at work, ones our perception of time makes it hard to notice. I take comfort that no matter what crazy Armageddon humanity is hell-bent on driving itself toward, Gaia, the trees, and the deeper consciousness will heal and persevere. It gives me the grain of hope I need to keep a-going.

Anyway, yup, good book. Read it.

Hopeless or Hopeful

Hopelessness is everywhere. Life is challenging.

The world seems upside down. Or it seems like “up” for one person is “down” for another. People I once respected disappoint me so much.

What’s up to you is down to me. What’s down to me is up to you. Image by @JosiEpic via Twenty20.

I think any of us in the US could say this, right now. The distrust is palpable, isn’t it? Even from within the tiny bubble I’m residing in right now, I feel it.

With all the new guidelines I’m following, I end up spending most of every day in a dim, 10×10 room with no windows, with the door closed. That’s hardly a recipe for optimism, cheer, or hope. But I realize I’m privileged to be able to work and not interact with the public.

Others have a whole different set of challenges. Some of us have jobs that require us to be outside or in busy buildings. These people are relying on others to help them stay safe, or, if they are of the group looking at things the other way, are being forced to do things they don’t want to do. Either way, it’s not easy.

And how do we all cope with that? Do we pray for each other’s safety and respect each other’s viewpoints?

I wish I saw more of this. Image by  @lelia_milaya via Twenty20.

No, we are so frustrated that we spend our energy attacking each other and reinforcing our divisions. That’s really why I feel hopeless.

Love one another. Give each other hope. We need it.

You tell, ’em, rock.

The Darkness Fades: Spring Is Coming, I Think

It’s such a sunny, clear morning that the fog and gloom of the last week or so seems a distant memory. It’s got me thinking.

Bobcat Run at sunset.
Tenpetal anemone, which is named after another Greek myth, but is a welcome early sign of spring at the ranch.

I’m thinking and hoping the glorious sunset that I got to enjoy with the Austin neighbors seems to signal that maybe I and all my associates can start to crawl out of their holes, and rise, like Persephone, from the darkness. It’s a little late, but I have hope today. If kale can grow in the middle of the messy garden at the ranch, I can deal with the mess in my life.

Free food! Carlton inspects the volunteer kale I found. You just never know what’s going to come up, from the ground, or in these weird-ass times we live in.

I’m thinking of the sad person on my friends’s blog yesterday. We’ll probably never know how much help we were, but I was touched by the kind words fellow blog readers sent their way. At least a whole lot of positive energy came that person’s way…and I think energy like that can’t hurt.

I think a lot of the energy around me that is so sad has to do with being tired: me, my family, my friends, my cuber-community. I’m a lot better after my day off on Sunday. My poor friend at work was so exhausted from traveling to the other side of the world and getting flu that she turned blue and started shaking. ARGH. “Just exhaustion” is still exhaustion!

In a total aside, guess who was really thrilled to get to Austin? This dapper guy, along with his photo-bombing buddy in the corner. He later got to destroy the squeaker in his tuxedo.

Think!

I think I can!

Keep thinking and wondering. New life and new adventures always await. Look at the very early Indian Paintbrush blossom I found on my walk last Sunday. It’s a little bedraggled, since its brethren are still sprouting up, but the little bursts of orange on the side of the road were just what I needed to see.

Maybe the colors will keep getting brighter as the sun and rain wake up all the wildflowers and bring the middle of Texas back to its yearly celebration of pollination and abundance. I think so.

May the pansy fairy remind you of cheerful faces, even in the darkness.

My old friend Kathy D. reminded me that the pansies of winter always keep me going (even though I didn’t have any real ones this year). I just have to look to see that magic is everywhere and it’s not all bad. That’s just me, though, after all my years of positive thinking training.

Yep, I get it that it’s sometimes harder than others, and for people dealing with depression it’s worse. I do NOT want to be one of those people spewing forth platitudes like “just smile” or whatever. If it’s not in you, don’t. But DO keep putting one foot in front of the other and at least nod to the beauty you pass by, so you can enjoy it later.

Let’s stick together and see what we think about this spring. Change is in the air. We may NEED to stick together!