Christmas Trees – Buy One, Plant Two

Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)
Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)

How can an avowed tree hugger justify cutting down a living tree and displaying it in her living room during the Christmas season? It’s complicated.

Christmas trees pose a dilemma for me—tradition versus the environment.

I love everything about Christmas trees, searching for just the right tree, watching my sons wind colored light strings around it, reminiscing about when certain ornaments became part of our collection, decorating the tree with my family, and delighting in its beauty, scent, and serenity.

Growing, transporting, and selling Christmas trees and manufacturing artificial trees and tree trimmings uses land, water, pesticides, energy, fossil fuels, unrecyclable materials, and generates waste. Cutting down live trees so you and I can enjoy one adorning our living rooms for a few weeks strikes a discordant note with me. So, what is a good environmentalist or any person who wants to live more lightly on the Earth to do?

To buy a Christmas tree or not to buy a Christmas tree, that is the question.

Christmas Trees through the Years

Real Christmas trees have been a part of every Christmas holiday season I can remember.

When I was a kid, our family of five made an annual outing to a nearby Christmas tree farm. We tromped around the farm searching for the ideal tree, circumnavigating likely candidates looking for bald spots, and administering the springy needle test to check for freshness. When we got the tree home, we strung it with lights, put on the ornaments, and carefully placed silver tinsel strand by strand.

My spouse and I continued the Christmas tree tradition assembling our own collection of ornaments over the years. We purchased potted living trees a few times with little success. Only one made it to a new home in the Angeles National Forest where I hope it is still alive and thriving.

When we moved to the California Central Coast in 2007, where our yard is mostly wild, I began recycling our Christmas trees in our own yard. I cut the branches into small pieces before distributing them around the yard and then I drag the trunk to a spot that can use some erosion control. As you walk around the yard you can view Christmas trees past in various stages of becoming one with the Earth.

Christmas Tree Anxiety

My Christmas tree anxiety began after we moved to our current home. We live in a Monterey pine forest and our yard is mostly unfenced so deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional neighbor’s cat freely stroll through. Birds avail themselves of the birdbath outside our home office window. Living among and observing wild nature through the dry and slightly less dry seasons makes me mindful of the interconnectedness of nature including people. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.

Now each year as the holiday season approaches I look forward to buying and trimming a Christmas tree, but I also wonder whether I should. In 2014, I contemplated buying an artificial tree so I did some research and shared my findings in the post Which is Greener a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? I decided on a real tree and proposed a new tree planting tradition.

A Tree for A Tree

For every real or artificial tree we purchase or each time we put up an existing artificial tree, I suggested we (meaning all of us) plant a new tree in our yard, a park, or a forest.

That year, I rescued a 6-inch tall cypress tree seedling from a street median and planted it between the stumps of two Monterey pine trees we had lost during the drought. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the deer trail running between the stumps near our neighbor’s chain link fence.

The seedling and the deer coexisted peacefully until the tree grew to be several feet in diameter. Deer brushing by the expanding girth of the little tree began breaking off its branches as they passed through.

If you have ever tried to reroute a deer path, you know it is an exercise in futility. We compromised by installing a deer deterrent device, a short span of fencing that shields the branches from passing deer (the tree and fence are shown in the upper right corner of the above photo). The tree and the deer seem happy with the solution. If the deer decide they feel inconvenienced by the fence, they will inform us by enlisting one of the bucks to rip it out with his antlers (this has happened before).

Christmas Tree Tradition Versus the Planet

So now, we are back to the original question, to buy a tree or not to buy a tree.

All living things inflict some measure of harm just by living on Earth, with people being responsible for the greatest share. An environmentally sound Christmas tree would be the one that grew up naturally in a diverse forest and stayed there unbothered by people.

However, if we are to keep this amazing planet habitable for all, we need everyone to feel connected and willing to work together and I believe we need beauty and pleasure as well as hard work and sacrifice.

For me, a Christmas tree is beautiful and helps me feel connected to other people and wild things. I am embracing my Christmas tree tradition while being mindful and thankful for the tree and the people who made it possible for me to have one. I am giving myself a break and accepting that I do not always make environmentally sound choices and that is okay—sometimes.

This year I am raising the ante on tree planting to “buy one, plant two.” The above picture shows me watering one of the two Big Sur Coast redwood tree seedlings I planted in my yard, just before going inside the house and decorating a real Christmas tree with my family.

Happy Holidays!

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Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement

Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 - Photo Ecologistics From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson
Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 – Photo Catie Michel
From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson

If you are concerned about the future of life on Earth, consider joining the deep ecology movement which embraces all living things, not just people.

Participants at the Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory held in San Luis Obispo, CA October 21-23, 2016, had the opportunity to meet and work with local and national environmental leaders in a small group setting while addressing environmental issues through the lens of deep ecology.

A fusion of “collaboration” and “laboratory”, a collaboratory is an open creative process where a group of people works together to generate solutions to complex problems.

So, what is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology Overview

During the 1970’s, Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess introduced the phrases “shallow ecology” and “deep ecology” to the environmental movement.

He described shallow ecology as short-term thinking and taking shallow actions to address environmental issues without fundamentally changing our values or the way we live. This includes actions like recycling, driving electric vehicles, and buying energy efficient consumer products. While these approaches do some good, they allow us to continue with our human-centric, fossil fuel dependent, consumer-oriented lifestyles with little inconvenience to ourselves and not much thought to all the other life forms on Earth.

Deep ecology recognizes the inherent value of all living things. It involves deep questioning and acknowledging that tweaking our “business as usual” approach is not working. Global climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the extinction crisis, environmental degradation, and overpopulation are enormous problems. Deep ecology requires us to change our basic values and practices; to use a long-range deep approach to addressing environmental issues and preserving the diversity and beauty of the Earth we all rely on for life.

Deep Ecology Collaboratory

Throughout the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders and attendees grappled with topics such as the biodiversity crisis, overpopulation, globalization, psychological barriers to addressing climate change, and grassroots activism.

In between presentations and brainstorming sessions, collaborators dined on delicious omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan food prepared by Linnaea’s Café enjoyed listening to music at an outdoor concert and breathed in the brisk fall air on a Sunday morning nature hike.

During the Collaboratory brainstorming sessions, participants began working on the Deep Ecology Manifesto for Preserving Our Planetary Commons, an action plan for addressing Earth’s climate change and biodiversity crisis on political, social, and scientific levels.

Ecologistics is forming a Loomio group for people who participated in the Collaboratory and people who did not attend but want to join the group to work on creating the Manifesto and to collaborate on other actions. Loomio is an online conversation, collaboration, and decision-making tool.

Pay-What-You-Can Registration

The environmental movement needs everyone’s voice, not just those who can afford conference and event registration fees.

To make the Collaboratory accessible to anyone who had the desire and time to participate, Ecologistics offered pay-what-you-can registration allowing each person to determine what she or he could afford.

This philosophy likely contributed to bringing together a diverse group of attendees including educators, business professionals, retirees, nonprofit representatives, students, environmentalists, and activists.

Topic Leaders

The Collaboratory gave participants a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and collaborate with environmental leaders and experts.

  • Kelly Sorenson – Executive Director of Ventana Wildlife Society
  • Dave Foreman – activist, author, and co-founder of Earth First! and Director of The Rewilding Institute
  • Robert Gifford – professor at University of Victoria, BC, Canada, environmental psychology
  • Bill Ryerson – founder and President of Population Media Center
  • Joe Bish – Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center
  • Eileen Crist – educator and editor of Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change
  • Stephanie Mills – lecturer, activist, and author of Whatever Happened to Ecology?
  • Matt Ritter – author, editor, and professor of botany at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Derrick Jensen – radical activist and author of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Surprise guest, Roberto Monge, gave a firsthand account of his experiences at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest taking place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Songwriting Contest and Concert

Music and art are essential mediums for connecting people and ideas while spreading beauty and joy. To this end, Ecologistics hosted a songwriting contest and concert as part of the Collaboratory.

Songwriters of all ages across California responded to the call for an original song about the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, extinction, or overpopulation on our planet, animals, and ecosystems and on humans. Ecologistics received 37 song submittals. Ranchers for Peace and the three contest winners performed at an outdoor concert on Saturday evening.

If you would like to learn more about the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders, listen to the songwriting contest songs, or join the Loomio group, please visit the Ecologistics website.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” —John Muir

Note to readers. At the time of this writing, I am a member of the Ecologistics Board of Directors.

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First Day of Spring – Stop and Smell the Roses

Friday, March 20, 2015 marks the vernal equinox also known as the first day of spring. This is an ideal time to stop and smell the roses, yes, even on a workday.

Pink Rose Bushes in Bloom

The idea for this post actually originated with my spouse. A few days ago, I posed the question, “If you were writing a post about the first day of spring, what advice would you give?” To which my spouse replied, “Stop and smell the roses.”

It seemed like an interesting idea to explore from an environmental angle, plus I wanted to learn about equinoxes and try to find out who originated the phrase about roses.

What is an Equinox?

The first day of spring is one of two times a year when the sun passes over the earth’s equator making day and night of equal length, or almost equal.

Equinox is the term used to describe this phenomenon, which derives from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Two more Latin words determine which equinox occurs when. Vernal equinox derives from the word ver (spring) and autumnal equinox from the word autumnus (autumn).

The vernal equinox occurs within a day or so of March 20 each year and the autumnal equinox around September 22.

Seasons vary depending on hemisphere meaning the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere is the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere. Sometimes the terms March equinox and September equinox are used to minimize confusion.

As far as an explanation as to why day and night are not exactly of equal length on the equinoxes, Wikipedia provides a far better explanation than I can.

Equinox Earth Image

What is the Origin of the Phrase “Stop and Smell the Roses?”

A cursory Internet search for the origin of the phrase “stop and smell the roses” turned up a few theories but no definitive answer.

Some sources suggest the phrase was adapted from a saying credited to professional golfer Walter Hagen: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Stop and Smell the Roses is the title of a 1974 song by Mac Davis and a 1981 Ringo Starr album.

There is no “official” definition of “stop and smell the roses” however, relaxing, appreciating ones’ surroundings, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures like smelling roses are generally accepted meanings.

Stop and Smell the Roses 15 Minute Challenge

Slowing down to appreciate and enjoy life is a deceptively simple idea yet difficult to achieve.

In today’s world, we seem to be forever busy with longer to-do lists, packed schedules, and conflicting priorities. We eat lunch at our desks or run around doing errands instead of taking a break. After work, we pick up our kids from daycare, finish the errands we did not get to earlier, pick up or cook dinner, throw in a load of laundry, and fire up our computer to finish a work task that is due tomorrow morning. Sound familiar?

We are so used to being busy that if we find ourselves with a moment to relax we fall onto the couch exhausted, whip out our smart phone, or go in search of something to do.

European Honey Bee Extracting Nectar from Purple Flower and Collecting Pollen

I propose we break the busy pattern with a “stop and smell the roses” challenge on the first day of spring that we can all accomplish before, during, or after work.

Let’s each set aside 15 minutes sometime during the day or evening to slow down and create our own “stop and smell the roses” moment. No phones, tablets, or computers. Let’s go outside; sit, stand, walk, or lie down and enjoy the oak trees in a nearby park, the daisies planted around the office patio, or a potted geranium on our balcony. Let’s watch a bird flapping around in a birdbath, an ant trail marching along a sidewalk crack, or bees flitting from flower to flower.

The first two or three minutes are the hardest because we have to actually stop and relax then we are free to enjoy the moment.

Stopping and Smelling the Roses is a Good for the Environment

Here is the environmental twist I alluded to at the beginning of the post. I believe stopping and smelling the roses is good for the environment for several reasons.

  • By hitting the pause button, we refresh our spirit and perhaps broaden our perspective beyond the hamster wheel of our daily routines. Awareness is the first step on the path to change.
  • Enjoying the beauty and wonder of our fellow animal and plant beings reminds us that we are part of the environment, not separate from it. What we do to the environment we do to ourselves.
  • Appreciating the interconnectedness of nature may spur us to act, to change how we live, to live more gently on the planet we all call home. We protect what we love.

Redwood Trees in Redwood National Park, CA

Stop and smell the roses simply because they are beautiful and sweet smelling.

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