The Overstory – Book Review

People and trees and wonder.

Regardless of whether you are a tree hugger or not The Overstory is a gripping tale worth reading.

Near the end of November, I found a key labeled 2P inside of our mailbox that resides in a cluster of mailboxes at the top of our street. When anyone receives a package, the mail carrier places it in one of the two parcel lockers and leaves the key in that person’s mailbox. I opened locker 2P and discovered a package inside addressed to me from my brother.

My brother and I stopped exchanging birthday and Christmas gifts ages ago. What could it be? At home, I opened the box. Inside was a copy of The Overstory and card from my brother saying he hoped I would enjoy reading it.

I was delighted!

After sending my brother a thank-you text, I walked upstairs to our home office, logged onto our library’s online portal, and gleefully canceled my request for the book. Our library system has 38 copies and I had been 97th on the waitlist.

Book Review

Brace yourself. The Overstory is both brutal and beautiful. I know that sounds weird. Read the book and you will see what I mean.

When I opened the book to read it, I did glance at the “Table of Contents” and noticed the four main sections are called “Roots,” “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seeds.” But I did not understand the structure of the book until I got to the “Trunk” part. Then I realized it is a cross between a collection of short stories and a novel.

You will meet the main people characters in “Roots” and then follow them on a series of converging journeys through the rest of the book. Along the way, you will meet many, many trees.

The narrative in the book is complex so pay attention.

The Overstory Book Cover

On the pages of The Overstory, Powers interlaces observations about what is happening in the world with stories about people and trees. The commentary is subtle but you may run across sentences or paragraphs that make you stop and reread them because they are both eloquent and stark.

Here are a few examples that hopefully will spark your interest in reading the book

After a court hearing, there is a protest demonstration with lumberjacks on one side and tree huggers on the other.

“Enemies shout at each other across the gap, stoked by triumph and humiliation. Decent people loving the land in irreconcilable ways.”

One night a man and a woman are sitting in an ancient tree called Mimas trying to prevent it from being cut down.

“Yet on such a night as this, as the forest pumps out its million-part symphonies and the fat, blazing moon gets shredded in Mimas’s branches, it’s easy for even Nick to believe that green has a plan that will make the age of mammals seem like a minor detour.”

As arson flames race across a construction site a psychologist studying activists has a terrifying epiphany.

“The clarity of recent weeks, the sudden waking from sleepwalk, his certainty that the world has been stolen and the atmosphere trashed for the shortest of short-term gains, the sense that he must do all he can to fight for the living world’s most wondrous creatures: all these abandon Adam, and he’s left in the insanity of denying the bedrock of human existence. Property and mastery: nothing else counts. Earth will be monetized until all the trees grow in straight lines, three people own all seven continents, and every large organism is bred to be slaughtered.”

During a strategy meeting, a game programmer responds to a request from his boss to build a game about the natural world.

“Not more plants, boss. You can’t make a game out of plants. Unless you give them bazookas.”

A botanist turns the page in a book and sees this.

“No one sees trees. We see fruit, we see nuts, we see wood, we see shade. We see ornaments or pretty fall foliage. Obstacles blocking the road or wrecking the ski slope. Dark, threatening places that must be cleared. We see branches about to crush our roof. We see a cash crop. But trees—trees are invisible.”

The Bottom Line

Richard Powers entered college as a physics major and left with an M.A. in Literature. He is an accomplished musician and an avid reader with a curious mind. Powers wrote his first book Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance while working as a computer programmer. Since then he has written eleven more novels and has won numerous awards. His twelfth book The Overstory was the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Have you ever read a book that made you feel dismayed and uplifted at the same time? That is how reading The Overstory was for me. The histories of the main characters are mostly tragic yet they are all touched by trees in poignant and sometimes magical ways.

The underlying thread woven into this magnificent narrative is that we humans are destroying the natural world and other beings that have inhabited Earth far longer than we have.

Each reader will take away something different from reading the book. The message I received is that we can turn back and take a different path. If we don’t, Mother Nature will not care she will just carry on.

There is a reason that the library waitlist for this book is so long. Buy it or borrow it, read it, and then you will know, too.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Featured Image at Top

This photo shows someone’s daughter touching a tree and looking up at this magnificent being – photo iStock/stockstudioX.

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New Year’s Resolution – Break Up with Your Bank

It’s your money.

Is this the year that you make a New Year’s resolution to stop funding the climate crisis through your bank and then actually do it? It is for me.

In the interest of full transparency, I got a head start on my 2020 New Year’s resolution because I have already started the process of breaking up with my bank. They just don’t know it yet.

Technically, it is not just my bank because my spouse and I have joint accounts. Fortunately, my spouse is amenable to changing banks.

Yes, I am one of those people who enjoy making and accomplishing a New Year’s resolution. Most years I write a New Year’s resolution post in hopes of luring more readers into the process. Completing something you set out to do can make you feel empowered.

One year I wrote about green investing and another year I wrote about restarting a previous resolution. Last year my New Year’s resolution was to research and write about the environmental impact of sugar and determine if I wanted to do anything about my own sugar intake (I did).

This year my New Year’s resolution is to sever all ties with our current bank and put our money in a credit union where it can benefit our local community.

In this post, we will take a brief look at how “too big to fail” banks are funding the climate crisis and I will share my banking transition experience so far. Admittedly the process has not been hassle-free but I believe ditching our old bank will be worth it in the long run.

Is Your Bank Funding the Climate Crisis?

A bank is supposed to be a safe place where you deposit your paycheck so you can access your money 24/7/365 to fund your life. Banks offer loans so that you can buy a car or house, pay for things with a credit card, or run your business. Savings accounts and certificates of deposits enable to you make a bit of interest on the money you set aside for the future.

Banks provide valuable and essential services, right? Yes, they do.

However, there is a dark side, too.

What came to mind when you read that sentence? Did you think about the 2008 financial crisis and how it impacted you personally? Were you reminded of news reports about your bank engaging in unethical and perhaps even criminal behavior? Did your student loan balance flash before your eyes?

If offshore oil drilling platforms, natural gas pipelines, and coal mines did not immediately come to mind, then you are probably in the majority. A few years ago, these images would not have popped into my mind either. But now they do.

By the Numbers Big Bank Fossil Fuel Financing Infographic
Source – Rainforest Action Network. Click here to read the report (it is interesting and disturbing).

Keeping our money “safe” in a bank that is funding the climate crisis and endangering our children does not make sense to me. So, I decided to do something about it.

Bank Transition Game Plan

I am a planful kind of gal so I did some research and planning before we began our bank changeover. If you are interested, click here for a checklist that may help you with your own bank transition. Below are some of the major steps.

Think It Through

I take banking seriously and I am not advocating that you or anyone else change banks unless you want to and doing so fits in your life. I am sharing what we are doing to provide an example. Where you put your money is of course completely up to you. If you have joint accounts with one or more people, you need to get their buy-in upfront.

My unease with our bank began with learning about their unscrupulous business practices which we won’t go into here. I wanted to move to another bank but our financial life was heavily entangled with our current bank. So I did what anyone might do when faced with a daunting task, I did nothing.

What made me finally decide to spearhead our bank transition project?

Believe it or not, it was realizing that our money could be helping people and businesses in our own community if we moved it to a regional bank or credit union.

Do Your Homework

Do some research before you rush to open an account at the bank across the street from where you work or the credit union next to your grocery market.

Research activities include asking friends or coworkers where they bank, looking up financial institutions online and checking out their websites, and talking with the new account representatives for your top candidates.

We had decided we wanted to put our money in a regional bank or credit union so that is where I focused my online research. I narrowed it down to a few financial institutions and then I visited their branches to talk with the people in new accounts. I asked them about their services, fees, ATM network, who they loan money to, and how they support the local community.

My spouse agreed to go with the credit union that I felt would best meet our needs. One of the things I like about credit unions is that they are nonprofits owned by their members so there are no shareholders looking to make money off of using our money.

Get Started
Coffee Cup, Pen, Piece of Paper with Begin Saying on Wood Table Top
Photo – iStock/marekuliasz.

The time required to set up new accounts will be somewhat proportional to how many accounts you have at your old bank and how many new accounts you want to set up. If you have a credit card account and/or use online bill pay, the overall process will be more complex.

At our old bank, we have checking, money market, and savings accounts. We also have a Visa credit card account and I use online bill pay almost exclusively to pay bills and transfer money. Most of our bills are available directly through the online bill pay portal so unraveling this was one of the reasons I had delayed changing banks.

To get started we went to the credit union’s main branch and met with a member services representative.

We had filled out a small stack of forms at home. At the credit union, the member services rep asked a few more questions and then entered all the information into the credit union system while we waited. The rep was friendly and nice but this process was still mind-numbingly boring and more time consuming than I had anticipated.

We paid $5 to become members of the credit union and opened a share account (savings) and a checking account with minimal amounts.

I selected the most basic and inexpensive checks. Unfortunately, when the checks came in the mail, our name was spelled wrong. So we had to go back and repeat some of the previous steps. The credit union sent replacement checks at no charge.

Our new ATM/debit cards came in the mail but activating them required speaking with a member services rep at the call center.

Go at Your Own Pace

Once you have set up an account(s) with your new financial institution, you can decide whether you want to go close out your old account(s) immediately or do it in multiple steps.

I decided to take a phased approach for several reasons.

  • My spouse just turned in a direct deposit change form so I am waiting for the first paycheck to arrive in our checking account at the credit union.
  • Applying for a new Visa card is a separate process that we have not done yet.
  • Stopping online bill pay at the old bank and starting it at the credit union needs to be done carefully because I do not want to end up with unpaid bills or late fees. So far I have set up an online account.

Will it take me a month or several months to complete all the tasks on my checklist? I do not know but I am looking forward to the day I can walk into our old bank, close all of our accounts, and walk out with a cashier’s check. I also intend to send a letter to the CEO of the bank explaining why we are no longer customers.

Birdlike Links Flying to Freedom Through Hole in Chain Link Fence
Photo – iStock/Eoneren.

So what do you think? Are you ready to break up with your bank? If you are, thank you. Soon you will no longer be part of the climate crisis funding machine. My children, your children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to do whatever is necessary to keep Earth beautiful and habitable now and in the future.

If you do not want to change banks or are not ready to do it yet, that is okay. Check out the resources section below for other New Year’s resolution ideas or come up with your own.

Happy New Year!

06/03/20 Update: We have completed breaking up with our bank. Click here to read the letter I sent to the CEO of Wells Fargo.

Featured Image at Top: A tiny black oil drum sits on top of a bank credit card – photo credit iStock/porcorex.

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New Year’s Resolution Posts

Resources