Richard St. Barbe Baker (on trees & believing)

I love trees.

My little town had looming, graceful trees on nearly everybody’s front yard. They surrounded the town square where I learned baseball, football, dare-devilry and cloud-watching. I was a boy of the trees: I climbed them, threw and hit balls over, through and around them, and sometimes could get an aching kind of wonder in my chest by just staring at the new greens of spring and the dry riot of fall. I can sometimes see the forest, but I prefer the trees.

He planted his last tree, days before he died, on the USaskatchewan campus where he had first studied forestry.

He planted his last tree, days before he died, on the USaskatchewan campus where he had first studied forestry.

Richard St. Barbe Baker isn’t well-known anymore, but he should be. The organization he began in Kenya, the Men of the Trees (along with another, the International Tree Foundation), is still active in dozens of countries. Its members are thought to have planted millions of trees.

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Guest Post: Canadian? Nations, First Nations, Homes & Hearts

My second-most-recent post concerned something retrieved from an old file, and who knows what I wrote it on — our best guess is an Apple Mac Classic II, circa 1995. It was about love, renewal, nature, politics and several other things, but one line irritated/inspired one of my most thoughtful readers, Michael P. Freeman. “Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” I had written in “Honeymoons and Rear-view Mirrors”. Mr. Freeman often comments on my stuff, but this submission was so long, so interesting, at times so poetically heart-punching, that I put a truncated blurt in the comment section but asked him if I could publish the whole thing, too. He agreed, and so here’s my second guest column. The first was a brave and moving piece written by a Chinese student; this one comes from a man of Aboriginal heritage who lives not far from my old stomping ground in Haldimand County, southern Ontario, Canada, Turtle Island, the World.

“Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians,” the man wrote. It got me thinking. The whole desire of the first half of the 20th century was nationalism. We entered into world wars to defeat countries that had a different concept of nationhood. Some would readily trample on the rights of others to impress upon and impose their own brand of ‘nationhood’ on them, and all in the name of what? World advancement? World domination?

Now, with the infusion of a couple of the newest ‘world’ religions, the nations and peoples of the world are being asked, subtly or overtly, to consider nationhood differently, to see it in the context of one world, one global nation without boundaries. It’s a difficult concept for many, especially given that most are still pondering and transitioning to a national vision. Ask a small-town guy what he thinks of nationhood, and I suspect that he would focus on town and kin, on hills and seclusion, on quiet and solitude. Leave behind the busy-ness and bustle of the city. Leave behind crowded buses and streets lined with vendors.

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Baha’u’llah (the essence of all…)

I’ve been reading a short, incredibly dense series of statements by Baha’u’llah from “Words of Wisdom”. Each brief pronouncement names the “essence of understanding”, “the source of courage”, the “beginning of magnanimity”, “true remembrance”, and the like. It is five minutes of reading, and a lifetime of grasping. It concludes this way:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”

Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) was the Founder of the Baha’i Faith and the Author,

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One Morning

In the fourth quarter of the ebb and rush of sleep, he dreamed of hardwood and eager faces and stories of how it’s done. It was an outdoor court with crowds of people looking in and down and around. They were silent. He and they got to watch the man in the middle, who could train those eager faces to know how to get to their hopes. Mainly, it was by listening to him. They did. Too much talking, the dreamer observed, though he was entranced by the words. Before long, he was saying them himself, and loved how the eager faces were looking at him now.

Sometimes he got them into furious, coordinated motion, but they returned inexorably to waiting, to expectation, to muted urgency and frozen delight. He knew the possibilities were endless. He felt that this time, with these eager young men, the outcome would be different — lofty, victorious, filling, splendid, and true. It was all there in their faces.

When he awakened, his mind turned seamlessly to planning. How to convert that dreamy enthusiasm into skill and the making of Great? How does that talk translate into glistening skin, fiercely danced choreography, lunges beyond their best, into gauzy ambition made muscular? He wanted practice. He imagined it as blazingly competitive, yet the deepest of collaborations. Talk would become creative repetition. Routines would build comfort in extremity. Everyone would know exactly what he was doing and why, yet would be thrilled by undreamt-of, eye-widening results. This is how it feels. I can still help this happen.

Lying in bed, he was years removed from places and chances to channel that mighty and frantic motion. There were no eager faces anywhere but in his dreams, but for untellable moments, it didn’t matter. He was there, in a bright-eyed, ever-hopeful zone. Lists and diagrams and imploring words begot grassroots heroism and physical grace and the full spending of shared powers. He didn’t want to leave, and then it was gone.

He might be a fool. He must be a coach.

Shabbat and Beyond: All the News That’s Good to Read

We were at Paul and Michelle’s last night for Shabbat supper, and after the blessings offered in the kiddush, one of the many topics of intelligent conversation — in and around the expressive needs of four boys between 5 and 12 — was Michelle and Paul’s plans for me. (There are always plans.) So here is Michelle’s latest: she was enlisting my writing — I guess, ’cause it couldn’t have been my capital investment — in support of the OGN Network, a medium of information and insight that carries Only Good News. None of us are getting enough. (Good news, that is.)

And today, shuffling through a deck of last week’s newspapers, I found a superb OGN entry. It was an obituary, actually, for a brilliant and world-embracing scientist named Bent Skovmand, a Dane who had become one of the planet’s foremost agricultural researchers. His mission, self-described and self-imposed, had been to end world hunger. He didn’t quite get there, but his travels and studies allowed him to be part of assembling tens of thousands of varieties of grain and hybridizing more resistant, easily grown and nutritious seed.

His death interrupted what may be his greatest life’s work, and one of the most exciting, almost science fiction-like projects for global betterment that I can imagine. It’s one of those under-reported (I’d certainly never heard of it) stories that is the bright lining behind a dark and fearful canopy: while nuclear arsenals are still capable of massive annihilation, and other less spectacular threats loom over humanity, Skovmand has been heading the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The Trust has set itself the challenge of gathering and preserving the entire world’s agricultural foundation in case of catastrophes local or global that destroy our ability to feed ourselves. This is vision. This is looking forward.

Check this link: it will give you a detailed description of what is variously called the “doomsday vault”, the “Fort Knox of seeds”, being built with Norwegian leadership and international cooperation on a tiny Norwegian island far above the Arctic Circle. There, by 2008, millions of seeds composing the foundation of world agriculture will be safe, not only from nuclear war but also from the worst-case climate change scenario. How do you like them apples (or the 100,000 kinds of rice, or the 1000 types of bananas), Michelle? WONDERful, it is.