A lasting gift, asking only to be allowed to live

Published 10:07 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

Finding just the right gift for someone at Christmas time has always been very difficult for me. Allen nearly always gives me exactly what I wanted, without even knowing it; yet I more often than not am clueless about what to give him unless he told me exactly what to get, which of course removes the whole ‘surprise’ thing.
We want to give something that will last, that will be cherished and kept for a long time, with the memory of who gave it to the owner years later. Yesterday I was thinking of what makes a lasting gift. It should be something that is useful. It must interact with us humans in some way, to do something that the owner needs done, or gives pleasure to the owner.
It should improve with time, or produce something that the owner wants or needs. More importantly, it should help the owner improve him/herself by stimulating the brain or body. Games do that, and Legos, and Lincoln logs, and crossword puzzles, and yarn for knitting, or a whittling knife (that’s what Allen gave me this Christmas).
The perfect gift is more about who gets the gift than the gift itself. In all honesty, it has a lot to do with the giver. None of us like being unappreciated when we give a gift, which means that we really do want something in return, like love or gratitude.
So, what does this have to do with conservation?
Upon reading a book dedicated to BIG, treasured trees in North America, a certain fact leapt out at me, maybe because I live in the woods and am used to being surrounded by large trees. The largest, oldest trees in this country are in residential neighborhoods. They have survived the logging and paper mills for centuries because they were important enough to someone to be allowed to live out a full life. The shade or beauty that they provided for the owner were greater than the money the tree would bring if it were cut. It’s sort of like the owner gave the tree the gift of life in exchange for the gifts the trees gave back to the owner. And, luckily, those trees were fortunate enough to have a series of owners who valued the mature tree, as it stood.
What about those forests that surround us? Yes, there are big trees around here, but very few were here before the civil war. Just about every forest in western NC was cut to the ground between 1870 and 1920. Most were cut again before WWII. We have been building houses and making paper with those trees. We’ve valued the product the tree can produce more than the tree itself. It sort of seems like our main concern is what the trees can do for us. After all, it all revolves around us.
There was a 250-year-old poplar in front of  Saluda School that few people remember, except the hundreds of children who sat under that tree to read or play or just sit. It was cut because the architect sited the new school addition such that the tree had to be cut. The building could have been moved over 10 feet, but that was too much trouble, so the tree was cut.
We showed very little gratitude for the gifts that tree had given to us, freely, for it’s entire life. We would be wise to ask for forgiveness, and even wiser to be grateful for the hundreds of gifts given to us all day, every day, by Mother Nature, in return asking only to be allowed to live.

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