Sunday, September 2, 2007

Being wrong... or unsure.

Do you know what I hate? Being wrong. Do you know what I hate even more than being wrong? Having others know that I'm wrong or having it pointed out to me. Some people seem to be OK with this. Some people have this ability to even admit that they have made mistakes and to tell others about them. My wife does this. I admire her (and anyone else who is able to openly admit mistakes) for being open and confident enough to admit mistakes. I wish I were more like that.

The other day I was doing something in the driveway and a neighbor from down the street approached me. We really don't know this particular neighbor all that well, so as he approached I was sort of excited to talk with him. Well he came to tell me that my chestnut trees were dying because I wasn't watering them. Then he left. As far as conversations go and getting to know neighbors, it was an utter disappointment. In fact, it sort of made me mad.

This is the point where I want to defend myself and say that I wasn't wrong... but I don't know that would be totally truthful. We have three chestnut trees in our yard that have always turned brown (and quite sickly looking) well before fall arrives (like June). I was of the impression that this was due to a tree disease, but I could be wrong. It could also be due to a tree disease that could be virtually eliminated by adequate water. In the end, I am pretty sure that watering the trees more regularly (or at least a couple of times) could have helped the trees.

So I was wrong, but I had some reasoning behind it. Unfortunately it is reasoning that I'm not completely sure about. For starters, the chestnut trees are horse chestnut trees, so the nuts are poisonous. What good is a poisonous nut? Then when the nuts fall, they fall in a spiky shell that stays in our yard leaving it quite inhospitable. As my wife and I talk about fixing up our house, we talk frequently about the yard. We are currently working on killing weeds so we can put in a front lawn. While I don't especially want to waste water on a front lawn, it will make the house look better, and the odds of us moving within a few years is pretty high. So I'm going against what I truly believe in order to improve resale value. I'm a sell-out and I hate it when I do that. If I were to really want to have grass somewhere, it would be in the back yard where my boys would be more likely to play in it. We haven't started that process because of the spiky things that make the back yard extremely painful to walk in. Since there is no grass in the back yard, we certainly haven't been watering it. And we haven't been going out of our way to water the trees (whose roots are under the "lawn" in the back yard) because they are the problem with the back yard. So the trees are dying.

Here's another issue that I have. Trees are essential for consuming carbon dioxide and cleaning pollution out of the air. I am all for trees and not depleting forests in order to maintain the air quality in our environment. I am also aware that imported trees often consume far more water than their native counterparts, which contributes to the drought conditions we are experiencing and plummeting water tables. So what is worse, wasting water to keep the trees healthy, or letting the trees die and wasting big carbon dioxide consumers that are needed in the area? Frankly, I think that I should be conserving the water and that people should drive less and use less electricity so that we didn't have the air pollution problems, but that's not our current situation, is it?

Earlier this week, my wife asked about my ultimate life, where we would be and what we would be doing. I told her I didn't know... and I still don't. Here's the thing. I am studying how the built environment influences transportation habits and health of a community and the members of that community. Sprawl is destroying the fabric of America and I know that it needs to change. But then when I think of my dream life, I think of living sustainably off the land. I want to live off the grid with a big enough garden and other resources (a pond?) to provide for all of life's essentials. I am also a realist, so I want my sustainable farm to be close enough to a city that I could haul my goods to a nearby city in a trailer pulled by my bike. If I needed to have a job, I would be able to ride my bike to it. This is the definition of the sprawl that I am battling to prevent. Does it make it OK for me to want to sprawl because I want to ride a bike and sell produce to the city, but it's wrong for my neighbor because he wants to drive a car and have a big lawn? I don't know the answer to that, but it doesn't feel right. Ideally, cities would all be relatively small and compact, yet surrounded by small farms providing local food to all the members of the city. That's just not how things are.

I think that being unsure may even be worse than being wrong. I try to live according to my conscience, and I know I make mistakes. Sure I'm ashamed of those, but even worse is not knowing the path I should take because of the imperfect world in which we live.


DMo said...

That dilemna is a complex system of human and environmental opposites interdependent on each other. I think in light of that, its OK to be unsure.

At least by being unsure, you are open to learning--then you can experiement with different scenarios to learn what's right and what's wrong. You know, that whole rule of opposites: if you know what's right, then you also know what's wrong.

In that context, I think its OK to be wrong as long as you stop doing what's wrong after you realize it's wrong (is that a loop?)

Of course, then there is all that confusing grey area...which perpetuates the 'unsure' category. But I suppose that's OK if it leads back to a new level of the learning process.

(I think I'm getting dizzy now.)

Another thought that came to mind as I was reading your entry is actually more a question of which I don't really know if there is a concrete answer to: Where's the balance between glorifying God by conserving the resources He gave us vs. using the resources He gave us? I mean, if we are given a gift, is it more offensive to the giver to use the gift or to not use the gift and where does it cross the line? I know if we abuse the gift, it becomes offensive, but I know if we waste the 'Talent' (to add that parable to the comparison)then that's offensive too.

If we apply this dilemna to your Chestnut Trees, does it glorify the giver to use the water He has given us to beautify another one of His creations or is it better to conserve that water in hopes that someone will use it for an even better purpose.

Perhaps its the attitude with which the gift is used. It will be better respected, used, and preserved with an attitude of thanksgiving opposed to an self-satisfying attitude.

As I think about these questions I think about the Native Americans and their respect for nature. At least historically, they take advantage of nature's gifts, but respect their role in returning the favor to nature, if you will.

Then I think about the Amish people how they utilize nature's resources respectfully and at the same time incorporate well into the interdepenence of modern society.

So I guess that brings me full circle too...I'm unsure of the answers. But I do know if we do our best with the tools and resources we are given, God will preserve us.

P.S. -- I enjoy reading your blog and 'hearing' about how your family is doing. I hope all is well. Sincerely, DLM

Isle Dance said...

A challenge to sort out, indeed.

Emily Allan Wood said...

My answer to your blog will not be nearly as long or as complex as DMO's. (And DMO brings up some good points).

Frankly, I think you are a very kind and intelligent person. Obviously, you need not be bothered by a neighbors opinion of your trees, and if the trees bother you so much, I say cut them down and use the lumber for something your family can use. You can plant some new beautiful trees in their place, which are appropriate for the climate you are in.

I mean, if the chestnut trees weren't there when the pioneers settled the valley, then why were they planted? It must have been for timber or shade from the sun. Put them to good use. Build a bookcase or bed out of them, or something...and stop fretting so much. You are too cool to be stressed about such things.

We want to be self sustaining as well. I hope we can all reach our goals and be happy.