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.