Virtual storytelling

Have you ever pulled yourself hand-over-hand hundreds of feet to the top of a California Redwood and tied your hammock among gardens of plants and critters that had never walked the ground from whence you came?

I have.

Elsewhere, have you climbed into old-growth treetops with a sleeping bag, and dared loggers to chainsaw the tree from under you to enrich the coffers of corporations at the expense, you believed, of the planet on which you lived.

I have.

In the past year, I have traveled the length of California and met the men who, for more than four centuries, stole water from the state’s northern rivers, and some from neighboring states and ever deeper wells, to irrigate southern deserts, establishing agricultural and residential empires – until the water ran out.

(The experience made me wonder anew whether drawing water from the Susquehanna River, directing it 30-some miles out of its way to support “growth” in my home county might be an ill-advised idea of benefit only to the current generation of “land developers.”)

I have done those things, and more, in the pages of books. I have learned that ash trees survive in social groups, and if you cut too many of them in one place, they all die. I have walked in fields of grass and watched as local human residents learned to harvest what they needed, but to leave some to grow the next generation, and next season’s, harvest.

Have you met Johnny Appleseed, and learned that apples he scattered across the continent are not native to North America, but made their circuitous way from Kazakhstan.

I have.

In the United States, apples were pressed to make excellent hard cider, a favored quaff in the early days of our nation – until the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned alcohol consumption. The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was, it turns out, the creation of apple growers who had lost their markets.

The apparent health benefit of pomegranate juice is the marketing creation of a gent from New York who moved to California, to land made fertile by some of the aforementioned stolen water, and with his wife (an apparent marketing genius) set about selling his product for considerably more than it cost to display on eastern store shelves.

I have accompanied forest ecologist Suzanne Simard in her search for the Mother Tree and discovered a communications network running beneath my hiking shoes. Unnoticed by most of us and foraged by a few of us, fungi use their roots to create a sophisticated network that makes the Internet look like a child’s crayon scribblings on a new-painted wall, and provides the means by which trees support the “village” offspring.

The vehicle for the environmental excursions has been the Green Gettysburg Book Club, a group of folks who have taken advantage of the pandemic to join each other in a weekly online discussion of books about our environment and relationship to this place we call home.

Discussions often use a common reading goal as a starting point for discussion of subjects, relationships and viewpoints most participants on their own would not know were more widely shared.

Conversation sometimes wanders from the actual book. Everyone who wants to, gets to speak as long as the topic is the environment. Since before we had fire, we have told each other stories around the hearth. Zoom allows us to share the experience when we cannot gather in person. Contact moderator William Lane at wlane@gettysburg.edu to join the discussion, 9:00–10:15 a.m. Fridays.

Thanks for coming along. Please leave a comment, and share with your friends. I’ll appreciate spreading the word.

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