Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Ash Tree

This is a story about a tree--not a grove (as in the lovely Welsh song The Ash Grove)--but just one tree.

When we moved to the house we live in--some 30 plus years ago--it was a barren place. No trees, just mounds of dirt from dug-out basements and other construction detritus.

The wind would blow out of the northwest--sometimes quite fiercely, making the master bedroom the coldest room in the house.  So we set about to plant trees.

We planted bare-root stock 18 inch high evergreens, various types. And we planted an oak tree, a blue atlas cedar, two dogwoods, and a Japanese maple.

We also planted a green ash tree, known for its hardiness and ability to withstand wind. That tree was planted on the northwest corner.

All the trees grew robustly. With the evergreens--so much so that we had to take out every other tree.  When trees are 18 inches tall they look mighty puny, so we got them too close together. 
All was well...until this year.

This year, the tree did not come into to full leaf--parts looked downright sparse.

We called our tree guy. and he took one look and said--emerald ash borer beetle.  Oh, no!

He cut away some branches, and said we might get this year out of the tree.  It has provided such wonderful shade over our sunporch. Plus it is the place we put squirrel whirl-a-gigs on which to put corncobs for squirrels to eat...and entertain us.

This is not the sign of a healthy tree--see how frantically it is trying to stay alive by putting out enormous leaves along the side of the trunk.

Come fall, we will have to say goodbye to the ash tree. There is little likelihood that we can replace it with a tree large enough to provide all the shade the ash tree did.

Farewell, ash tree.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Portrait of a Man

In recognition of Father's Day--I offer this brief portrait of the life of a man--he is my father, David.

David was born in 1919, and is the baby in this photo. While he was born in Pennsylvania, when he was less than 2 years old, his parents, along with him and his older brother, went as missionaries to southern Africa.

The family lived there for 10 years, returning to the United States in 1929.  While they were there, the third son was born, as you can see in the photo below--the three sons: Arthur, David, and Joel.

Since the formative years of his growing up were spent in a place with a sub-tropical climate, he felt somewhat out of place in the eastern United States. Maybe the clothing in the photo--which was taken in southern Africa before they returned to the U.S.-- also helps explain why he felt out of place.  The life he was accustomed to was not what he experienced upon the family's return. Not until his family moved to southern California in 1933 did he feel connected to where he lived. He loved southern California which reminded him of the climate and scenery in southern Africa.

The next photo shows my father as a young man--he is 18 years old. It was the summer of 1937, and he had just finished high school. Since his family was not rich, and since after returning to the U.S. his parents had two more children, daughters, they informed him that he needed to make his own way in the world.

It was a hard decision--but he did it--found work, saved money, and made plans to go to college .  And then he met my mother at a church revival meeting in Pennsylvania.

Of course, the tidy way in which I present this information lacks nuance and detail--of which there is much nuance and many details. These few details are only to give you a sense of a young man growing up.

Once my father had sufficient funds to go to college, he chose a college in California. My mother, soon after they became engaged, joined him there. And in October, 1942 they were married.

When my father graduated from college, he got a job teaching in central California. Because of that, he had a deferment from military service.  I was born in 1945, just before the end of World War II.  

Although my father was teaching, he had a sense of calling to be a missionary, as his parents had been.  Happily, my mother had the same sense.  When they were accepted by the mission board of their church, they were sent to what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

At the very young age of 27 my father was assigned as superintendent of a mission station near the Zambezi River in southern Zambia.  The conditions then were somewhat primitive--no electricity, no indoor plumbing for example. 

Over the next 19 years, my parents served in various capacities in both Northern and Southern Rhodesia.  He was superintendent of another mission station, this time in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and eventually bishop of all the mission work for his church in southern Africa.  During those years, my parents also had an infant daughter die (of malaria), had a son born and another daughter born.  

In 1965, my parents returned to the U.S. for good. I had been in the U.S. from 1960 to 1965, and through the generosity of a benefactor was able to meet my parents after that 5 year absence in London. 

My father, who is now 96, has a prodigious memory and from reading his autobiography, which he has worked on for some 20 plus years, I have learned many tales about his time in mission and church work.

Of course, I have my own stories to tell about my father.  But I would rather turn your attention to a post I wrote on a prior Father's Day--here are the things I learned from my father.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015


OK I have to say it...I don't get it.

My Vanity Fair magazine arrived today complete with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover. And that got  me to thinking...just what is a woman?

Are you a woman because you think like a woman? More on that in a bit.
Because you look like a woman?
Or have a body like a woman?

Thinking like  woman?
Well, what is that?

An article by Elinor Burkett in June 6  NY Times nails it. In responding to the interview question about recognition of being transgender, Jenner had responded “My brain is much more female than it is male.”  Burkett asserts that “People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or Mr. Summers*, shouldn’t get to define us…” Jenner has not had a lifetime of being defined as a woman and THEREFORE shaped by those presumptions. I commend the rest of the article for you to read -- here.

Another recent story is also informative.  Earlier this month, Nobel prize winning scientist Tim Hunt remarked at the World Conference of Science Journalists explaining why he couldn’t work with women scientists. His reason? He said, “Three things happen when they are in the lab.... You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry." What an appalling view of women.

Thankfully many women scientists displayed far more intelligence, sense and humor by their responses.  Perhaps that is thinking like a woman.

It’s one of the oldest excuses in the book—when men get into trouble—quick, blame a woman.  Ahem, does the name Eve come to mind?

So, back to the subject of what is a woman. It is understandable that the thinking displayed in the Tim Hunt story, replicated many times over in thousands of other examples, unavoidably shapes women.  Girls who are pampered, protected, diminished, demeaned can’t help but experience life differently—think like a woman—than boys who have been encouraged to be assertive, be bold, be strong.  That does NOT, of course, mean that girls can’t assert themselves and find their own identities.  But it is much easier to do that when girls are encouraged to be assertive, be bold, and be strong.

One more observation on the Caitlyn Jenner transformation. As the Vanity Fair story reveals, Jenner had two years of treatment to remove facial hair (I can think of many post-menopausal women who would envy the chance to undergo such treatments).  Further, she had 10 hours of surgery to help “feminize” her face. She had body sculpting, including—obviously—breast augmentation. And, lastly, that waist!  As the cover photo reveals, the body constructed is quite stunning.  It is a body that many many women do NOT have, and yet they are most decidedly women.  The irony is that in order to be a woman, Caitlyn Jenner opted for a physical, visual approach—yet again defining how society too often defines women.

What I find so very sad is that these stereotypical ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman—looking great, “thinking” like a woman—miss the mark and what I think is the most important attribute of being a woman.  When our daughter was a little girl, like many little girls she would say she wanted to be pretty. I used to tell her—I don’t want you to just be pretty, I want you to be intelligent.  And then I would add—pretty can fade, but intelligence doesn’t.

That’s what I wish people meant when they say—just like a woman.
* Lawrence Summers--former president of Harvard, among other accomplishments. He "famously" stated that there aren't many women in math and science because of "biological differences."