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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Keeping up with the Trees

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Linda Tatelbaum says that when you live in the middle of nowhere, neighborly competition takes a somewhat different form.


CURWOOD: SUVs might be all the rage in cities and the 'burbs. It's not unusual in some neighborhoods to find at least one in every driveway. But deep in the woods of Maine, commentator Linda Tatelbaum says keeping up with the Joneses ain't what it used to be.

TATELBAUM: We Americans no longer much care what our neighbor has, since we probably already have a better one. Doesn't everybody drive a Lexus? Well, not everybody. Here in my rural neighborhood, we drive anything on wheels. With a quarter mile of trees between each dwelling, we don't worry about keeping up with Joneses we can't even see. Our only chance to peek is when we're out walking in the evening. They're home, I say to my husband, spotting a light through the trees. They're not home, he says at the next driveway, seeing no light. Instead, we listen, and fill in the story.

Distant hammering: now, that's entertainment. A light tap-tap-tap means shingles. The ascending 5-stroke melody means 2 by 4 framing. A wooden thunk suggests large-dimension beams. Chainsaw, gun fire, so it goes in these rural parts. Not much story, and nothing to keep up with.

This lack of neighborly competition leads to a reference group of a different order. I watch what I can see: a poplar, a cluster of plum trees, and a row of pines. Trees give you a lot to look up to, but don't strut their stuff. They live in dirt and own nothing new-fangled. They have bark but no dogs. It's hard not to want the wisdom they offer.

There's that old poplar standing alone. Poplar trees that grow close together usually bring each other down when they break. My poplar weathered the ice storm of '98. "Be an individual," it whispers. "Don't stand with the crowd."

Plum trees get rotten fissures in their trunks. They fall over, but not without scattering a new generation of seedlings. "Don't cling to all your ripe fruit if you want to leave a legacy," they advise.

Pines get big, too big for our yard where solar electric panels demand a long dose of daily sun. We made a hard decision about these neighbors. We had to cut them down. "Don't get so big that you overshadow your neighbor's power," they said in passing. I'll remember that.

CURWOOD: Commentator Linda Tatelbaum lives in Appleton, Maine. Her latest book is called Writer on the Rocks: Moving the Impossible.



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