One Small Act: Courage

Hello from Tulsa, Oklahoma; the center of the universe. Here for the Society of Municipal Arborists and Partners in Community Forestry conference, I am among friends. When I shared with my Airbnb host that I am an Arborist, she refrained, “I love trees.” Not a Tulsan herself, she is here as a graduate student in Computer Science. She warmly welcomed me into her home, and so trees connect strangers.

The two day Partners session had an underlying theme. All the speakers emboldened the conference audience to seek courage in their professional work. This got me thinking about our inner strength and determination to seek out happiness and also health.

In Tulsa’s Brady Arts District new galleries, restuarants, shops, and breweries are revitalizing this area of downtown that was neglected for many decades since the 1960s. This has been historically the center for culture and arts in Tulsa with locations like the Brady Theater, The Cain’s Ballroom, and Guthrie Green. At Made, a cute boutique featuring local artists, handmade goods, and vintage finds, I discovered a bookmark that captured the message of courage for my personal life.

“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”–Dolly Parton.

My host cautioned me to not walk by myself from downtown the 1.5 mile to her home. This really strikes me in my post conference reflections on Courage and the final plenary session which focused on the health benefits from our connection to trees and forests.

“The main argument for planting trees is public health.”–Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk

Streets: Mark Lewis exhibit at 108 Contemporary Gallery.

Urban Foresters will cite one benefit of trees being their ability to reduce crime. The inherent beauty of trees create enjoyable places and the evapotranspiration happening through each leaf’s stomota create microclimates that are attractive to people. So the idea is that trees bring people outside and their eyes to the street or to their local community and incidents of crime decrease.

All this feels good to say and tell people that trees make our built environment better and heal us too. But do you believe it? Trained in landscape architecture I am inclined to ask what features make a place walkable or not? Urban planning, history, politics, race, decision power, and economic status all play a role.

Arbor Ann Productions presents a short One Act Play I am calling Vivian Q. Bicolor.

The Scene: It is early morning in mid November.  The front porch provides the stage, and the backdrop is an armature of wooden columns with arching lateral scaffolding meant to be American Elms, a street tree commonly planted in cities across the midatlantic and midwest. Yellow spreads over the stage’s edge and slowing fades to the horizon point and into wintry silhouettes. A car is idling. A dog barks. The lighting simulates a cloudy day.

Vivian: Enters through center stage at front door. She is not from the area and at this moment is still undecided about calling for a Lyft or walking to her appointment which is approaching in thirty minutes. She ate and drank heartily last evening enjoying a fun evening with old and new friends. The walk will take her close to half an hour. She is lacing up her boots.

Vivian’s soft voice: I shouldn’t have ate so much last night. Especially the Hurt’s donut before bed.
From side right. Courage enters. A pigeon, a fluttering hologram sits perched in an open gold bird cage atop a mechanized walking ladder.

Vivian: I should walk. I haven’t exercised since Monday. What a pleasant morning it is. I never get to walk to work.

From side left. Fear, indifference, and idleness creeps out onto stage. A cardboard box with headphones motorized by a child’s miniature car who continues to make its way right stage and cycles continuously through the scene passing the pigeon with each lap.

A short piano arietta is played to draw out action and is the backdrop to a modern dance troupe.

Vivian said poco a poco: If I don’t leave right away, I will be late. It could take me longer than the map shows. Could be a strange intersection with heavy traffic. There might not even be a sidewalk the entire way, and Simon said not to walk (A chorus of Simon Says is spoken from the cardboard box). People will look at me if I’m the only one.

During this dialogue, scenes of various urban landscapes some harsh, others reflecting urban design idealism, others something in between  are flashed on a screen that has dropped in slowly.

A scintillating light appears next to Vivian. She hoists her backpack on and buckles the waistband that makes her feel secure. She steps down three steps and out onto the sidewalk and as she marches and makes her way across towards right stage, she passes both the box and Pigeon who peeks out the opening in the cage, and in the passing of the three figures, the cardboard box flattens and sinks into the stage and a humming bird emerges from the bird cage, darting a little crazily at first and then gracefully partakes in the native flora.

The End.

If you were Vivian, what would entice you to walk? What would be a deal breaker? What prevents you from walking? If your physician prescribed you a Rx to walk in the forest once a week would you then step out?

Is planting trees to green our cities enough?

In my bathroom is a piece of hanging driftwood with these words etched, “Health is wealth.” We will need more physicians directing us to better well being through the nature Rx program, but I also know it is going to be an uphill battle with more and more things demanding our attention. We will need Courage to step out when others haven’t yet. When the path is empty and when it is dark. When other routes are faster or easier. Partners can help us feel more safe and encourage us forward. Education can turn on lights.

Leaving the conference I feel both threatened by the future yet invigorated too. As I write this on the flight home, a movie is playing on screens to my right and left and my window seat mate has headphones on and is playing a game on her phone. I am not a pessimistic luddite but I worry about our future mental well-being and physical health. Disney’s Wallie, I always thought was a non-fiction science movie.

I wonder how many people are carrying books about trees in their carry-ons or luggage. I am curious how many know about the power of walking in a forest. I wonder how many people will play outside this afternoon.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful.


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