Today’s Solutions: May 22, 2022

A happy reminder that hope still reigns in the world

Jay Walljasper | November 2004 issue
I am sitting right now in what I jokingly refer to as Ode’s Western Hemisphere Editorial Headquarters, a/k/a the back bedroom of my house in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. At least that’s what I called it until last month, when Ode’s editor-in-chief Jurriaan Kamp moved from Rotterdam with his family to California. Now I call my office the Western Hemisphere/Eastern Division, and let Jurriaan and Helene de Puy, Ode’s co-founder, handle things out West.
Jurriaan tells me the office in his new home looks out on San Francisco Bay and its famously scenic hills. It sounds wonderful, and
I can’t wait for our first editorial pow-wow at the new house, but I still doubt it’s a better view than what I see out my windows here the in the Eastern Division. All day long I gaze appreciatively at a pair of mature elm trees in the yard of my neighbors Pat and Camille. Few people today are fortunate enough to know how majestic American elms look, with slender trunks shooting upward into a maze of elegantly curving branches and bushy green foliage.
Whenever I feel frazzled by deadlines, or upset by the day’s news, or simply tired and grumpy, I stare out at these trees and feel a new surge of energetic possibility. Even in winter, with all the leaves gone, the sculptural grace of these elms makes me happy. The English romantic poet Shelly once called poets, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” I think of trees as the unacknowledged therapists.
It’s been a melancholy few months here in Minneapolis because of Dutch elm disease. The disease, which unfairly singles out the Netherlands for a deadly fungus carried by bark beetles from all over Europe, has killed half of our elms since 1976, and this year was particularly lethal along the streets of Minneapolis. But we’re lucky actually—most points south lost all their elm trees decades ago.
The day I long dreaded finally arrived. City officials painted a bright orange stripe on one of the elms out my window—condemning it for removal by chainsaw. A diseased tree can quickly spread the fungus to nearby elms. My son Soren and I happened to be strolling down the sidewalk the morning the tree cutting crew arrived. My fatherly impulse was to cover his eyes, but I knew there could be no hiding the tragic stump we’d see later. Soren had a better idea.: “Let’s hug the tree good-bye.” And that’s just what we did. Although “tree hugger” would be an accurate characterization of my political beliefs, I couldn’t remember if I had actually hugged a tree before. I sensed some of energy coursing through its bark as I tightened my arms around the trunk.
A few hours later, as I returned from running errands and sat down at my desk, I noticed the tree was still standing. I raced downstairs, through the backyard and out to the sidewalk to see if was true. Yes! our tree was still alive. Our neighbor Pat explained that he had paid for Dutch Elm prevention treatments last fall, and when the cutting crew came he asked them to examine the tree one more time to make sure removal was absolutely necessary. They decided it was healthy enough to stay for one more year at least, maybe more. I thanked him for saving the tree, and he answered with a laugh, “No, it was Soren who saved it—with his hug.”
So right now, glancing happily at that elm tree, I experience a new sense of optimism about what’s possible. No matter how beleaguered I sometimes feel, or what rotten shape the country or world appear to be in, I can still summon hope. Miracles, I remind myself looking out the window, do happen.

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