The Sycamore Tree

sycamoretreeWhen my parents retired and moved to the country, my Dad planted a sycamore tree in the side yard. Over years of visiting with them, I observed the tree grow and become a huge, sturdy tree. My mother told me sycamores were considered dirty trees becomes they frequently drop dead leaves and branches. I could see what she meant, even though I still thought the tree looked quite majestic.

Fifteen years ago I decided a sycamore tree would be a nice addition to my lower backyard. By putting it in the backyard it wouldn’t be a problem if it dropped copious leaves and branches. I soon found that many nurseries don’t stock sycamores, so I was surprised to find a 5-foot tree at an area nursery. I planted it in the backyard in a well-drained area and looked forward to watching it grow.

Several years later I was disappointed to see that the tree was not growing symmetrically; one side was pretty much bare of branches. I did some research and concluded that I couldn’t do anything about it so I cut it down to a stump. The next summer I noticed shoots of growth coming from the stump and just mowed around it. By fall there were several sizable shoots. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I selected the healthiest vertical one and cut down the others.

Next spring the shoot continued to grow and I kept all other growth around the stump cut back. Long story short, a few years later the tree was about 8-ft tall and was full on all sides. I was happy to see that there were no signs of the asymmetry of the original tree. I was a surprised at its rapid growth, but then considered that the root system from the original tree was still growing and would support such growth.

Then the next spring an unusual wind came into my area; it was the remnants of a storm from down south that had travelled north in the middle atmosphere. Unfortunately, it decided to descend in my part of Ohio and knocked down many trees, including several large cottonwoods that grew along the creek at the very back of my yard. As bad luck would have it, one of the big cottonwoods landed at the back end of my detached garage. In addition to causing several thousand dollars of damage to the garage, the cottonwood managed to split the little sycamore almost to the ground. Perhaps understandably, I was more upset about the damaged sycamore than the garage; after all, the garage was insured. However, nothing would get my sycamore back the way it was, at least not anytime soon.

This time I couldn’t help but wonder if the tree was simply not meant to be. Once again, though, I realized I had nothing to lose and cut it down to the stump. Again, shoots grew off and up from the stump that summer and I repeated the process in the fall of selecting the best shoot and cutting the rest.

Now, six years later, the tree is full and easily 15-ft tall. (The photo was taken this spring and shows the buds starting to leaf.) It is an awesome tree and will look even more so each year as it reaches to the sky. The trunk has assimilated much of the stump and in a few years the remaining stump will disappear. Then only a few people will know the extent of the tree’s troubled past.

I’ve met a few people who lives are similar to the story of this tree. Despite all odds, they keep on going. With just the right occasional and well-placed helping hand from the outside, they overcome it all and thrive.

Re-learning Button Pushing

During my working years I wrote many technical reports. Decades ago, when desktop computers became popular, I taught myself keyboarding. My handwriting was atrocious. I recall the first word processing program I used was WordPerfect. I came to like WordPerfect and grew fairly proficient with it. Naturally, the word processing experts at my company took my drafts and polished them into final report format. I didn’t try to do their job, although over the years so many new employees had keyboarding skills and used personal computers that the word processing department shrank, being replaced by one or two secretaries.

As Microsoft expanded their takeover of the personal computer applications business, they developed their own word processing application called Microsoft® Word. Over time, MSWord grew in popularity. Even so, I resisted switching to it as I wanted to avoid having to spend hours learning a new application when I was perfectly happy with the one I was using. However, when my company’s clients began asking for documents in MSWord format, the handwriting was on the wall. I made the painful switch to MSWord.

Except for keyboarding, the procedures for using MSWord were totally different from those of WordPerfect. Still, it was simply a matter of learning new procedures. Over the years as new versions of MSWord were released, changes continued to be made in its functions and procedures. This was not surprising since the product design was still maturing and new features were being added. However, Microsoft also became notorious for moving icons around and changing buttons and functions for no apparent reason. It was this change for change’s sake that caused me to realize that learning, and then re-learning, and then again re-learning procedures is just plain dog work. It doesn’t take a genius to be proficient in MSWord. Rather, it takes a reasonably intelligent person with time and patience to read and study the user manual, and then practice. And then do it all over again when the next version comes out.

A word processing application is a tool for me to do my writing. As long as it meets my needs, I don’t want to be bothered with new versions having bells and whistles that are of no interest to me. In retirement, I continue to use older versions of MSWord and I’m happy to say that most places I submit write-ups to use older versions, too.

On a related topic, I recently got to the point that it was time for me to switch from my old analog cell phone with its physical keyboard to a new digital smartphone. Here again, I had been putting off having to re-learn procedures; in this case, re-learning how to make phone calls when all the buttons, keypads, and keyboards were virtual.

So now I’ve had my smartphone for about nine months and I really like it. Of course, in the early days of using it I discovered that there really weren’t any useful user manuals online for it or most of the applications I downloaded. I was frustrated by this situation. It got worse when I came to realize that, in the few cases where user manuals did exist, they were outdated! I found the same to be true when I looked on YouTube for instructional videos. The applications on my android phone are constantly being updated and sometimes I have to re-learn how to do something I used to be able to do on a prior version of the same application.

Instead of user manuals, which I admit can be boring to read, it appears that applications now come with built-in prompts that help guide the user through the process they want to perform. I’ve found these prompts to be helpful on many occasions, but also totally useless if I’m trying to do something not addressed by any displayed prompts. In these latter cases, I’ve come up with a solution that is not very elegant but seems to work more often than not.

I start pushing virtual buttons until something happens that looks like it might take me in the direction I want to go.

Affluent Arrogant Cheapskates

I very seldom lose my cool with people. My observation is that becoming angry with someone and raising my voice seldom helps the situation. Still, there have been a few times when I’ve been really mad at someone and lost my cool. I’ve raised my voice and told them in no uncertain terms what I wanted. Sometimes it is effective, and sometimes it is not. In the latter case, I distance myself from the individual and minimize my interaction with them.

Over time, I’ve evolved a pretty clear understanding of what really sets me off. For example, if I’m being told a boldfaced lie about something very important to me, and I know it is a boldfaced lie, I get pissed. Livid, actually. Furthermore, if a close friend does something stupid and I suffer the consequences, I instantly get mad at them. I think I interpret such behavior as either a lack of respect or a lack of caring.

More recently, I encountered an individual who I eventually concluded was an affluent, arrogant cheapskate. He’s an older person who moved into the same neighborhood I was in, which is why we had any interaction at all. I was initially cordial to him, as I would be to anyone. However, over a period of several months I observed that he tended to use other folk’s possessions, such as dock boxes or dock pilings, if the owners was not using them. If it were me, I would have (as I have) bought my own dock box. He also bought new dock lines and then offered to see me his old ones – after he asked if I wanted them. Here’s a man with a much more expensive boat then mine trying to make a buck off me with some old rope. Really? Worse, he seemed to impose himself into my life during this time. I was working on an outdoor boat project and nearly every day he’d stop by and pester me. I soon cooled to him, especially when I realized he couldn’t stop sticking his nose in my business. He couldn’t seem to accept the idea that I did not want his advice. Then one day, I had a local expert visit me to help with my project and the old man saw us and couldn’t leave us alone. Indeed, he wanted the expert to look at something on his boat. Right there and then, I lost it. I told him in no uncertain terms to stay the hell away from me. I even surprised myself; I hadn’t fully appreciated how much this guy’s behavior got under my skin!

I’ve known a few affluent people, though I can’t say I typically hang with them. I’ve also known more than a few arrogant people, some of whom I get along with well because their arrogance is an attitude borne out of accomplishment rather than a sense of entitlement or uniqueness. And yes, I’ve certainly known a cheapskate or two (or three or four). I’ve never had a real problem with any of these people. An affluent, arrogant cheapskate, however, is a person bound and determined to give people advice they don’t want, based on (reported) experiences most people can’t afford to engage in, while trying to make (or save) a buck off them – all at the same time!

Such people are indeed a sight to behold – preferably from at least one neighborhood away.

Encounters with My Former Self

Something has started happening in my life that I never expected; indeed, I never even anticipated. As I grow old, I keep running into myself!

As a boy, I had a lot of curiosity. One way I expressed this was to look at things very, very closely. Naturally, at some point in time I got a microscope for Christmas. Then along came a chemistry set, and then later a telescope. I learned a lot about the physical world from these tools. In those days, these items were actually more tool than toy.

Also as a boy, I had a great imagination. I would get on the floor, either in the living room or in the basement, and set up my spaceship sets or blocks or whatever and play for hours. I had no difficulty transporting myself into my play. I think my ability to imagine facilitated this mental leap.

I also read a lot. I enjoyed comic books first but moved into paperback books when I was a little older. The town library was within walking distance so I got exposure to hardbacks as well. And the price was always right at the library, especially in the late summer when I was bored and the air conditioning felt great. I really liked science fiction and could easily get lost in books by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, A. E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, Fredrick Brown, and Isaac Asimov. The only real problem I had while getting lost in books was my imagination – I’d start reading a book and the next thing I knew I was awaking from a daydream! Uh … what was this story about again? I’d have to go back and re-read the last ten pages to find out.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been curious, somewhat imaginative, and have read fiction off and on. However, I largely turned my back on these qualities when I came of age. I went out to meet the world on its terms and learn whatever I could. I was, after all, an adult. Uncle Sam gave me the opportunity to travel to foreign lands. A solid education gave me a professional career and the resources to raise a family in a nice town with good schools. I’m eternally grateful for such good fortune and fond memories.

Now, however, I interact with the world pretty much on my own terms. I spend more time doing the things I like to do, not unlike when I was a kid: I read, learn, research, study, think, work with my hands, and imagine. Fortunately, I don’t have the problem with daydreaming that I used to have when reading fiction. I realize now that daydreaming as a young boy was all about me – I was the hero, the protagonist – in whatever adventure I was daydreaming about. I suspect this is true of the daydreams of most young boys, and perhaps girls as well.

I find that I almost never daydream anymore. I’m not sure if it is because I no longer have the need, or I no longer have the faculty, or both. What I do apparently need is some real adventure in my life. That’s why I own a cruising sailboat and spend my winters sailing in Florida. Each year I push myself a bit further, doing something I’d never done, nor would have ever done, before.