About Donna Cameron

After many deeply-satisfying years in non-profit management, I’ve been spending my time exploring the good life that Rachel Remen describes as “pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” I blog about the power of kindness, and my book, A YEAR OF LIVING KINDLY, will be published in September 2018. Always looking for ways to convey the power of stories in our lives, I believe that we can change the world through our stories . . . and through kindness. https://ayearoflivingkindly.com/

What We Humans Can Learn from Trees

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” (Chief Seattle, 1854)

DSCN3070I try not to make it a practice to write about things of which I know nothing. That just seems common sensical. But sometimes, there are things that are so grand and so mysterious that writing about them is how I can get closer, how I can touch the magic.

Recently, Bill and I spent a few days in the Olympic National Forest with some dear friends. After so many months of pandemic isolation, it felt wonderful to get away and to socialize among our fellow vaccinatees. When we move up to Seattle forty years ago, the place I wanted most to see was the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park. Life had other plans for us, however, and it took four decades for that expedition to take place.

It was worth the wait.

In anticipation of that adventure, and since our return, I’ve been reading about trees and forests. What I’ve learned has both inspired and disheartened me. There is so much we are only recently beginning to understand about forest ecology, or as some are calling it, the “Wood Wide Web.” What scientists are discovering is a game-changer for planetary health, but human action—or inaction—puts us in a race to heal the earth before it’s too late.

When most of us look at trees, we see only what is above-ground: the trunk, the branches, the leaves, maybe some of the creatures inhabiting it. We may notice that this tree is growing very closely to that one, or that mosses, fungi, and other smaller vegetation cluster in their vicinity, but we tend to see everything as separate—just as we view people as separate from one another.

attribution: Donna Cameron

A Mother Tree, nurturing seedlings and providing nutrients for its neighbors

Evidence from science now clearly indicates the interrelatedness of all these living florae. Trees and plants and fungi are not only intertwined physically, they communicate in complex and sophisticated ways. They protect one another, they share essential nutrients, they warn of danger from insects, weather, or chemicals. If a tree is ailing, other trees—regardless of species—send nourishment its way. If a tree is dying, it “wills” its remaining vital nutrients to its neighbors. And even in death, a “mother tree” continues to nurture the forest, providing sustenance for the next generation of seedlings.

The beauty and complexity of these ecosystems is staggering and our ignorance of them is contributing to their demise, which may, in turn, contribute to our own. These essential forests help sustain our breathable atmosphere. They cool the earth by reflecting sunlight and providing precipitation; they capture and store carbon emissions and help regulate climate; they contribute to rich and fertile soil. Yet in much of the world, sustainable logging practices have been superseded by clear-cutting and other destructive practices that jeopardize land, soil, water, atmosphere, and living organisms across the planet.

Even now, as we are beginning to understand the critical importance of forests—especially old growth forests—we struggle to communicate it. Somewhere I read that most of us don’t even have the vocabulary to comprehend the complex bionetwork that has been evolving for as much as 600 million years into a vast and intricate symbiotic community. And we puny human newcomers pretend to have all the answers…. Our adorable arrogance may be our ultimate downfall.

In his extensively researched novel, The Overstory, Richard Powers explores the parallel world of the forest, revealing its magnificence and interconnectedness, and the potential catastrophe awaiting us if we fail to learn from it. The novel’s characters, settings, and stories are as interwoven as the forest itself, making for a read that is dense, breathtaking, and unputdownable. The book is well-deserving of its 2019 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. I recommend it highly.

There are plenty of non-fiction explorations of forests, as well. A good place to start is Ferris Jabr’s recent article for The New York Times Magazine, “The Social Life of Forests,” which follows Professor Suzanne Simard, ground-breaking forest ecologist and pioneer who is leading the way in this new  field of research. Her own recent book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, is also a page-turner. Another book I just finished and absolutely loved was Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rooted, which talks extensively about trees, but also explores other amazing and complicated ways humans are connected to our wild and mysterious natural world.

There is still so much I want to learn and understand about forests and trees. They have a lot to teach the human community—if we would only listen. I feel blessed to have had a recent opportunity to see one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on the planet. I hope what I saw and felt in the Rainforest will help me become a better and more responsible citizen of the earth.

“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” (Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe)

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The Unstoppable Power of Compliments and Serendipitous Encounters

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)

DSCN2889At least once a week, I come across an article, research summary, or opinion piece lauding the benefits of kindness in the workplace. I’ve shared many of these demonstrated benefits through this blog over its six-plus years of kindness-diving (as opposed to dumpster-diving). And I’ve been encouraged to see that a lot of businesses are taking to heart the advice from experts that kindness is one of the best strategies a business can employ for long-term success.

As many businesses are now planning how best to transition from a remote workforce to fully-staffed offices, or a hybrid (“amphibious”) model, it’s a good time to explore where kindness fits in and how to employ it in our workplaces . . . and in our lives.

In early May, Harvard Business Review published an excellent article summarizing a workplace study of the benefits of kindness. Much of it reiterated conclusions that have been put forward by others, showing that kindness: Continue reading

White America Must Embrace Becoming a Minority

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly.” (Isabel Wilkerson, Caste)

These are discouraging times, yet also illuminating. While the Black Lives Matter movement has brought hope and determination over this last year, it also brings awareness of how very far we are from achieving equality. And the anti-Asian sentiment that became more evident in response to COVID and climaxed in the horrific shooting in Atlanta last month shows us that hate is an equal-opportunity employer. As more of us act to counter the inequities surrounding race, ethnicity, and gender, the backlash by those intent on preserving the status quo becomes more malicious.

I am a white, middle-class, cisgender female. I recognize my privilege and know I will never fully understand what it feels like to be a minority or a member of a marginalized community. Perhaps it is that recognition that makes me eager for the day when whites join our sisters and brothers of color as minorities in America. It can’t come soon enough.

The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that by the year 2044, non-Hispanic white Americans will join all other ethnic groups as minorities. The Bureau states that, “no group will have a majority share of the total and the United States will become a ‘plurality’ of racial and ethnic groups.” Continue reading

Mystery and Mastery in a Wuzzle

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” (Neil Armstrong)

Do you know what a Wuzzle is? A Wuzzle is a word puzzle that reveals a common phrase or saying. The first example to the left represents the phrase “good afternoon.” The one below it is “read between the lines.” No, it’s not rocket science.

Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a Wuzzle. I happened to be in a hotel room in Denver, immobilized by an ice-pack nursing an injured arm. Having planned poorly, I had only the comics page of The Rocky Mountain News within my reach. I read Peanuts, Doonesbury, and probably even Mary Worth, and then turned to the Wuzzle. It was an easy one and I got it in seconds. With nothing else to read, I continued to stare at the Wuzzle. Very soon, I saw another possible solution for the puzzle, and shortly after, a third came to mind. I liked that one best of all.

By now, I was intrigued. “Okay, if I see three, why not four?” I asked myself. Continue reading

Willy-Nilly Acts of Kindness

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” (Maya Angelou)

As Random Acts of Kindness Day approaches, I confess I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the notion of random acts of kindness. Heaven knows we need all the kindness we can get, so I’m not going to quibble or critique any kind deed. But, let’s remember how much power there is in intentional kindness.

Maybe it’s because I am a consummate planner that that the notion of doing anything random goes against my nature. Random, to me, feels so … random.

Merriam-Webster defines random as without definite aim, direction, rule, or method. That sounds rather hit-or-miss to me. It implies an indifference that discounts the importance of kindness, that shrugs its shoulders and says, “Whatever.”

I think if we are going to change the world and make kindness a priority in our interactions, we need to be intentional. Continue reading