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April 30, 2021

The Forest App

Everybody in my household is obsessed with video games, except for me, who spends weekend mornings reading the paper while everybody else is intent on the Switch, and sometimes I feel a bit left out of the narrative, but mostly I don’t care. I am gad that video games are something my husband gets to share with our children, and I am glad that there’s an adult who’s paying attention to this part of our children’s lives, but video games just don’t factor into my framework at all…except for the one instance in which they really do!

I learned about The Forest App two years ago from an article about reducing cell phone addiction. I’ve used social media blockers on my laptop and phone for years, which is how I manage to write anything that isn’t a pithy instagram story, but the Forest App was kind of a cool twist on the idea of these blockers, generative instead of restrictive. I set a time limit on my phone and if my phone stays undisturbed during that period, I grow a tree in my forest. If I use my phone, the tree dies. And reader: I’ve never ever killed a virtual tree. It would break my heart to kill a virtual tree.

I even have a vague suspicion that I’d have to go out of my way to kill a virtual tree—a couple of times I’ve picked up my phone to check an email and my tree has kept growing anyway, so maybe it’s just the apps or clicking on them. I don’t even know. I don’t want to know. I love that this app that’s only vaguely restrictive and may not even be restrictive at all helps me make good choices for focus even when I could be making different ones. Which is much more meaningful to me than a lock and chains.

A few weeks ago, I finally purchased the pro version of the Forest App, partly because I’m trying to pay for the online things I value, but also because I realized this could make the trees in my forest much more interesting and diverse. Tragically, however, this process deleted the substantial forest I’d been growing over the past year and more, but what can you do…but luckily I was able to start again, and with a camellia tree to boot. As part of their Earth Day challenge, I was able to unlock the luminie plant. This week, I actually increased by focus time from 45 minutes to an hour because I realized I get TWO trees when I do this (and yes, I get extra work done too).

As I grow my forest (while focusing on the work I want to do) I acquire points. I can use these points to unlock more trees, which is how I recently got the camellia. I need 2000 points to plant a plum blossom tree or a weeping willow. And I’ve got my eye on the apple tree and the maple tree (with orange leaves, and a park bench underneath!), and as my forest grows, I’m ridiculously proud of it, beyond my pride at what it represents in terms of attention and commitment to my writing…and everyone I live with is very kind and encouraging and pretends to be interested in my virtual trees.

And of course they are! Because this is my video game! Like Animal Crossing for boring people (or so I assume—I am too boring to know). And what with my virtual landscape and acquired points, what is this whole business but a video game after all. But one that is not remotely a waste of my time. Instead, it’s one that makes the best of it.

Even better? I’m not going to be unlocking any new virtual trees anytime soon, and do you want to know why? Because I’m saving my points. I’m currently at 393 after that camellia tree cleared me out but if I focus hard and work intently, I can earn 2500, at which I can use the points to plant a real tree! The Forest App is involved in the Trees for the Future program in Sub Saharan Africa. I can’t think of better motivation to get down to work.

October 12, 2020

What the Trees Were Doing

We called them Sad Covid Walks, but only in hindsight. At the time we were walking, they were everything we had, during those months when traffic was deserted and the only ads in the transit shelters were telling us all to stay home.

We had a circuit through and around the university campus, a walk we took once a week to track the progress of spring. Two secret copses—one at the school of mining, the other at the faculty of forestry—and then the tiny Zoo Woods beside Sidney Smith Hall. Which at first were barren of anything green, just a trillium here and there, and then the season came on like a deluge. Never have I been more grateful for spring.

A woman in my blogging course last month wrote about that waiting, and watching the naked trees with an attention she’d never experienced before. About how as the leaves fall away again, she is trying to hold onto the promise of winter trees instead of sadness as the seasons change again.

We’ve taken such comfort from trees this year. Retracing our steps today even though we really didn’t want to, even though anything that was full-on in Covid spring, we’ve developed an aversion to (except for ice cream).

But I wanted to see what those trees were doing, to give thanks for the ways they have saved us, and the ways they persist, oblivious to everything, from the sad people looking up, to the pigeons in their boughs.

To their majesty, their steadfastness, and the admirable way they keep reaching for the sun.

April 20, 2020

A Note to a Tree

Dear Tree,

You are a silver maple or a black maple—I can never remember. Which doesn’t mean I love you less, because you’re everything. A home for birds, squirrels and a family of raccoons. Your shade means there are a handful of days in which our lack of air conditioning matters. Because of you, we live in a tree-house, a different view of you from so many of our windows. I have revelled in your gorgeous foliage as I relaxed beneath you in my hammock. Spending all year cleaning up after you, white blossoms in the spring, your maple keys afterwards, those yellow leaves that fall in November, and the sticks and twigs that break in winter with the ice. I can set my clock by you.

(Once I also looked out my window to see an arborist trimming your branches in a rain storm, smoking a cigarette like it was nothing. One of the most memorable performances I have ever seen.)

I am afraid of losing you. Desperately. You are 150 yrs old, so this is not an irrational fear, and when I am afraid of heavy winds, you’re what I am thinking about. How our homes, our lives, and all of us are so vulnerable. I cannot imagine this place without you, who was here before anything else.

But you have also taught me that strength is bending, that deep roots can endure, and how much everything is so connected.
We’re so lucky to be your neighbour,

(You too can write a #notetoatree for a chance to win a collection of nature books from Groundwood Books in celebration of the publication of Andrea Curtis’s A Forest in the City. Head over to Twitter or Instagram and check the #notetoatree hashtag for more details. Two days left to enter!)

Pre-Order my New Novel: Out October 27


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