Beautiful Tree: I Appreciate It More
March 15, 2021
When we did the film screening of Gather, the New York Times profiled film on indigenous food rights and the connections between environmental destruction and our food systems, the best part was actually virtually meeting Chef Nephi Craig. The film makes a wonderful depiction of his life’s work, but actually hearing him relate his professional journey – one realizes how much more nuanced and profound it is. He has a blog as well that I’m perusing now http://apachesinthekitchen.blogspot.com/2014/05/rations-for-all.html. What resonated with me during the time he spent with us, was when he described coming back from Europe in 2009 and “crash landing on the reservation.” This is exactly the same time Mr. Plastic Picker and I left Boston and the Crimson University System with our two young children in our crisis moment, and came back to where I grew up, which is San Diego California.
My ancestral home which I still maintain cultural, culinary and familial connections are rooted in two very specific places. The Mekong Delta of South Vietnam and a small village outside of Hanoi, North Vietnam. These two places is where I can stand, and literally there are hundreds of relatives still there. These two places are no longer easily accessible to me because of history and colonialism, and forces of greed that happened long before I was born. But these two villages are my home and root me culturally and culinarily.
The tree above and San Diego, is where I was born and grew up. It is my home. For a child born into a refugee family, I grew up very poor for most of my life. Around high school is when we were solidly middle class, and from then on a combination of factors led to a very different life financially. Much of why I am Financially Independent and could retire now, is that I grew up very poor. I don’t remember ever buying new clothes until about high school. “Back to School” shopping did not exist, and I wore the hand-me-downs from my not quite 5 foot older aunt. Our grandparents would collect things at garage sales, and resell them for higher value. I always thought my grandmother was brillant. Indeed, I would sometimes go walking with my grandparents around our local park and collect cans from the trash can and redeem them. It seemed normal to me. That is probably why I am who I am, drplasticpicker.
But I never felt poor, and indeed our family grew into increasing financial abundance because we never spent too much and worked. Growing up, our large intergenerational complicated family anchored me. I joke around to patients and families, I’m as Vietnamese as they come. That I married someone outside of my language and cultural group was not planned. But Mr. Plastic Picker values my language and traditions, and I’m proud to say my children carry more of their Vietnamese heritage than I ever thought possible. My daughter is studying Vietnamese now with me, and she is doing very well. I am fluent in my mother tongue.
And for all these reasons I appreciate what Chef Nephi Craig is doing in his realm. Drawing those connections with food and culture, and reclaiming them from the colonial narrative is profound. The picture of this tree up near La Jolla Cove reminded me how powerful place can be. It’s a tree that I’ve walked by many times. But yesterday she seemed to call to me and I snapped a picture. Dr. Plastic Picker’s Instagram followers in Europe had never seen a tree like this before. Beautiful tree in my family’s adopted home because our ancestral home is no longer accessible has more meaning, just because I paused to notice her.
Yesterday I was not sure if I would get everthing done that I had promised to the earth. But somehow it all got gone. I finished the update of the Clean Air Presentation for the Brownie Troop from Carmel Valley today, that I will give along with our premed intern. Reaching eight girls between 8-9 years of age to talk about climate. It’s also our intern’s first real volunteer talk where she will lead a mindfulness exercise. I initiated the conversation with our HMO Sustainability/Green Team about designating Pollinator Habitat around our buildings. I replied back to two young people, one resident doctor and another a raising medical student and enveloped them into the climate and health advocacy world by connecting them with local and national groups. I replied back to one of the local city arborist, about trying to secure a spot for a pediatrician for the urban forestry community board as where trees are planted has a lot to do with where there is more air pollution. That community board is being revamped, but at least those two government people know who we are and my name and hopefully will reach out to us later. Another leadership opportunity for a physician to work on climate. I moved along two more steps with out author group on the academic paper we are writing on the built environment and children’s health in the setting of the climate crisis. I confirmed my presence and emailed back the disclosures for the Oregon Pediatric Society Climate Advocate Panel that I am participating in. Then advertised it on several facebook groups here. I emailed back a dear friend who is a parent at clinic, who will be organizing a poetry workshop around our climate ocean theme and our son will help run the poetry workshop. While he was playing video games, we talked about how his name will be advertised on the local library group. I made granola again with our now tried and true recipe, and composted and gardened. And also did several work things and dealt with a minor scheduling snafu during weekend afterhours clinic. And I will be honest that I did not know if it could all be done. But it all got done yesterday because I knew it was all extra and volunteer, and whatever I did – no one else was going to do.
But I helped the earth, and spent time with the children. We took a walk in the late afternoon and saw that beautiful tree. We looked at several views that I always took for granted before.
But what caught my attention were the simple things. Black Coumarants that no one seemed to notice. And daisies.
And that was the weekend of climate work. But ending it with our children, walking along the scenic walk was important. And today is another day, and it is repeat. But repeat in a beautiful sequence, and hopefully steps closer to stopping this existential crisis. Do you realize this an emergency? I wonder if anyone really knows how bad the climate crisis really is? No use to worry. Just placing one foot in front of the other and going about my journey. Thank you for following along.