42

Red Square - Moscow

Red Square - Moscow

I think May skipped me this year.  It started with the end of the semester and a busy graduation weekend.  After a few days of catching my breath and turning in grades I spent 10 days traveling the east coast visiting highs schools that had agriculture programs.  Speaking for the morning and then moving to the next resulted in a harried agenda, so soon after the university semester.  I was home for only a few days when I dashed to Russia for a visit with a sister university to discuss an edited MOU and to spend time with students who wanted to join my landscape design program here at Andrews.  In all the haste of the month I found myself on its last day the 31st, a Sabbath, alone in my room at this Russian university taking what felt like my first day off since graduation on the 5th.

My wife had snuck a card in my bag when she was dropping me at the airport that said, “don’t open until your birthday”.  So, on the 31st I sat alone in my Russian window opening the card from my wife to celebrate my 42nd birthday.  Fairly insignificant for sure, just a simple break from the week to rest and contemplate life.  However, 42 needn’t be swept under the rug!  After all it’s the meaning of life. 

Douglas Adams who wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy declared 42 the meaning of life.  All be it satire it seems to be putting a little pressure on the next 12 months for me as this may well be my chance to figure out the meaning of life and 42.  Anybody famous seems to have a definition for the meaning of life.  James Taylor did a little better job than Adams when he wrote the lyrics “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”.  For many years this ranked at the top of my ‘meaning of life’ list. 

When you search quotes for the meaning of life they seem to be divided into two general themes:  now and later.  JT obviously would be listed with the now’s, along with the happiness, being quiet, adventure and doing things for others.  This weekend in yet another hotel room my wife snuck me a card once more.  This one was for Father’s Day and this time I was actually with my family.  On it a quote from Nelson Henderson read, “The meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”.  Obviously this is in the ‘later’ category for meanings of life as it’s doing something that impacts the future, like treating the earth as visitors or building for the future.  Planting a tree takes ‘paying it forward’ to a whole new level.  Most Oak trees take 20 years before they even produce acorns.  It’s a lifetime before they function on the human scale and their true impact is most likely seen only in the next generation and beyond.  I assure you I have planted my share of oak trees.  The smallest were re-establishing a wetland for the National Park Service and the largest were three trees that came on three separate semi trucks which then got planted with track loaders for an older man long on money and short on time.  Most of these trees I planted for the now as I made my living doing so, but I reaped the philosophical reward none-the-less.  I take pride in what this earth will be like from the trees I’ve planted, the shade that will be basked in or the fruit that will be harvested.

Maybe Henderson was onto something with his meaning of life?  Thomas Jefferson once noted that, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it’s culture”.  So then if this is the meaning of life what’s up with 42?