Did I ever mention why I love–that is, L-O-V-E, all caps–Glassland?

For the uninitiated: Glassland = Portland, Oregon, USA. For its size, Portland has more glassmakers, glass artists, glass factories, glass sellers, glass collectors, glass sales, registered glass websites, glass businesses, and just plain old glass lovers, i.e., glassists, than just about anywhere. The only things Portland has more of than glass are nice people, weirdness, and beer. 

And trees. LOTS of trees.

I love Portland because it has…(drumroll)…trees.

Yup, trees. Big ones. Little ones. Round ones. Spiky ones. Brushy ones. Speary ones. Grassy ones (you have never LIVED until you’ve wandered into the heart of a bamboo farm. I love bamboo. Nobody else does, but it’s like being in the giant’s backyard, Zen style, where every single view is art and the sound of the wind is…different).

Trees are why I refuse to open my snailmailbox more than monthly.

I grew up in an arid hinterland where nature was mostly beige with blue on top. The only native trees grew down by the river, and they were scrubby, twisted and sad, with hard little slate-grey leaves. In fire season the smoke made for spectacular sunsets, the glow from distant fires silhouetted against the mountains, making a perfect backdrop for the dry beige grass.

Our rainy season was the month after Christmas. Then came the tule fog–so dense and thick it was like driving into condensed milk–for a month or two after that. But the sun always slammed it back into the brown, brown ground with that relentless, searing heat.

I cried every spring when the fog disappeared.*

If you wanted a tree, a real TREE tree, you drilled a hole in the packed-down dirt (they call it “hardpan,” and it’s like cement), inserted a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and ran like hell. It would loosen the hardpan just enough to insert the rootball.

Roto-tilling, desert-style.

You’d baby that tree, water it, fertilize it, and it lived about half the time. If it died, you started all over. The number of great big green trees in your yard was one way of measuring your wealth (or at least your green thumb and your water bill).

So we grew up thinking that trees were very, very precious things.

Years later, when I’d moved to Washington DC, I picked up a childhood friend at the airport, and took her home by way of the scenic GW Parkway so she’d see the sights on the way. She smiled politely at the Lincoln Memorial, nodded at the Washington Monument…but the forest-cloaked Potomac River left her gasping.

“Oh my god,” she breathed, face tinted green by sunlit leaves, “Who planted ALL THESE TREES?”

She thought people in DC must be very, very rich.

Anyway, I have a thing about trees. Some part of me firmly believes that computers and smartphones and tablets were invented to save trees. Once you have them, why do you need paper mail?

You don’t. And so I refuse to use it unless I really, really have to.

Snailmailboxes kill trees by the millions. Needlessly. This, for example, is an entire month’s worth of snail mail, all 2.12 kilograms (4 lbs 11.5 ounces) of it:


Besides the obvious junk mail ads, it contains important-looking stuff like this:


Which appears to say that the feds are about to slam your butt into Leavenworth but is actually an ad for car insurance or something. Deep down in the fine, fine print inside, it says “not affiliated with anybody honest.”

Of that entire pile, only 82 grams, or about 4%, is actually worth looking at. In an entire month’s worth of snailmail, I received:

  • A reminder that it’s time to renew the tags on the car
  • A request to buy season tickets for the Portland Baroque Orchestra
  • A royalty check for a few bucks (for a tech book I wrote years and years ago)
  • A guide to last month’s gallery announcements

The rest wound up in the recycle bin, where it gets turned into coffin-stuffing** or bad-quality paper. I can’t apply a filter to this kind of spam, so it just keeps coming.

Now, I’m not staying awake nights worrying about the ecosystems. I don’t take a daily read on my carbon footprint, I never wonder why the penguins aren’t dancing, and the trashguys’ “glass on alternate Whitsundays” recycling schedule has me so confused that kind friends occasionally sneak over and sort through my trash, looking for mistakes.

Here (this IS Portland, after all), if you put glass out on the wrong recycling days you get a sternly worded warning that it had better not happen again. So I tend to pile bottles up on the back deck until some major event–such as the imminent collapse of said deck under all that weight–forces me to move them out to the curb. My neighbors, viewing the resulting bottle mountain, have concluded that I’m a lush.

“It explains why you’re always singing inside your garage,” said Theresa, understandingly.


There doesn’t seem to be much point in slavishly opening the mailbox every night only to be greeted by a useless, annoying pile of junk. And the thought of all those trees giving their woody, leafy lives to produce all this junk is infuriating.

So I open that box as little as possible. People who want to reach me can use email, RSS feeds, phone calls, Facebook pings, chats, FedEx, text messages, or (here’s a novel idea) face-to-face conversations.

There are some drawbacks to my solution. The government refuses to follow my lead, which has caused some problems. And by the time Mom got a cousin’s birth announcement, the kid was on his six-month anniversary. (I retrieve the mail every month; if I’m busy it can take a couple extra months before I read it)

“Please, promise me you’ll at least OPEN the mail every month,” she said.

Well…OK. But I don’t have to LIKE it.

*I don’t want you to get the idea that EVERYthing about that climate was bad. No weeds. What you called a weed–bermuda grass–we called “lawn.” When I moved back east, the whole weed thing–that your garden could be overtaken, almost overnight, by plants just growing there all by themselves–was mind-blowing.

**No kidding–coffin stuffing. When I wrote a column for a federal technology newspaper, a reader called me with a story: Seems her military base had a mandate to send ALL the paper they produced to an authorized recycler, but that directly contradicted a law that said if they didn’t completely destroy all classified documents by burning or burial, somebody was gonna get his head chopped off or something. 

They solved the problem by getting the local casket manufacturer authorized as a federal recycling facility. Then they shredded their classified documents and sent them to the factory to become coffin stuffing.

“The joke around here now,” she said, “Is that even when you die, you take your work with you.”