Maybe I never quite grew up. But the "wish book" still dominates my perception of the "holiday season." And the way that the season plays out, it's only a short time between Christmas or Hanukkah and New Year's. In the former, we might be thinking about what gifts we might receive from others, but in the latter we think about gifts we will give to ourselves. The point is that a holiday of wishing can become a holiday bathed in a sense of discontent.

When it comes to the natural home around us, it's easy to hear a message of discontent:

The climate is changing.

We are losing our forests.

Our soil is losing its nutrients.

So it's equally easy to put together an ecological wish book:

More green space.

Less pavement.

Cleaner water.

But while there are certainly ecological blights, even at a large scale, I am thinking about my own inability even to wish well. Yes, I would like to see more trees strategically planted to screen, soften and beautify ugly commercial, industrial or impoverished residential spaces. I would like to see my fellow humans—and even myself—vow to be wiser and more sensitive in our ecological choices.

However, there is a sense that these wishes might just be platitudes. Because there is a sense that "as is," the ecosystem already is beyond what I could even wish for. If I were to design a machine, could I have designed a machine that not only feeds and repairs itself, but once it is obsolete, replaces itself? Or when it dies recycles itself with the help of several completely different classes of machines? Could I have designed a world of machines that not only compete with each other, in order that available resources can be best utilized, but simultaneously work together so that nothing will ever be wasted? A society of "machines" that functions even better than the dog beneath the dinner table, gobbling up everything not designated a leftover?

It boggles my mind that if there is a lightning strike, a forest fire, a volcanic eruption, a flood or a drought, or even a landscape scar brought on by beavers or humans, there is a host of organisms ready and waiting to colonize and utilize the revised ecological constraints. And the new colonists—regardless of who they are, or where in the world they are—will, in the process of competing and collaborating with one another, not only feed and delight me, but also bring some type of ecological "healing" to the area. And when I say "healing," as I think of it, what I really mean is a world inevitably more lovely and hospitable to humans.

I could never imagine, much less design this kind of world. Yet it is an ecological gift I have already received.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit's municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at


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