Book or tree? Book or tree? . . .

Ah, books. I love them, I buy them, I have way too many of them.

Ah, books.

I love them, I buy them, I have way too many of them. I covet every piece of empty wall space as a possible spot for a shelf, which I then fill with even more books. I also have an abiding love affair with trees. Weeping, upright, shaggy bark, smooth bark, coniferous, deciduous . . . I have never met a tree I didn’t like.

When I was around 12 I read about a girl who would climb an apple tree with her favourite book, nestle into a cradling branch and whenever she got hungry she would simply reach up and pluck an apple to munch.

No one in her family knew where she was — namely her pesky brothers. With apples for sustenance it was possible to hide out for most of the day.

Living in a land of poplars, jack pines and spruce trees it was hard for me to imagine such a thing. The only apple tree I had ever seen was in my Grandma’s yard. At full maturity it reached about 12 feet high with a dozen branches measuring a scant four inches at their thickest point.

It didn’t look like it would contain a 12 year old and my grandmother didn’t encourage the notion — despite being the most patient and easy going person I have ever had the good fortune to know. It was what it was and it wasn’t going to hold a gangly adolescent and her book. And so I settled for reading beneath a shade tree.

One summer I was doing just that; my back propped against the tree trunk, its leaves rustling in the breeze as they shaded my head. With my imagination spurred on by the piece of fiction in my hand it felt as if the tree was looking down on me with equal fondness as it lovingly shielded me from the glaring sun. And then I realized with all the horror an inventive 12-year-old could muster that the book in my hand was made from tree guts. I dropped my book. And then picked it up again because I needed to know how the story ended.

As much as I loved trees I remained an unrepentant book addict. It gets worse. In the winter I love to cozy up to the wood stove and read. While the stove cremates trees I read a book made from tree guts that I got off my wooden shelf from inside my log house. When the Kindle came out I recalled that long ago afternoon under the shade tree and wondered if this wasn’t the kinder and greener way to go. Not only would it save countless trees but it would save the emissions caused from shipping them all over the world. With a couple clicks books would simply be imported emission free into the electronic device. No more slaying trees or searching all over the house for a lost book. No more shelves to buy or books to dust. But I didn’t buy one. When the iPad came out I played with one in Future Shop and thought . . . maybe. Then I thought how there would be no more book stores to browse or libraries to visit. I set the device down as if it had been set ablaze. And then I thought some more.

If properly managed trees are infinite and renewable resources that fill our skies with life giving oxygen between harvests. I can’t begin to guess at the ingredients in an iPad or a Kindle but some of its innards must come from mining — a finite resource that does nothing to help the planet. The devices would then be packaged in Styrofoam and shipped about creating their own emissions. Unlike a book that becomes more valuable with age, electronic books become obsolete. With each upgrade, the old ones become fodder for overflowing landfills leaching goodness knows what into the earth. A book you can safely toss into the compost pile. Not that you’d ever want to, but you could.

And then there’s my bookmark collection. Cherished construction paper strips coloured by my children, souvenir bookmarks picked up on holidays, bookmarks with beads, bookmarks with tassels, a bookmark intricately stitched with the first letter of my name given to me by my mother.

Sure I usually end up using magazine subscription cards, but it’s nice to know that if I wanted to use one of my beautiful bookmarks I could.

And so there you have it. I will stay a book lover for as long as libraries and book stores stay open. And I hope that’s for a very, very, long time.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern BC. You can read more of her writing at www.shannonmckinnon.com