Back on the second day of 2015, my wife, WCOM program host Becky Johnson, and I headed out for a tour of a too-little-known private resource in southern Orange County, the Charles R. Keith Arboretum.
On a cool yet sunny winter day, the arboretum’s energetic and engaging host met us just as arranged. With an appearance and vigor that belie his 82 years, Charlie Keith has been nurturing his arboretum since acquiring what was run-down farm property that his late wife discovered 50 years ago. Located a few miles west of Calvander, a rural crossroads on the northwest edge of Carrboro, Keith Arboretum contains some 4,000 tree and bush species from around the world.
Becky and I spent an amazing and fulfilling two hours following Charlie around the grounds, which may contain the largest collection of spruce species in the world. We heard the stories behind dozens of trees foreign and domestic, astonished at the diversity so near to the farm where my maternal grandfather grew up. Even today Charlie continues to add new specimens, supplied by a network of colleagues and fellow collectors.
The species come from Climate Zones 1 through 9 providing an astonishing variety. They range from native North Carolina species to desert ones to trees from China, the mountains of Taiwan, and Labrador. Each bears a metal tag with its Latin name. A Canadian Jack Pine stands within view of our familiar Loblolly Pine.
Throughout the visit, the same thought resonated in my head. In an area blessed with the famed Coker Arboretum on the UNC Campus and the newer J.C. Raulston Arboretum at NCSU, one man had assembled an even larger arboreal collection. Until his 1996 death, Raulston, was one of the fellow collectors who helped Keith with his acquisitions.
That is the power of one person doing something with passion and commitment. More impressively, Keith did all this as a hobby. He seems able to recall the source of each one of the 4,000. One tree at a time, one weekend at a time, mixing trips to Home Depot with journeys around the world, Keith has built a treasure, a constructed environment where others can share the fruits of his collecting.
Each of us possesses the power to emulate Keith’s example by following our own passionate interests.
“The Power of Just Doing Stuff” provides the title of a short 2013 manifesto by Englishman Rob Hopkins, who identifies himself as the founder of Transition Movement, one of the most popular localist impulses of the 21st century.
Born of the collision of long-term environmental issues and 2008 global economic meltdown, the Transition Movement advocates local, decentralized action to build a new sustainable economy that, through its local and green foci, also addresses the sustainability.
Instead of austerity or New Deal style stimulus to address economic and ecological problems, Hopkins offers his “Big Idea for our times ... local resilience as economic development.” While the government is too big to pull off this revolution and individuals too small, Hopkins believes that communities are just right for the task. Hopkins stresses that anyone can make a difference by gathering a core group and engaging in local action. He asserts that by just doing, these people will form a global movement that will change the world, community by community.
People, like Charlie Keith who are just doing something fill and enrich our communities. Think of Pickards Mountain Eco-Village just south of Keith Arboretum, the Saxapahaw renewal, the Oasis in Carr Mill Mall, Piedmont Biofuels, Transplanting Traditions Farm, or Maple View Agricultural Educational Center, to name a few. Pittsboro’s Slow Money NC provides one of the best documented examples, thanks to Carol Peppe Hewitt’s frequent speaking and her book, “Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food With Slow Money.”
Starting in 2010, Slow Money NC quickly became a robust network connecting those who wanted to invest in their own communities with local farmers, markets, and restaurants. Slow Money NC’s facility for connecting those lenders has proven equally transformational. Their largest project so far has consisted of raising $400,000 locally to restructure the debt of Chatham Marketplace, a co-op grocery in Pittsboro’s Chatham Mills. Hewitt provides an inspirational journal of the “power of just doing stuff,” showing how even small local investments can produce profound results.
These initiatives surround us and make Orange and Chatham Counties the wonderful places they are. The best news is that anyone can join – just do stuff.
You can reach Art Menius at firstname.lastname@example.org.