<i>Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible. </i>

Talk about excitement! I had finally saved enough money to buy a wireless keyboard for my computer. For weeks I dreamed of sitting in my big comfy chair doing research, writing, surfing the net, wireless and viewing it all on my big screen HD monitor.

I begged my brothers to go with me to Fry’s. They answered, “No way, no thanks, no can do, too bor-ing.” I thought the issue was closed until they reappeared. They would go if Rusty could have a large popcorn and Richard, a trip to the garden center.      

My brothers don’t share my passion for electronics and computers. Thankfully, a large selection of movies and music kept their whining to a minimum as I wandered through “wonderland”. I left with a big smile on my face and a firm grip on my new keyboard.

As we paralleled the ocean, quick glimpses of crystal blue water made Rusty anxious to check out the surf. Turning toward the water, suddenly like in a movie, everything went into soft focus except the incredible 3-5 foot swells that rolled toward us in three wave sets. Neptune lassoed us and pulled. We could not resist. As former Boy Scouts, we were prepared. We grabbed our boards and hit the water. Rusty even forgot about the popcorn.

I could not get enough of my new keyboard. It started to feel like it was attached, a permanent link connecting my brain to the Internet. I had become obsessed. I went overboard. Dark circles and bags formed under my eyes from lack of sleep. I had not seen sunlight for a week and my tan was fading. I was out of control. It took Richard to pull me from the abyss.

Richard found me in a zombie state one morning with my fingers still glued to the key board, typing. He decided to take action. He tore back the curtains, lifted the blinds and threw open the windows. He called Rusty. Even with sunlight streaming through the window they could not rouse me. They pulled me out of the chair, turned on the shower and put me in, clothes and all.

I emerged from the shower cold, dripping wet, finally awake but not sure why I showered with my clothes on. I squinted in the bright light. My head was throbbing.  I caught a look of myself in the mirror — scary.

Richard picked various herbs to brew up a special tea for me including white willow bark for the headache. He announced we were all going to the park, handed me my shades, the tea and pushed me out the door.

Richard found his favorite tree and literally gave it a hug. He said it would do wonders for me but I politely declined. I was to do nothing but sip the herbal concoction and relax. Richard said the tea and a day in nature would fix me right up.

Richard gazed up into the tree and then with a soothing voice started what Rusty and I thought was a story. “Trees are not so different from us. Sometimes they get stressed and get headaches too, he said, but they are luckier than we are. They can create their own headache remedy.”

Rusty pretended to be a tree with a headache and said, “My bark hurts” and “Oh, my aching branch.” We laughed and wondered where the story would take us.

To our surprise what Richard was saying was true. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research discovered that plants, not just trees, generate a chemical similar to aspirin, called methyl salicylate. When they experience drought, unseasonable temperatures or other situations that make survival difficult, they make and release this chemical.

Richard said methyl salicylate may help plants defend, resist and recover from disease. It boosts their biochemical defenses, much like our immune system does for us. It is also believed to benefit nearby plants. When methyl salicylate is released it warns neighboring plants of the danger, enabling them to build up their defenses. Plants may use the chemical to activate an ecosystem-wide immune response and recruit beneficial insects.

It was exciting to think that with this new knowledge, farmers and forest managers could measure the chemical in the air and have an early warning signal when crops were in trouble due to disease, infestation or other stressors.

Richard is smart. He knew the salicylate in the willow bark would help my headache, just like the methyl salicylate helps the plants. He also knew that with the tea, a day in nature, away from the keyboard, would get me back on the right track. Maybe I should have hugged the tree too?


Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com

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