It seems natural for a parent or grandparent to give things to a child. But what gifts will have a lasting impact? The most valuable gift may not be a thing, but a relationship, a value, a skill, or an outlook. I try to create books that can help build those valuable gifts.
When I was a child, many grandparents and parents had a skill or family business that could assure the young person of gaining abilities that could be the basis for work and career. Today, technologies change so quickly that the skills I gained as a child and young person are now largely irrelevant. Photography, an art form and technology which I learned from my artist-photographer father, is now in the hands of everyone—in their cell phones and other digital devices, with technologies that enable anyone to capture a good image. However, what we photographers call ‘seeing’ must still be based on innate ability, curiosity, and study of the work of great artists. We say that a photograph is the product of what the photographer knows and feels, not the technology.
So what can I give my grandson? When I learned that my grandson, Max, was having difficulties adjusting to his new home, I determined to give him a tree and to create a book that would explain the gift of the tree. He “missed his forest,” so I imagined a story of trees, birds, and a dog cooperating to send him a tree to be his friend. The tree was one tangible gift, and this gave him much pleasure. But the story seeks to give him other gifts. First, that he is loved and cared for, and people (and trees!) will respond to his needs and his feelings. Second, that there can be an intimate and strong relationship between people and the natural world. Third, that the natural world is a wonderful experience, captured in photographs but best experienced in person. In the book, A Tree for Max, Grandfather Apple Tree promises to introduce Max to the annual cycle of seasons in an apple orchard, acting as a surrogate for a human grandfather.
I am pleased that grandparents, parents, and teachers have found A Tree for Max to enable a moment of sharing with their children. Perhaps that is the greatest gift we can give a child, the gift, even for a moment, of ourselves.
I wish I also had a gift for the children living in poverty or who are homeless. And I wish that we could all work together to save the planet from the march of global warming, so our grandchildren might have a good Earth as home.