Dear Umbra,

Sorry to hear you are under the weather. Hope you are fully jauntified soon!

Plymouth, Minn.

Dearest Brian,

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Thank you so much for this note, and thank you to the other people who wrote in wishing me better health after a little comment I made about my head feeling like it was stuffed with insulation. I’ve been sick like a dog and so have my, uh, co-dependents, and it has been a super bummer, which is not a medical term. The medical term eventually became sinusitis, and the reason I’m going into all this is that it is Valentine’s Day. I feel the love.

A little kindness goes a long way.

Photo: iStockphoto

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I can’t tell you how great it is to get fan mail. Email in general has a strange immediacy, and an intimacy mixed with coldness that I think we’re all still learning how best to handle. Your letters are an odd phenomenon. Brilliance and erudition mix with wretched syntax and laziness, meanness and anger mix with kindness; some letters are thoroughly thought out, some are thrown off in a moment. That could describe my column, too — although I don’t claim brilliance, and my editor filters wretched syntax is filtered by my editor — but all these aspects of the mail shocked me when we first started the column. Frankly, we couldn’t believe people would write in at all. But you do, and your letters, as described, are just like life in general: a great mix, and still surprising.

No big revelation, I suppose, but it’s such a treat to start a sloggy day at work and get a little unsolicited shot of appreciation from a stranger. How often does that happen to us in regular life? I still can’t believe you take the time to write. It’s just plain nice and it truly does keep me going. You guys are the greatest, and you inspire this little basement peon to work hard on your behalf. Sniff.

Now I will work hard to stretch this Valentine’s Day note over to the topic of environmentalism. For a start, I encourage everyone to send appreciative notes to friends and coworkers whenever appropriate. You just gotta try it — there can be a fear of dorkiness, because being standoffish is cooler, but we must embrace this type of dorkiness. Otherwise … otherwise … the environmental movement will not succeed! Yes! That’s it! We won’t achieve anything substantial as a movement without kindness, appreciation, and agreement. Furthermore, people expect kindness and consideration from environmentalism, and when it goes missing much disillusionment can occur.

Look at the organic food movement, my favorite bailiwick. When the organic label was picked up and defined by the federal government as a set of agricultural practices, the growers and activists on the ground stepped back and realized “organic” as it had been used for decades has a basic human kindness element that didn’t make it into the federal definition. Buyers, too, assume organic means workers and animals are well treated. When they learn otherwise, what a strike against the environmental movement. We can’t have that. Kindness to the natural environment includes kindness to other humans, who, after all, are not separate from nature. Nice little notes and actions are a requisite part of working together to clean up our mess.

Fan mail all around, people.

Love and kisses,

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