19 June 2012

A Branch of Thought (Punned!)

In the heady days of childhood, when I was too busy running and skipping to think about anything deep, I lived on five acres of lush, uninhibited pasture and treescape. Grass as tall as I was, wildflowers, fallen trunks and piles of wood, dirt trails and tall, full-grown trees of all varieties.

If I'd ever wanted to be alone, I would have just needed to run through the pasture gates, past the barn, down the main trail, and turned off it anywhere to lose myself in a tangle of foliage that no one else would be able to find me in either...unless I wanted it.

Privacy. An ideal, natural setting. Quiet, alive, and unobtrusive. I had my writer's dream back then. Think of the books I could have written, sitting on my favorite fallen tree trunk, nestled in the crook of two of its large branches, notebook and pen on my lap, the sounds of whispering trees and chirping birds around me and, up on the rise, traffic breathing down the highway.

I was too young to use it. Or appreciate it.

But I realized the loss when we moved to a square, one-acre lot surrounded by other houses, directly on a busy street and with nothing but scraggly pines and half-dead willows planted in a neat, uniform line down the perimeter of our property to screen us off from the curious. The house sat dead in the center of the yard, and on every side were windows where people could look out and see. Observation from both sides. So undesirable.

Those first couple years were a hard adjustment. Thirteen years later, I still get claustrophobic at times. Especially now that I prefer sitting around and thinking to running and skipping.

Sunday was one of those days. Family was over, it had been a long afternoon, and I suddenly got an urge to run away. But running away connotes a far-off, mysterious, undiscovered (and undiscoverable—by anyone else but you) destination that is magical because you don't know anything about it; and of course it's a place you can get to in one chapter or a couple of film shots (depending on your medium), regardless of the actual distance.

But...I live in the wide open, with hundreds of homes and people surrounding.

So I walked around my square-acre yard two or three times, giving up and trying again, until I found one place where the growth of trees was thick enough to obscure the road, and where I knew no one would be looking out of windows at this time of day.

I lay on my back, just to make sure I was as unnoticeable as possible. And, settling into the grass, I let myself relax and prepared to, in the few uninterrupted minutes I had, think long and deep and find out some mystery of the universe.

But instead I found my attention drawn to the small oak sapling I was lying under. I noticed it for the first time. Its branches shivered in the breeze directly over my head. (It's refreshing to look directly up!) I noticed how slender its trunk was, but how tall it had grown since we had planted it a few years ago in a last-ditch effort for more privacy.

Then I looked around me and noticed the other trees we had planted. Slender-trunked, spindly-branched, but tall and spreading towards the sun and toward each other. They flanked the old, deader trees all around. But I had never really seen them before.

Or at least given them any thought.

I found myself thinking, then, not about some universal truth, but about larger trees I'd known in times past, of even larger trees I hoped to someday see. Huge, round trunks that three people could hide behind. Leaves and tops I would have to crane my neck almost upside down to see. And I wondered how long it would take for these saplings here to reach such heights. Too long. And with a breath of sadness, I realized I'd likely never see them so.

But I saw them now. In the process. And the promise meant something too.

My mind now more quieted and back to that far-off childhood place I still call home, I turned my attention back to the quivering leaves above me and focused on them.

And for the first time I realized how many different shapes of leaves dressed those branches. Some completely unlike each other except for color. Their ridges and sizes so different, yet grouped together on the same tiny twig. On the same tree.

I looked at one or two of them individually and noted their differences.

Then I looked at all the leaves above me, and still noticed their differences. And the way those differences really made the tree a tree. A live thing, a thing of nature instead of the assembly line. A thing uniquely alive and beautiful.
And I thought about how those individual, but complementing, leaves all draw life from the same trunk and basic roots. Regardless of their shape, they are oak leaves. Innately they are identified as such. And they add their own individual gift to the persona of the tree.

The thought came to me then that there was some universal metaphor to that, and the metaphor itself flitted through my mind on the tail of the thought.

Then it was time to get up again and rejoin the clickety-clacking world where yard trees just aren't noticed in the blur.

And so I leave the metaphor to you.

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