At Peace Among the Trees

Plinky prompt: Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?

If this prompt had said “the beach” or “the mountains” or “the wide open prairie,” it wouldn’t have had the impact on me that it did. But the forest. Yes, the forest. I would rather spend time in a forest than in a city or really anywhere else that I can think of. I am at peace among the trees.

My first memories of being is a forest is hiking with my dad when I was 12 years old. We were getting my new hiking boots prepped (and preparing myself in general) for Outdoor Lab – a week-long trip into the mountains for Colorado sixth-graders. We hiked an easy trail through a forest of lodgepole pines. It was my first real taste of being “in nature.” I love the heady smell of fresh pine trees to this day.

Lucky us, our week for Outdoor Lab was right before Christmas. Yes, above 10,000 feet in mid-December. It remains my only experience with thermal underwear. But amid the cold and the snow were night walks with a crystal clear sky above us. So far from city lights, the sky was filled – literally filled – with stars. It almost seemed like the lights outnumbered the dark places. The Milky Way stretched across the sky. Awe-inspiring to say the least. I’ve never seen the like in twenty years since then.

While I keep searching for an opportunity to spy the Milky Way again, I haven’t been far enough removed from light pollution to recreate that majesty. However, I’ve spent a lot of time in forests. Redwoods and pines and oaks, heights of branches and depths of undergrowth, old-growth and fire-charred, the trees are what I love most.

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The difference between knowing and, well, knowing

Side note: Whenever I think of Walt Whitman, I automatically call him Uncle Walt in my head because of the “barbaric yawp” scene from Dead Poets’ Society.  Anyone else do that?

I recently read a poem that really speaks to my heart.  It’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I love the juxtaposition of the lecture hall—with its professor, the “learn’d astronomer,” his charts, diagrams, proofs, figures, and finally the applause he receives—and the silent majesty of the stars themselves.  In one, the poet has the opportunity to learn something about the stars through abstract and scientific means, and in the other he learns something through direct involvement with – getting out and looking at – the stars.

In so many things in life, we are like mere listeners at a lecture.  We think we can become knowledgeable about the world just by acquiring knowledge.  Of course, with some things our only option is to learn, and we should increase our knowledge no matter our circumstances.  However, how many times do we abstractly think about something – nature, cooking, art, literature, poetry, health, writing – and not dive into it?

I have over 50 boards and 4,000 “pins” on Pinterest.  I love Pinterest.  My most popular boards (to me) are currently my breakfast board, sweet recipes board, literacy and language board, and kid crafts and activities board.  I think Pinterest is great for obsessive organizers because you can organize pieces of information so neatly.  I like to peruse the things that I’ve pinned, and occasionally – only occasionally – do I dig out an idea and try it.  I will check out the numerous children’s book lists and find some to request from the library.  And I am collecting recipes to use for my {future} bread machine (because when I am off this eating program, I am getting a bread machine – and eating bread).  And it’s been useful to determine my real clothing style, since I’m in the process of replacing my entire wardrobe with 50 pounds lost so far this year.  But do I check out a lot more than that?  Not really.  Do I still spend a few minutes every day stashing away ideas on my boards?  Yes.  Am I alone in this?  {Pretty sure that’s a big Nope.}

All the extra information we have available in this day and age can make us feel like an expert in things that we’ve never really experienced.  Remember, “But I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night”?  But I think I need to be like the poet and leave the pin boards and the internet and the fountains of information in search of experience.  Try those recipes.  Hit the trails.  Put the words on paper (er, screen).  Search the books and the ideas behind the world’s greatest words for myself.  And yourself, if you have these tendencies as well.

Join me outside the lecture hall, looking at the stars.


Reflections on Putting on My Wedding Dress for the First Time in Years

wedding dress

This week I put on my wedding dress for the first time in many years.  I’m not sure I’ve tried it on in the last nearly eight years since I got married because for most of those eight years I knew I wouldn’t fit into it.  Now it fits.  But not the same way.  It served as a reminder of how my body has changed in the last eight years.  As my weight has fluctuated over the years with babies and binging and exercise and dieting, the dress showed me that my thighs are thinner and my chest is bigger than before.  Even though I’m at the same weight, the dress would still need to be either altered or exchanged for a different style in order to be worthy of such a special event.

But being a wife and a mother has made its mark on me in more ways than just a larger bra size and stretch marks.  I’ve changed in the process.  I’ve learned more about who I am and what I should be focusing on in my life. 

Relinquishing single status made me aware of the fact that I need time to myself to gather energy up.  I love my husband more than anyone else, but I can’t spend all day with him every day.  I love my kids, but I need to get away from them, too, sometimes.  I have to turn off all the noise and just be quiet and still sometimes, with a book or with my knitting needles or just wandering around a store with no purpose except to clear my head.

I’ve become more patient, not just with family members, but with other people you come in contact with in daily life.  The slow check-out line, the rude driver, the people you are counting on to do something that don’t do it, the constant preschooler questions, the toddler that is into everything…things are easier to handle and annoyances easier to brush aside while I continue to move forward.

I discovered a strong need to delve into big ideas expressed in excellent literature.  I spent a few pivotal weeks over two summers attending the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture’s Teachers Academy.  Six weeks, each day discussing literature for its merit and for its application to society and life.  I’ve gone back to various lectures and presented at the annual alumni symposium three times since then, and those times help illuminate parts of my brain that grow a little dim in the day-to-day focus on cleaning, cooking, and childcare.  What I’m working on now is keeping that from getting dim in the first place.

While marriage and motherhood haven’t been the easiest road (is it for anyone?), it’s been a joy to walk, and I generally like the way I’ve ended up in the process.  I’m grateful for the way the years have opened my eyes to truly see myself, and to smile back at the woman I see.