Milo and I have been checking out some really old trees.
While Daniel is at work, Milo and I have gone cross-country skiing. I break a track through the experimental forest outside the community college. The college specializes in agricultural and forestry subjects. There are cattle outside that eye Milo with interest when we come through the gate. Milo keeps one eye on the two-year-old steers, large black animals who follow us along the fence line, blowing steam from their frosty nostrils, moving together in menacing groups. Milo stays close at my side so that (in case the fence doesn’t hold) I can protect him from the herd of thousand-pound animals.
Once safely past the steers, Milo runs wildly beside me, dips deep into the forest, catches up, stops to remove the snow accumulated between his toes, and tears off into the woods again. We follow a trail through a man-made forest. (I would say “human-made” but, judging by the straight rows, I suspect it was mostly men doing the planting.) Trees have been planted in little mini-forests going back to the turn of the last century to monitor the rate of growth. A neat wooden sign tells when the red pines were planted. I ski for a bit and then come to another group of trees planted later or earlier.
As I ski deeper into the woods, I come upon a group of trees that was planted in the year I was born. I was born in the summer, so I imagine these trees went into the ground within a month or two of when I landed on earth, in soil not very far away. We both got our start a half a century ago and the red pines are big trees now. I look up at their branches stretched against the winter sky and wonder if I have grown as much.
Standing in the snow, I know that the time is running short before I head back to the Southwest to continue my life as a student. I know the experience is helping me grow and stretching me in ways that would not be possible without the effort. But as I look up at this forest of my contemporaries I wonder, for a moment, if it matters.
I am happy here— with Daniel, closer to my family— in the soil I was planted. There is a temptation on this cold winter day to stop reaching and allow one day to blend into the next and a few more years to pass.
As I have grown more comfortable in my skin, I realize how little relation there is between what I do and how I feel. After a couple decades of battling to do things better, I finally conceded that contentment was not found in anything I accomplished, but discovered in the moments of peace, quietly living inside me. I know all this and I also know I’ll go back.
Because, as I look at my contemporaries in the forest, I see that I still have a lot of growing to do. I am growing more quickly now that I have outgrown the competing undergrowth and distractions, I am growing with keen pleasure now that I have found a place of unimpeded light.
Standing motionless for several moments longer, I look up at the frosted branches waving in the sunshine. Milo doubles back and looks at me quizzically and we start off again, skiing deeper into the woods. The forest grows darker and the trees grow taller and I am filled with joy.
Till next time,