I stroll through the woods near my home, and I run my hands along the gnarled bark of ancient trees. I trail a finger down the deep wrinkles in the trunk, and I think, “How beautiful.”
The twisting growth and grooved skin gives a tree its gravitas and wisdom. In fact, the more gnarled and grooved a tree is, the more we love it.
And yet, we detest those things in ourselves. Why is it that we humans fear wrinkles so much?
According to the Business Insider, in 2020 the “beauty” industry was growing at a historically fast pace. We are more afraid than ever to let our natural selves shine. The industry then was valued at an estimated $532 billion dollars per year, and it’s growing.
We are draining our bank accounts so that we don’t look like trees.
I celebrate a birthday this week. I am older. My knuckles have swollen, so rings no longer slide over them the way they used to. My lifetime of smiles and laughter shows in the grooves that curve around my eyes and mouth. How beautiful.
I’m not the oldest tree in the forest, but I’m not the youngest either. Many saplings grow around me. My wish is that by the time those supple trees reach my age, they will see the beauty of aging.
Algonquin Provincial Park lies northwest of Ottawa, and several of my acquaintances have headed to Ontario’s oldest provincial park for pleasure jaunts to the wild solitude of its lakes and canyons.
They dip paddles in still waters. They drift slowly by moose munching shoreside water plants. They dive into the deep, cold waters of the Canadian Shield lakes.
Their trips remind me of John Shaw. I learned of him and his wife during a trip to the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. He was a miller from Inverness, Scotland, who travelled to the area in 1847 from what was then Bytown [now Ottawa]. He and his wife, Barbara Thompson, made the trip by canoe.
Today, people make the trip by car in less than two hours, but in 1847 it would have taken days and days by canoe. They would have paddled against the prevailing wind. They might have battled pouring rain while balancing cumbersome loads. They would have portaged around rapids, carrying the heavy canoe and all their worldly goods.
What a hardship.
AND, they did it with two-year-old son in tow.
Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for days with one. (Were there even life jackets in 1847?)
Those hardships put any of our petty little problems into perspective.
Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not paddling a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old.
Once upon a time a three-year-old boy sat in a church. At the front of the cavernous space, far away from him, an adult voice yammered on. The boy squirmed. Squiggled. Stretched out on the floor.
To entertain him, a woman handed him an activity sheet. It had a maze printed on it, full of dead ends and clever diversions.
Happy to have any distraction, the boy sat up and began to trace the path with a finger. He made his way through the maze with delightful disregard for the lines. After blowing through any twists and turns that might have blocked his progress, his finger reached the end.
He raised his arms in victory. “I did it!”
“Yes, you did,” the woman affirmed.
Why tell him that crossing lines isn’t always that easy?
Why burden him with the idea that some lines are best left uncrossed, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones.
Better to send him out into the world excited about obliterating barriers blocking his path. Better to equip him to cross the many lines that need to be crossed.
For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.
No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.
Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.
This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.
In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.
Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.
Iask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?
May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?
“Into God’s temple of eternity | Drive a nail of gold.
—fromIn Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama
We are spending some time at our cottage, where renovations never cease. It gives me opportunity to re-visit one of my past posts.
I sit on the sofa and contemplate a box of nails.
“Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Those common nails hold together the kitchen in which I sit—the heart of our cottage home—but only because they are working together. One nail alone can only endure stress for a brief time before it snaps from the strain.
Those common nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones, or thinner ones, or younger ones. They know they are the perfect size, material, and shape for their purpose.
The nails know and accept without question that they need help from an outside source: the hand that wields the hammer. Nails on their own must wait.
Once work is underway, the hammer strikes the nail. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling purpose is not a pain-free, comfortable experience.
If I am a common nail, I have a purpose for which I am the perfect size, material, and shape.
The hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.