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.
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?
“The difference between ‘don’t wait’ and ‘non-waiting’ is like the difference between detachment and non-attachment. Detachment implies distancing ourselves from a particular object or experience. It can feel cool . . . Non-attachment simply means not holding on to, not grasping . . .
Non-waiting is a quiet welcoming, more of an invitation than a demand. When we stop leaning into the next experience by hoping for a particular outcome, or leaning into the past by hoping we might somehow change it, only then are we free to know this moment completely.”
For this week’s post, I thumb my nose at a piece of writing advice. (Well, two pieces actually, since I just used a cliché.) Good writers, they say, opt for the word “said” during dialogue so as to avoid scenes like:
"Let's go to the movies," he posited.
"I disagree," she demurred.
Herewith, consider my nose thumbed.
“I want to climb that mountain,” she says.
The foothill lures her spirit,
Beckoning wide paths seduce her.
Flooded with energy, she skips.
“The path gets narrower,” she notices.
A switchback challenges her footsteps,
Scribbling tree roots trip her.
Worried but still powerful, she continues.
“Should I carry on?” she puffs.
The incline steals her breath,
Aching muscles betray her.
Depleted of oxygen, she schlepps.
“I can’t do this,” she whines.
An obstacle blocks her progress,
Darkening skies shadow her.
Deprived of hope, she sleeps.
“But . . . my goal is just there,” she awakens.
The dawn illuminates her next steps,
Daunting barriers dissolve before her.
Reinvigorated by inspiration, she climbs.
“What a view!” she cries.
A summit reveals her success,
Haunting memories flee from her.
Satiated with completeness, she savours.
“Now what?” she wonders.
The downward path answers,
Waning desire to remain prompts her.
Evolved for a new task, she descends.
“If I go down, I can climb a higher mountain,” she says.
My family is so many generations deep in Canada that I don’t really feel Irish. A little Irish-ish, maybe.
Enough that tomorrow I will drink Irish beer and eat Guinness Stew sopped up with Irish Soda Bread.
I do it to honour my ancestors who immigrated and suffered—really suffered—so that I can sit in my warm house and eat plentiful food in good health. They lived in a remote log cabin. No plumbing. No furnace. No Mac’s Milk on the corner or butchery down the street.
It is especially fitting to do so this year, during a pandemic, because in 1866 my ancestors lost three children in one week to a diphtheria epidemic.
Children aged 13, 11 and 9 just . . . gone . . . in the space of a week.
Three children in one week lost to a disease that we never have to think about because WE HAVE VACCINES.
Time has made some people complacent. North Americans born after 1920 don’t know how death used to brush up close in daily life. Our generation has never seen with our own eyes an entire family wiped out in a week, because WE HAVE VACCINES.