Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Trees I See

I'm sitting on the deck of our house-for-the-week during our family's last hurrah of summer. The deck, like the whole house, is unlike our traditional, cottagey home. It is sleek and swanky, and the railing I'm looking at--well, looking through--are another example of the modern touches. Thick panels of glass mean that there is very little between me and the view. Only sturdy clips to prop up and link the glass together sit on the deck.

Other than that, it's just me and the view.

And the view is breathtaking. I know I'm supposed to be looking at the water. There are orcas and seals, humpbacks and porpoises out there. Bald eagles could fly by any minute. I'm supposed to be searching for them. A couple of neat boats sail past every hour.

But between me and the blue, blue water are seven trees that keep grabbing my attention. I can't keep my eyes off of them.

Six of these trees are tall evergreens. I think they're Douglas Firs, but I'm not certain. We moved to the Pacific Northwest from Virginia last summer, so I'm still getting to know the flora and fauna of the area. Regardless of their correct classification, they shoot from the ground as straight as arrows towards the sky. One has a few reachable branches, but the other five have no low-lying limbs to invite my children to climb...which is fine, because all six are taller than the house, with perches four stories tall. They are perfect for this plot of land because they don't affect the view too much at all. I can see plenty of ocean between their trunks.

And then there's the seventh tree.

This one is completely unlike the others. This one is twisted and gnarly. It is bushy and imperfect. The bark makes this tree stand out even more. There are three different barks happening: One is a predictable, tough shell. The next is the most eye-catching thing about it: a skin as chestnut as my daughter's pony, smooth in some places, bumpy in others. Then, there's the stone gray part of the bark, where it looks like the tree has died but is still in tact. It is the same color of teak after several seasons bleached from the sun. There are hardly any leaves, and I can see no predictable pattern of where the few clumps of leaves grow.

This red tree grows up over the cliff and the water but its limbs twist their way down and out like a wicked witch's fingers beckoning kayakers its way.

I wonder: Is there any moment in this red tree's mind when it wishes it was like the others? Does it spend any ounce of its precious life feeling envy or self-doubt?

How ludicrous! How laughable! What a silly thought! Trees don't have thoughts like that.

And with that, I'd like to be a more tree-like. I want to grow where I need to grow. Grow how I need to grow, trust my instincts that my bark and my hair and my trunk and my limbs are exactly how they are supposed to be rather than wasting precious moments wishing otherwise.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Athlete vs Gambler

A few weeks ago, my eight year old son Ben and I were driving home from his travel-soccer championship game. A  well-earned second place medal hung around his neck. I was still recovering from watching the game, which was a battle between two good teams of boys. It was a low-scoring game but there were plenty of goal attempts and close-calls, many by my Ben. This is his first year in a league with higher expectations, but in part because of his stellar coach, it's still about the basics of ball handling, working as a team, and being a good sportsman. Plus, he still laughs a ton on the field, so I know he's having fun in a serious way.

Ben's an athlete. He doesn't fall far from the tree, because I'm an athlete, too. No, I've never been paid and the idea of sponsorship is laughable. But I ran five marathons and an ultra marathon before he was born and two marathons and one half-marathon afterwards, and now am an age-grouper in local races. And I might be a proud member of the cultish Crossfit community (meaning I go three times a week and run on the other days). I'm training for another half-marathon now.

I love pushing my body and challenging it to do tough things. I always have, and I'm willing to bet that I always will.

But speaking of betting, on that ride home we passed by two casinos in Tukwila, Washington, en route back to our house north of Seattle.

"What is gambling, Mom?" Ben asked me.

"It's when you play cards and try and win money. Some games require some skill, but it's a whole lot of luck." I did my best to explain.

"Have you ever gambled?"

"No," I said. That was why my answer was short sweet.

"Why not?" Ben asked me.

I had to think about my answer, so I took a few minutes. I got into the right lane, put my right turn signal on, and pulled onto the I-5 North, still thinking about why I didn't like to gamble.

"I don't like it because it relies on luck, which is what I work hard to make," I said slowly, still thinking as I spoke. "My hobbies are all about physical challenges--trying to get myself and my body to do things it couldn't last week. To be better than yesterday because my mind and body are working as a team. I like to work hard to succeed, rather than sitting around hoping to get lucky. That's what I think those gamblers do. They hope for the right card. That's just not what I'm about."

"Plus," I added, "Did you see any huge windows in that casino?"

"No," Ben answered.

"Right!" I agreed. "I can't imagine spending hours and hours inside just sitting on my bottom without even looking at nature! I like to be outside and in nature as much as possible DOING cool things. Gamblers seem to spend a lot of time sitting inside. That's just not for me."

There was silence in the back seat, and I knew he was satisfied with my answer. Without another question, I knew he was finished with the topic, at least for the moment.

As we drove north, approaching and then passing Seattle and its hip Space Needle-filled skyline, I smiled. I'm not perfect, that's for sure. I really should stop yelling. I really should scrape up the syrup from the kitchen table where I'm typing. But my athlete-side is showing (and I reinforce with some telling) Ben and his two siblings some good options about how to live a healthy life.