Tree Truths at Lake Hope

For the countless hours I spent climbing and falling in love with trees as a child, I realized recently that beyond the maple, the oak, and the pine I don’t really know who they are.   So, I bought a book and learned a couple things.  Trees have been around for over 350 million years, which to put in some perspective, exceeds human existence by 349,800,000 years.   There are over 80,000 different species covering almost a third of the earth’s land surface, ranging in size from tiny Arctic Willows who stand just a few inches tall, to the grand Redwoods who can stretch to over 300 feet. They’re kind of a big deal.

There’s a lake named Hope just an hour and 15 minutes away from me, and on an unusually warm Sunday last weekend, I went to meet her.  I packed my backpack with the usual: journal, book, pen, mace, water, granola bars, flashlight, camera and now my tree identification book, and headed in her direction.  As I got closer, the roads became hillier and windier, reminding me of my old motorcycle hikes.  In and of itself, this drive was an adventure.  Rollercoasting over the hills of Zaleski State Forest, I even lost my belly like I loved to do when I was a little girl.

After acquainting myself with the names of the leaves swimming together in the soup of the forest floor, I arrived at a clearing with a picnic table and just a few minutes left of sunlight, Hope reflecting all around me.  With nature as my greatest muse, tucked away in the safety of its wardrobe, I was inspired to finalize some thoughts.

In considering resolutions for the New Year, I felt that mine weren’t resolutions as much as they were principles and truths I’d like to live by.  Here is how and who I want to be (these are in no way suggestions on how to live life, unless you’re me):

Do everything you want to do, so long as it doesn’t hurt others or yourself.

Stop reminding yourself your dogs are going to die someday every time you hug them. It’s seriously not healthy for any of you.

Pay very close attention.  Become intimate with your senses.  Look again and closer and know why what pleases you, does.  Really taste your wine, the body, the tannins, the viscosity, the structure as it all harmonizes around your tongue.  Listen to the lyrics, melodies, instruments, and beats of the songs that you love and try to understand why you love them.  Discern the aesthetic and memorandum in that piece of art that moves you.  Smell the books, the pipe tobacco, the forest – feel the furry moss, spiny leaves, rutted bark and sweaty soil.

Live in balance.

  • Conviction and an open mind
  • Passion and composure
  • Preparation and spontaneity
  • Softness and grit
  • Empathy and assertiveness
  • Structure and fluidity
  • Healthy diet and grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Work and play
  • Whiskey and wine
  • Relation with yourself and relation with your others
  • Left brain and right brain
  • Purpose and pointlessness
  • Humility and pride
  • Giving and accepting
  • The boardroom and the forest
  • Heels and cowgirl boots
  • Dogs and horses and cats  

Get your head back in the clouds. When you can afford to, step away from the system to dream a little. Look up, down and all around and wonder.

Figure out your beliefs.  Know why you believe in what you believe in and revisit and revise as needed.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know if I actually believe that anymore,” and then figure it out.

Know why you want what you want.  Don’t be afraid to realize, “I don’t know if I actually still want that.”  Lose sight of your illusions.

Sacrifice your need for certainty. Unfold, instead, like John O’Donohue’s river.

Sleep with a dog or 2.  The furrier, the better.

Figure out your roots.  You come from a wealth of interesting human beings and cultures.  Learn the family narrative that wrote you.

When you can, be strong. When you can’t, be gentle.

Get comfortable just being.  Pursue Einsten’s sacred awe.

Steer clear of the cow path.  Be as unconventional as you’re designed to be.  Get weird.

One thing at a time.  So you want to be a top sales exec, write a book, produce a film and start a foundation for the suffering?  Let’s start with matching socks.

Don’t forget your child.  Not your literal child, but your inner child.  Although if I had a literal child, I would try not to forget them, too. “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  – my man Picasso – be a big, awkward looking child sometimes.  Paint a piece of crap.

Avoid feelings of entitlement.  This life is unfair.  The entitlement lives in the expectation of it being otherwise.

Be extraordinarily kind, considerate, and merciful, so long as it’s not at your own expense.  If it is at your expense, consider it’s worth.

Forget the sentiment of fearlessness.  Accept your fear, try to understand it, and meet it with courage. When your courage is insufficient, ask to borrow a loved one’s.  Lean.

Discipline the move.  During the moments you think you’re least capable of it, just stretch.  Stretch yourself as stretchy as you can stretch.  And then, brush your teeth. And then, make coffee.  And then, …

Give what you can as often as you can.  Selflessly, because you’re a bleeding heart.  Selfishly, because it’s proven to reduce stress levels.

Don’t mistake that bleeding heart for weakness.  Blood also evinces conquest and survival.

Accept your sadness and pain.  Fortify it with the things you love.  Massage the broken tissue surrounding the dagger in your heart with the tender mitts of the beauty in your life.

Apply appropriate pressure, to your heart and to your dreams.

Cry when you need to and stop being embarrassed about it.  Not like on the subway, or in a subway, but at home or in your car or the window seat on the airplane.  Avoid eye contact with the other birdies though. 😉

Avoid absolutes.  They threaten the life of learning and unfolding and self-actualization that you desire to live.  Grey Goose is more forgiving.

Don’t aim for resolute happiness.  Treat this life as a collection of moments.  Don’t surrender to a bad day. When you have a bad moment, try to follow it up with two good ones, even if it’s just a 1. flashback to a memory with your niece, and 2. imagining what she’s doing right now.  Aim to have more joyful moments than not.  Know what brings you that joy and pilgrimage for it.  Many things are out of your control but this isn’t completely.  You really can steer this ship through and out of dark and murky waters. You really can do this.

Trust yourself.  You’re a survivor, by nature, by nurture, by defeat, by default.   You’re intentionally designed and well equipped to know your way.  Make your decision and trust it.

Accept compliments and credit.  Don’t give all the glory away when you did something pretty cool worth recognition.

Write more. Read more. Volunteer more. Do more yoga. Get more massages.  Eat more cheese.

Treat forgiveness as an ongoing practice, not a graduation.  Forgive yourself and others as often as you need to.  And when you’ve forgotten you’ve forgiven, do it again.  Cheryl says: “Forgiveness doesn’t sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up a hill.” She also says…“The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.”

Practice acceptance.  Control the controllable. Let the rest go.  Salute it from the shores of a bourbon on the rocks.

Choose your battles. Consider what really matters, what you really want, what your end game is.  If you must go to war, approach it with David’s courage and Mother Teresa’s mercy.

Seek to learn something new every day, even if it’s just an aggressive, crisp 1 syllable word or a juicy, voluptuous 4 syllable word.  Sink your teeth in the delight of discovery.

Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even if they’re a little tight-laced.  Try to understand.

Make time for the things you love. You have 168 hours in a week, 45 of which you’re working, 42 of which you’re sleeping (hopefully), netting you with 81 hours to do what you want.  Stop making the time excuse.  Stop cancelling your piano lessons.

Keep yourself and others honest.  Ask the hard questions.  Be prepared for the hard answers.  Have a safe place ready to hug you, whether it’s the solitude of a cabin in the woods or the arms of your best friend.

Ask the dumb question.  Know that regardless of what they say, dumb questions do exist and yours is probably one of them and they’re all going to giggle about it behind your back.  But, be willing to sacrifice your credibility in order to truly build it.

Be shamelessly delighted.  So what if you’re 31 and still giggle when you lose your belly on windy, hilly roads, pretending you’re on a roller coaster.  So what if you look like a Dora the Explorer alien admiring every element of the woods as if you’ve never seen a weed before.  Cling to this.

Listen to understand and really lean in.  Ignore your to-do list as it tries to interrupt.

Don’t rush your learning process.  Appreciate the stairway to knowledge and wisdom.

Shed.  Abandon.  Give up…

… your aspiration for perfection.

… the influence of societal constructs on your path.

… your false or faded delusions.

… the things that no longer serve you.

… the idea you have of who you are, if you aren’t anymore.

… the lives you didn’t choose.

… the lives that didn’t choose you.

… your need for certainty.

… the sentiment of “fearlessness.”

… the sentiment of “happiness.”

… hesitation.

Turn the “I should’s” and “we should’s” into plane tickets and memories.

Admire the shadow you cast.  She’s kind of cute!

Revisit Lake Hope many more times.  Take shelter beneath the outstretched arms of these friendly giants much more often, especially now that you know their names.

Feed yourself all of this yummy stuff.  The stuff that gives you feathers and perches in your soul and never stops at all.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me

– Emily Dickinson

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