The tree stood lookout. It was no protector, no stern, armed guard challenging all comers. Friend or foe? It didn’t judge.
It just stood, tall and alone, on the sandstone bluff overlooking the campground. Standing still, silent, it spoke of change. It pointed out the nuances of sky and wind, interpreted their meaning anew with every shifting cloud. It heralded the present. It did not want you to miss any savor of shape or color, light or shadow, the passage of time, the hum of eternity behind it.
It never looked the same for ten minutes running. A different backdrop gave it new impact every time you saw it. Yet it never changed. It was only, always, ever, eloquently itself.
It is the feature of the landscape I remember more than any other. My fellow campers remarked on it with affection and even awe. It stood so tall in a place of salience, an exclamation point in a landscape of dots.
Because of this tree, I couldn’t take time for granted. It made the world too intriguing in the now. “This moment is new and will never come again,” it said. “Look. Look!”
What part of you stays the same, and what changes when your backdrop alters? When you stand in different lights? Who are you really?
And how does the word you speak in the world change in different contexts?
Living nomadically has made me wonder that anew, but the question of identity has plagued me for a while. We all have images of ourselves and who we are, but I have come to distrust identities that are contingent on circumstances—that can be taken from you when circumstances change. Health, ability, employment, relationships, geography, communities—all those things can change, most of them without our say-so.
We are also given identities without our say-so. Income, gender, physical ability, race, ethnicity, appearance, sexuality, and more all play a part in forming who the world thinks we are. What a productivity-driven culture thinks of me for being disabled, for example, for living nomadically, being middle-aged, or female, or single—relatively little of it jives with truth. But it is still hard not to fall for the distorted image reflected back to us, to separate ourselves from those partial truths to see clearly.
Maybe the quest for identity—who am I really?—is the wrong quest, an endeavor to root ourselves in sand, which cannot nourish or anchor us, rather than soil or stone. Maybe it is wiser to root ourselves in the depths of what we value. Not in the self-image of being people who value certain things, but in the values themselves. Being. Gratitude. Wholeness. The behaviors that grow from them.
Maybe the point is to find your place of salience. To be so deeply rooted there that you can stand tall and herald this moment’s truth as it shines around you. “Look!” you say.
The last thing I want is to be earthed in one place. I have burned to fly for years.
So why—why, why?—am I reviving this long-dormant blog that honors trees, whose roots fix them in one place for life? Who cannot move, ever? Who are housebound from birth to death? And why now, when I have finally shed what tied me down and regained at least some of an animal’s birthright of movement?
Let me catch you up on some backstory. For the last five years, I have been almost entirely housebound with chronic illnesses. I could go grocery shopping every couple of weeks and seek medical care, but otherwise I looked at walls. I stared at the ceiling. I rested. I could seldom read, or watch movies, or listen to music.
I watched trees grow—slowly—in my small, much-loved, walled garden. Birds were my companions there, and lizards, and 6- and 8-legged beings whose paths crossed mine. I was a tree, though a poorly adjusted one, planted in the Adirondack chair, envious of the birds who could come and go as they pleased. The lockdown the healthy found so difficult during the pandemic had been my lot for years, with no walks outdoors, no excursions for take-out, no hope of an end.
Then I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a patient (and guinea pig) at one of the best research and treatment clinics in the country. With knowledgeable medical care, I have been slowly, partially freed, improving from 95% housebound to perhaps 80%. Instead of four hours a day of “feet on the floor” time, I often have six. Despite that huge, 15% gain, it was not enough to get me out to the wilderness I love, or to let me travel to visit family.
Then I realized that part of what kept me housebound was the actual house: the weight and heft of foundation, beams, and drywall, the burden of upkeep, the bulk of everything owned to fill it.
What if I exchanged a fixed dwelling for a mobile one? After two years of thought, research, planning, work, and help, that became reality.
Which leads us back to the present. For the last five months, I have been a nomad, doing things I could not when rooted in place: visiting family, exploring new places, listening to thunder rumbling over the mountains, wondering every day what I would see from my back doors. I mostly go to beautiful places so that I can lie down in them, but still. Movement has been glorious.
So why, now that I am a rolling stone, am I reviving a blog whose first premise is that trees have much to teach us?
Because I still think they have much to teach us—lessons I have not learned, let alone mastered. Trees are experts in long-term situations, at thriving when no change is possible, when ”fight, flight, or freeze” don’t apply. They endure and adapt rather than running, denying, or conquering, and to those with conditions that cannot be run from, denied, or conquered, they offer glorious examples of how to flourish. They remind us that we can deepen at the roots and broaden at the crown, prioritize what branches to keep or discard, offer shelter to others, and grow greenly despite incurable hardship.
They also remind us of the value of being. Trees do good in the world simply because they are, and they are trees. They do not check things off their to-do lists, or exchange labor for money, or earn their right to live through their productivity. But because they breathe and grow and green, we have oxygen to breathe, shade to cool our planet, birds and earthworms and lizards and squirrels and bobcats and bees to keep this world in balance.
And they give us joy. That is no small thing.
If there is one message I want to underlie this blog, it is that you have value because you are, because you live and are human. Life is a gift, given and received, and you can give and receive life generously whether you accomplish a to-do list or not. You have value because you breathe and grow and green.
That is the story of trees.
Note: I don’t know what shape this blog will take. I am not good at niches. So we may cover #vanlife, recipes on the road, wonders and marvels, Trees I Have Seen, chronic illness, and the works. This blog, like me, will be nomadic, and you never know when I might show up on your doorstep.*
*But you are more likely to find out if you subscribe to receive email notifications of new posts.