Lesson #2 after Slow Down? – “Look Up!”
I moved into Roadcinante on or around September 20th and lived that first week at a mostly-empty campground near Boone, driving my car back and forth to my house to tend to final repairs and to clean. I had little time to appreciate the skylight windows that are a trademark of Roadtreks; there was scant opportunity for star-gazing, falling into the RV’s narrow bed at night, worn to the bone. (Dost thou not agree, even under the best circumstances moving sucketh?)
I now live in my daughter’s and son-in-law’s driveway, in between trips for a while. It is quiet up here, and I am grateful for the respite. I enjoy the dinners we prepare together and hanging out to watch The New Girl or It’s Always Sunny. (Hat tip to my kids [for my son-in-law most certainly is one] for their patient welcome.)
I’m also grateful because their property, halfway up a mountainside, is surrounded on three sides by tall trees. Maple, oak, beech, ash, black cherry, poplar, birch, sassafras, box elder, basswood that rustle in the wind and scent the air with a woodsy perfume. Sleeping among them, sheltered beneath the branches, does something wondrous for my soul.
I’ve loved trees for a long, long time. I hugged them before there was a label for it. During the years we lived on our Ohio farm I had a favorite tree that I climbed, a friendly maple that proffered its low sturdy branch like a chivalrous arm. Wearing a small knapsack, I would ascend to the tree’s midsection, and perched there I could look out over the pond and beyond that to the narrow field where we pastured the horses in summer.
In my knapsack would be a cheese sandwich (Velveeta and mayonnaise on white bread) and a book (B.J Chute’s Greenwillow or E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or any short story collection of Ray Bradbury). Nibbling at the sandwich, I read for hours while the leaves around and above me whispered of things I did not yet know.
This past August I attended my high school’s 45th reunion and spent an entire morning at the old farm. The current owners were out of town but graciously invited me to stop by anyway. It took me a few moments to find my old tree friend. The limb I used to grab onto is much higher now, and the tree is older and grayer, the bark falling away in chunks, overrun with some type of borer.
Nonetheless, may I tell you that I hugged that tree? That I thanked it for sheltering me all those years? That I wept into its trunk, glad it was still there and also sad for how the decades had altered us both?
Back to the tree-covered mountainside where I currently reside. Several weeks ago, before fall began, I sat on the ground waiting for my camp stove to boil water for my morning coffee when a birch leaf floated down and brushed my forehead. And all of a sudden I thought to look up, and when I did I saw pillows of white clouds covering and uncovering the robin’s egg blue of the sky and the trees shimmering in the gathering light. The wind picked up, and a few more leaves wafted down.
And I don’t know any other way to say it, but it took my breath clean away. Something wondrous about those dark fragments releasing themselves into the sky, their graceful unhurried descent. Something bright about how my heart followed my eyes, up and up, all the way to the treetops, until I could envision the dappled valley spilling out below.
I could hardly believe it had been so long since I’d simply looked up. It’s a common malady of our times, I think. Whatever our American obsession with work and/or busyness, I know I succumbed early on. My nose to the grindstone; my eyes glued to the page; my head bent in concentration; my face buried in a book.
And I confess, lately too much of my attention has been on my smartphone and tablet, as if what is happening inside those screens is all-important. As if all those live “feeds” are actually a source of nourishment. As if constant unrelenting contact is a worthy achievement.
Enough already. Did you know there is a new condition called Text-Neck? We’ve become so addicted to our personal electronics that it’s actually a thing!
So here’s what I’ve decided to do. Beginning this Friday and every Friday after, I’m fasting from my gadgets. I’ll start my day, not by looking down to see what has happened overnight but by looking up to see what possibilities the day holds. I’ll look up and thank the trees and the clouds and the sky, and then go on to enjoy my text-free, social media-free, gadget-free day. Every hour or so I may pause and step outside, just to look up, just to remind myself how astonishing and beautiful the world really is.
And if you are so inclined, feel free to join me. We can share our insights, “aha” moments, and discoveries here. Maybe we’ll start a movement, instigate a shift in perspective. Maybe more people will start looking up. Who knows what might happen? The sky’s the limit.