Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person. ~ Mother Teresa
It was a sorry looking tree. But once I laid eyes on it I couldn’t quit staring. And after additional contemplation it became apparent there was a rugged strength in its twisted branches.
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After five days of camping I was getting a little restless. There are several nice hiking trails nearby but this year my ankle wasn’t cooperating. An earlier trip to the beach to let my dog run left my ankle sore for the next 24 hours.
Fortunately, bike riding is one of the few things I can count on not to aggravate my ankle. So it was with welcome relief that my bicycle arrived with my son late Thursday evening. By Friday noon a passing storm system had moved through and as the roads were drying out we assembled our bikes in preparation for a short ride up an old paved road near the entrance to the campground. We rounded up some bottled water, strapped on our helmets and headed up the partially overgrown road now blocked off for hikers and bikers only. Tim took a nice steady pace while I labored but managed to keep moving if ever so slowly at times. The road is all uphill which is why we like it; the ride back down is a two minute thrill ride.
After arriving at the top we relaxed at the single picnic table that is situated to take advantage of the ocean view below. We chatted awhile and just laid back and enjoyed the view of the ocean and the gentle afternoon breeze. It was a nice visit and we were in no hurry to move on.
Eventually we decided it was time for our thrill ride and since some areas were still wet we decided it might be wise to throttle down the speed. As we got up to mount our bikes my eyes fell once again on the gnarly old tree on the hill above. Several of the ocean side branches were bleached white and appeared to be dead; succumbing to the ocean side pounding of winter storms. The remaining branches were twisted and gnarled and almost parallel to the ocean far below. Those that still had needles were turned inside out; looking like the spines of an umbrella ripped inside out, the cover long since blown away.
Below the tree was a dense growth of smaller trees growing straight to the sky. There was no sign of weathered limbs. These other trees were packed in like a crowd of people moving slowly into a concert hall and it was difficult to tell where one tree ended and the next one started. As I contemplated why the gnarled tree was in such a state compared to all its surrounding neighbors it quickly became apparent that it was because it had managed, somehow, to grow above the crowd of trees below. The gnarly tree stood tall above the trees below but it had paid the price by bearing the full brunt of untold winter storms.
Now I don’t suppose that trees have the ability to consciously choose to rise above the crowd. Maybe like some people it’s just in their nature to do things differently; to not be content to follow a crowd. To try something other than the safe and conventional route. They pay a price but they also have the opportunity to transform a rather boring hillside and make it something special. You see its easy to be in a crowd. But crowds rarely create anything special. They are more likely to peacefully dissipate, or worse, turn into a mob. Like the trees below they seem perfectly happy living safely surrounded by like-minded neighbors. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that.
But you have to appreciate those that choose the unconventional route. They take a risk in order to test themselves. To see just how far they can reach. To try something new. People like Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs (Apple), Debbi Fields (Mrs. Fields Cookies), Mark Twain, Mary Pickford (Actress who founded United Artists), Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), Rush Limbaugh and Ansel Adams. And those are just some of the famous ones. For every Debbi Fields there are a thousand others who never become a household name. Yet they make an impact on their community and family just the same.
If a once-in-a-hundred-year-storm comes along I know which tree I’m betting on to be standing at the end of the storm. It’s that way with people too. The most weathered survivors are the one you want on your side in a pinch. And you can almost always identify them in advance. They have the scars from past storms.
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