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Traveling down the straight, flat and non-descript stretch of highway between Salem and Springfield I found myself lost in thought. Winter in Oregon can be many things. Today it was cold, damp and foggy.

Very foggy.

The radio was off. There was only my thoughts and and buzz of car tires on the fog dampened pavement.

Ever get lost in your thoughts? That was me this morning. Thoughts…

Thoughts about the most efficient plan for visiting my Mom at her home, my son across town at school and maybe, if there was still time, a stop at my sister’s house to take a look at her misbehaving computer.

Shifting tracks, thought of the problem house gutter. This one became cluttered with redwood needles following every winter storm. It seemed to be constantly dripping, or gushing, onto the front porch depending on how much rain was coming down. It needed cleaned out yet again. What it really needed was a permanate solution. More thoughts.

. . .

Another car blew past me in the left lane. Was the driver running late? Maybe, but more likely he was just impatient.

I thought about turning on the radio, but decided no — opportunities to remove background noise and spend time in thought are rare in the world we live in. It takes a effort to remove the noise, and so I looked around.

There stood the sheep, standing behind barbed-wire fences. They were doing the same thing they do every day — watching cars blast by while they eat more grass. They never seem to change. They never seem to play, never smile, never lay down. They just stand in the field and watch life go by.

I decided right then and there, “I’m never going to be a sheep.”

. . .

Along the highway, amidst the flat green pastures that make up the Willamette Valley are occasional trees. Ash trees and the random large oak tree.

As kids my brother and I used to mark our progress by what we called the Man-Tree. The Man-Tree was a huge Oak tree two miles south of the Corvallis exit. He was cool! With a huge trunk, the tree was distinguished by the three major limbs that branched out. Two reached outward and upward but a third angled slightly down and away. It was this third branch that made it appear, to kids with an imagination, as a man standing on one leg with arms outstretched, the other leg pointing at 8 o’clock. A smaller fourth brach at the top formed a head of sorts.

In later years I used the man-tree to remind me of the upcoming exit to the coast, and my home. Eventually a windstorm claimed the Man-Tree. We all get old. While we may return to dust, the oak tree becomes firewood.

My brother was the first to inform me. He saw a story in the paper about the tree. An obituary of sorts.

Some trees stand out. Most don’t.

On this morning though, many trees stood out. The fog claimed the hills and trees in the background. All that stood were the trees nearby. Majestically outlined against a perfect white background. Every flaw along with the much more prominent symmetry of strong well formed branches. On this foggy morning they seemed to say, “look at me!”

I pulled over to take a look. Certainly these trees would never merit a mention in the news. Yet they did matter. In the summer they will provide shade. In the winter they are often used by red tail hawks to survey the ground below.

Today they reminded me that life looks different when you remove the clutter.