Three Years of Growth
Trackless trackless mountain cloud
what do I ask to be?
To be you, to be you.
Coming—going into nothing
what do I ask to see?
To see you, to see you.
Trackless trackless mountain path
where do I ask to go?
To find you, to find you.
Trackless trackless meadow of flowers
What do I ask of you?
To believe you.
To believe you.
Does it ever feel, to you, like you are doing what you were made to do? I wonder if everyone has some feeling like that, at some point in their life. It comes in and out, like static on radio, for me.
I think the idealized life is often said to be “in balance”—work-life balance, family balance, relationship balance, or balancing your checkbook (just kidding). Maybe a life that feels aligned is one of balance? Yet, for me, those moments where I feel properly “in the flow” aren’t continuous. Which leaves me wanting them when they are gone, which, in a way, creates imbalance.
I read recently that the idea of balance in the natural world is actually misguided. The natural world is a chaotic series of successions. A forest burns and fireweed sprouts. Aspens, their roots underground and safe from fire, send up shoots in every direction, eventually shading out the fireweed and almost anything else. In fifty to a hundred years the aspens grow huge and die and fall, just in time for the seedlings of fir and pine and hemlock, which grew from seeds brought there and cached by birds and mammals, to rocket skyward.
The idea of balance, this unattainable thing (if we’re being honest), is applied to human lives, since it exists in nature, right? What if it doesn’t exist in nature, what then? Maybe our lives are actually not meant to be balanced, and the attempt to seek some perfect balance is impossible. It makes us chase that “in the flow” feeling, which sets up life to be a series of ups and downs. Life is and always was and always will be a series of unpredictable events. There is no perpetual balance within uncertainty. Maybe life is more like an infinite act of rebalancing, or, you could say, flowing.
And yet nature functions well, and we do too. Nature has us beat in that it does not worry about balance. It just expresses, in all its mystery, the breath of life. And I feel myself, myself, what I am made to do, if I am honest, is to do the same.
Yesterday Anna and I drove the truck up the mountain to a creekside trail we found a year ago. We went down it together, amazed at the colors and motion of butterflies that seemed to spontaneously appear in the sunlight. The aspen trunks were white and snow lay in crevices along the path. We wound down to the river and walked along it for a while, then found a meadow. I set up my tent, just for fun, and used a small camp axe to buck some wood for whoever would have a fire there next. Anna laid in the sun, or watched the river flow by.
Over Anna’s chest and down the left side of her body hung a massive, thick braid. I picked up the end of it. “Remember biking the road up to Big Bear?” I asked. “Yeah, I was just looking at photos from then”, she said, “and three years ago we did that ride. After we got back I went up to Washington and stayed with Brit and Sam and then went to my mom’s house and cut off all my hair.” “Three years of growth,” I said pulling lightly at her thick braid.
To realize three years had passed since then felt funny and sad at the same time. Because, mostly, this flow of experiences we name Life doesn’t always flow easily or clearly. The pain of the turns can be acute. And yet, they all flow together somewhere, and get bunched up in memory, and then you can sit on a rock in the spring sun in the mountains and think about all the times when things weren’t so good, and the times also when they were good, and then come back to the time right now—which is really all the time we have. And it’s strange to think of, that there is a physical representation of all that time that hangs beautiful and thick from Anna’s head—of a thousand thousand strands braided together—of three years of growth.