“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
A tree bends and twists and finds its way around boulders and barbed wire, knotting its trauma, leaving bulbous scars, to continue its growth. I sat in the woods one day under a sugar maple. It had been tapped for sugaring season, years prior. The tap hole was still apparent, but callus tissue had already begun to heal the wound. A stain above and below the tap hole indicates dead cells, but maples are known to “compartmentalize” damaged areas, walling off non-functional vessels. It grows around trauma deadened by scars to continue its life.
When I am in the woods, I choose a tree that stands taller than the rest. I imagine its life. I imagine it has seen fierce winds and bitter cold, floods and fire, possibly over hundreds of years. Still it grows. Still it stands tall.
But when the end finally comes, it dies having seen all it could have seen to become more than a tree–a refuge for birds and squirrels and all that continue to live and who need to survive.
In case you thought you were hallucinating — yes, my blogging-related recommended reading for today is, indeed, from the 16th century. It’s the Essays by French writer Michel de Montaigne, who singlehandedly invented the genre (and the term!).
Anonymous portrait of Montaigne, via Wikimedia CommonsMontaigne‘s not your average Dead Classical Author, though. Before you fling your iPad out the window, take a look at the following quote. If you’re a blogger, odds are you’ll recognize yourself in this:
I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself […].
Montaigne was an extraordinary man for any number of reasons. He’s still loved and admired by writers everywhere, though, for being the first to understand that writing, no matter what the topic might be, is first and foremost an expression of our innermost selves.
With every sentence in his Essays (available for free in a number of formats
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I visited the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It was Spring, and I was on a solo-trip to Montana.
Surprisingly, the park had very few visitors that day. I was alone.
I drove, I parked, and I walked, and all the while I listened to the silence that echoed throughout the Hills.. The wind whistled on occasion. It played a tune to court my thoughts and together they danced.
They waltzed me to the middle of the road and there I lie between the yellow lines, outstretched and alone with the wind and my thoughts.
It was freeing and invigorating because who does that? Who lies in the road not to die but to live?
The pads of my fingertips clung to the pavement like a prairie vole to the grass as its gripped by the talons of a hawk.
I wanted to survive life. To see how its done. To take notes from those who do it well.
There I lay, taking lessons from the buttes and the spires—to change form over time, To rise from violent movement beneath them only to erode and to rise again. They knew how to survive.
By this time, my thoughts turned to a sound. I lifted my upper body and sat still to listen more closely. It was the sound of horse hooves on pavement.
I stood tall and looked around the bend. They came toward me. Slowly. Four maybe five, one behind the other atop the painted yellow lines in the road. But they weren’t horses. They were bighorn sheep, young rams and ewes.
They stopped all at once when they saw me. We exchanged glances and it was decided that it would be me who step off the yellow line to allow them to pass comfortably.
Each ewe led her young around me. I watched curiously as did they. I imagined each lowering her head in a nod as she passed, nodding in return.
Another lesson was learned that day.
Even bighorn sheep come down from the safety of their steep cliffs and ledges, exposing themselves to the dangers of the environment, to survive.
“Without question, without curiosity, without passion, we are without life.” –J. Mortenson
At some point in life,we begin to question the world and our place in it. For some, it may build with time as an uncomfortable heaviness that seeps in slowly. For others, it may come more quickly in the form of an epiphany—awakened from a deep sleep—knowing instantly the question in need of an answer.
For me, it was the gradual escape out from the belly of the whale. Survival instincts took over my youth by way of mutiny to steer my consciousness away from immediate danger. An inner heroine leapt from the jaws of the whale, swimming instinctively in an indiscernible direction.
Without a breath, the surface came upon me with little recollection of the burning that filled my lungs, and of emotional tumult already numb with scar tissue. Thus, the inquisition began once I was jolted back into my consciousness, suddenly acutely aware.
I questioned the stars, the sun, the moon; I questioned the tides, and even the salt content in the seawater that kept me buoyant. I questioned the direction the tide was taking me as I drifted along the shore; always parallel, yet never reaching land.
I continued to drift, though on occasion silt beneath my feet rose up to steady my weakened extremities allowing for rest on a shallow sandbar. Often, I remember wishing my legs would grow to become one, patterned with iridescent scales that shimmered brilliantly in the sun’s rays: a tail, perfect, to propel me forth, swiftly to meet my destination sooner.
However, Triton failed to carry my message to Poseidon to beg on my behalf to grant me such a fantastic tail. But when my body began to shake from exhaustion, and then numb from the ocean’s frigid embrace, I wished the tide change direction to carry me away from the illusion of safety, the one I could always see, but never feel. I again beckoned to Triton, to reach for me; to force my body into metamorphism; to grow gills; to breathe the seawater with reluctant acceptance; to unite with the creatures of the icy depths to which I had become acquainted. Again, the great God denied my request.
Today, the importance of my journey has yet to become clear. I continue to collect fragmented answers; and although I have yet to reach land, I continue to swim to build strength in my core, my mind, and my spirit. When all of the fragments are collected to spell out the answer that I have been searching, I will finally rest upon the sandy shore—with a tale to span generations.
Beneath the Mask: a Born Superhero Develops Unique Superpowers
Each of us is born with natural talents and gifts. They are innate in our complex design. Realize your potential. Go discover your superpowers; develop them, nurture them, and unmask the true superhero who resides within.
– J. Mortenson
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Yellowstone National Park is awe-inspiring; it evokes a sense of timelessness once the rush of the modern world slows its pace inside its borders. Looking across the 132-square-mile Yellowstone Lake, one can almost hear its geological history whispered in the breeze on a cloudless night.
Yellowstone Lake surrounds itself by natural, vibrant beauty. Varieties of wildflowers are rooted along the expansive shore: blue-purple lupine and red-pink paintbrush, yellow pond lily and white geranium. They reach for the sky amid fallen conifers downed by wind, others downed and charred by fire.
VISIT THIS SPOT
South and West entrances: follow the road to West Thumb, then to Fishing Bridge. The site is on the right approximately 10 miles.
Northeast and East entrances: follow the road to Fishing Bridge, then to West Thumb. The site is on the right approximately 10 miles.
North entrance: follow either route above.