Thursday, May 29, 2008
Treehugging as Ineffective Brake
Back in high school, I was a bit of a nerd. I know this revelation may come as a shock to some of my readers. In the 80s, I was really rather unsure of myself, somewhat bookish, and generally in awe of the worldliness of others. To some extent, I've held true to form in these regards. So, in the '86-'87 school year, my senior year, I decided that now was the time to turn over a new leaf. I was going to be more social, more outgoing, and, in light of an impending year at college (the traditional "social do-over" transformation year for most people), I was going to get out there. I was going to do it. How else was I to make friends, establish contacts that I could treasure through my adult years and share stories with during class reunions?
So I did it. I joined the Science Club. All those people I'd only seen in the hallway, combined with some I knew from class, such as Astronomy with Mr. Smith, who ran the planetarium in the science wing, and who was in charge of the Science club. We organized all-night star-watching sessions, using the motor-driven telescope on the roof of the school, and, in mid-February, all organized a cross-country ski trip in Pokagon State Park in northeastern Indiana. This was a big deal--I was going out, without parents or family, with my new social contacts, for an entire day, and I was going to go tobogganing and even skiing. Though the toboggan run is one of the Midwest's best, after only one run down with the toboggan, a group of us decided that we should really get going on the skiing action. Once we paid for the special boots and skis, we referred to the map of the various trails and set off.
What we soon learned is that the ski trails and the hiking trails intersected, and we found ourselves no longer on a beginner ski trail, but on an Advanced trail titled The Devil's Tooth, which is supposed to be hard to walk on. We, in little time, had to resort to climbing up the inclines on our hands and knees in the snow. We were surprised to find actual roads in our path, which we clacked across briskly. We found ourselves lost, the map unhelpful, until we realized that we had not only crossed county roads, but also a highway. We weren't even in the park anymore. After well over 18 miles of skiing, we exhaustedly flopped at sundown in the ski lodge and turned in our skis, finding that we were over an hour past the deadline for signing out--there were search parties out to find us. I remember us looking confusedly at each other, but most of us were too tired to care. All I could think of was the fact that we had been miles from nowhere, with the high temperature 15 degrees, crawling up wooded hills. Once at the top, the trails down were steep and winding. We went in order, giving a number before we shoved off that represented the number of trees we estimated we'd hit before we got to the bottom. We tried to schuss, but were too inexpert. Most would head straight down, crashing through bare saplings before clipping something far more substantial. The skier would then disappear in a cloud of tossed snow and branches before coming to a rest with a call: "I'm alright."
Today's my 39th birthday, and I'm finding that birthdays are more and more like this field trip of 22 years ago. I keep hearing from folks that some birthdays are worse than others. One sets off on skis down the hill, hearing that 40 is the Big One. The Tree looms somewhere on the slope, and there always seems to be the hope that one can steer around it, but when one gets to 39, that's when one realizes that you're gonna hit that tree. 39 is the Bad Birthday. 35 is a bad birthday too, because it can be rounded to 40, which is only ten years from 50, which, if one rounds again, is 100. One is Old. But 39 isn't a matter of rounding. It's a concrete confirmation of what most of us dread. Up to a certain age, things stay static: there's the old'uns and the young'uns. Past that, one, insidiously, gets a sense of both--the inadequacies of those younger and the growing concerns of those older. The day stays the same, but the presents are different. First, it's toys, then clothes perhaps (which are always a real drag), then, perhaps, a bike, a stereo, a car. Then cards with checks, then cards with notes, then cards. Then the increasing realization that that slope has a river at the bottom of it, or, like the chocolates in that famous scene on I Love Lucy, there is an end to the conveyor belt. There's lots to do, but what to do first? Clipping the trees doesn't slow one down a bit.
So past a certain age, it seems things turn from endless horizons to an increasing urge toward prioritization, an undercurrent of What One Should Be Doing. I'm not working on a Bucket list by any means, but I'm becoming increasingly aware of how much time I've wasted up to now worrying about things that don't matter. Therefore: a focus, or at least a goal to focus, on the things that matter. That, and to get these damnable windows reglazed before I turn 40.