Sunday, September 21, 2008

Towers and Trees

Have you ever noticed how simple things can have a tremendous power over people? How someone like Linus Van Pelt from Peanuts gets the shakes when Snoopy or Lucy steal his blanket; or the young man who wears a shirt long after its tattered and moth eaten; the lady who keeps her doll for years even though as a young girl she gave her a hair cut that makes her look like she has the mange.

Towns get upset when in the name of progress, old land marks are torn down. Why do we get so attatched to these physical things. Why don't we look at them with Vulcan stoicism and say this item has lost its usefulness, it has been used up; we no longer need it?

Because they haven't.

We hold onto these symbols because our mind and soul, in an attempt to interpret the most important things that have happened to us, place the emotions we feel inside on these physical symbols to help us remember the importance.

Let me share a few of my symbols.

The Tower

In my parents back yard there stands and aged wooden playset. The moss grows on it, the rust covers the swingset bar, in recent years the sandbox has become a litter box. Its still functional and usefull. My neice and nephew love to swing on it, and make a waterslide by running the garden hose down the slide. However if a new owner were to come to the house chances are probably 50-50 they'd tear it down. I can see in my minds eye, some new age women finding the moss icky, the rust clashing with her lawn furniture, and fearing her bubbleboy would get the hanta virus from the sandbox.

Despite its limitations, this playset is a powerful connector for me. It connects me to my days of youth when my friends and brothers would have floods in the sandbox. I remember using the tower to proclaim victory in a water fight, and i even remember when, as a very young boy my mom informed me that it was inappropriate to relieve myself from the top of the tower, and the neighbors would appreciate it if I stopped (those neighbors shortly thereafter moved out of state).

I have plenty of symbols that remind me of the utopian youth I experienced in East Idaho, but the playset is an important symbol for me in another sense. It is time with my father and brothers.

Every boy wants to be involved with his dad, doing things. Before a boy idolizes Kobe Bryant, or Payton Manning; before he deciding to be a fireman or a doctor; before wanting to start the next great rock band, a young boy sees his dad as the ultimate expression of manhood. Disillusionment might come later as the boy grows, but in his early years, the boy wants to be just like dad. And what's better than meeting your idol, doing something with your idol.

I don't know how old I was when my dad took his pack of three boys outside to build the playset; I must have been over seven, because I was that old when we built the house. But i remember working out in the hot sun with Dad. Marveling at his ability to know just how to use the tools right. How brilliant he was when he used a string to make sure the boards were all level, how strong he was when he carried the buckets of cement that we used to set the 4X4's in place, and how awesome it was that he spent his time doing this, for us boys, and that we were part of it. I remember the hours he spent creating drawings on his old Mac computer while we would fantasize how awesome it would be. I remember pounding the nails into the floorboards on the tower. And I remember how he continually sought to improve it after we had completed the main tower, when he tracked down an old pipe to hang swings on, and when he brought home rope to climb on.

The symbolizes the love of a parent for a child, my dad's sacrifice for his kids, which goes on to this day, and his desire to show us how to work, and complete a project. He could have bought a playset at the local big box store, then I wouldn't care about it near as much, and I wouldn't be sad if some antiseptically minded lady decided to tear it down, but the real gift of the playset was his time and effort to his kids, and that is what it means to me

I could jabber on for pagers about just writing about memories from my yard, the next sentimental symbol is about 7 feet from the playset. It is the old silver-tipped cottonwood tree.

The Tree

We planted this tree a few years after we built the house primarily to be a climbing tree for the kids. As a youngster this tree seemed to grow at a snails pace, but in the world of trees it is actually fairly quick grower. Having a complete yard was one of my ideals as a kid. A yard with climbing trees, hiding spaces for night games, and open areas for the sport of the moment, be it whiffle ball, football, volleyball, or some made up game. Well now the yard has become mature, and while i grew up faster the the tree, my younger siblings have had plenty of time to climb upon it branches. This tree represents the completeness of the yard and the assurance that generations to come will experience the complete yard that i yearned for growing up.

There is however one problem.

As the tree has matured it has developed a strong desire to reproduce. What the problem with that you may ask? Wouldn't the world be better with more climbing trees. Kids love them. The problem isn't so much that the tree wants to procreate, but how. In spite of the assurances of the greenhouse owner many years ago, this tree sends up runners and they are taking over the yard.

(As an aside for the botanically challenged out there. A runner is a root the tree sends out from which to grow a clone of itself. In the case of this tree the runners go underground and surface some distance from the tree attempting to start a new tree.)

With the drive of a teenager this tree is sending up hundreds of sprouts all over the yard. At first we ignored them and would mow over them. But that has caused a problem, after we would mow one sprout off, it would send up another one from the same location. Now with the build up of scar tissue we have the hard as rock pieces of wood on the surface of the ground waiting to roll ankles, and stub toes. The spread like cancer over the whole yard destroying the volleyball court and threatening the rest of the yard as well.

And so the best climbing tree in the world must come down.

We must take down the tree and tear up the yard to remove all the runners; if we don't we'll lose the yard. The tree that provides shade in the afternoon, where our first pet duck would set and quack; the tree with a great hiding place for night games. The tree with perfectly spaced branches for a youngun who fighting against his own fear of heights climbs higher then he has before. We must tear it down and tear it out.

And contemplate what to put in the holes. Inside and out.

But the tree teaches us another lesson in sentimentality. While we can gain comfort and strength from these symbols to our past, we should never serve the symbol, the symbol must serve us. When we get rid of a symbol, its not because we are getting rid of what the symbol represented, its because the symbol has stopped representing well.

If we get to the point where we are so attached to things that they tether us down from growing and becoming better people; if we come to the point where we have so many symbols to remind us where we have been that there is no room for where we may go. Then they symbol is like those knotty roots, it damages us, we strive to keep the symbol around for the symbols sake. We have to take a step back and realize we can move on. So lets keep our symbols as towers of strength comfort and wisdom, not cancerous tumors of attachment.


Nic said...

Does mom not want to cut down the tree!?

Pacatak said...

I'm not sure what the future of the tree is

Reed said...

Well written. Mom cried all the way through it.

Erin said...

Cut the tree down... make an addition to the playset with the wood from the tree.

Erin said...

Jonathan said the above comment not erin

michael said...

Well written. I cried all the way through it.