Thursday, October 13, 2011

Only God Can Make a Tree

The air is still, somehow eerie and calming all at the same time, the sky a soft shade of indigo that I’ve never noticed it to be before. The sun is far enough submerged that nothing else is illuminated, just outlines and shadows waiting to be exposed. Leaves rustle and drop from the trees as my eyes adjust to the early morning dawn. I am as removed from modern society as I can ever remember being in my lifetime.

I was attending a camping trip for my Recreation 100 class – Wilderness Living Skills. The course required very little effort or attendance, save for a weekend camping trip, Friday through Sunday. I was immediately hooked. The appeal of minimal effort in an elective course and a few days outside in the midst of fall felt like a fair exchange for college credit. What I didn’t originally realize, of course, was how intense this “camping trip” would actually be.

First of all, it was a hiking trip, not a camping trip. “Camping” was what occurred when it got too dark to hike, or we grew tired of carrying a 50 lb backpack through the wilderness. And it wasn’t exactly “make s’mores and chug PBRs with your buds before dozing off in your car” camping. It was “pitch a tent and crap in a hole in the ground” camping. No toilets. No trash cans. No iPods or cell phones or bags of Doritos. I’m not entirely sure what it means to be roughing it, but if this wasn’t it, it was certainly as close as I have ever been. I assume it was very similar to how the Kardashians react when they lose phone service while driving through a tunnel.

From a distance, the experience overall wasn’t really too shabby. I like being outdoors. I enjoy the physical challenge of hiking and camping and self-preservation. Nature is cool, bro. But I’d take 24 hours of lounging and college football over a 10 mile hike up and down muddy hills in rain soaked clothes every freaking day of the week. No, that doesn’t exactly make me a thrill seeking outdoorsman, and it won’t get my face on a roll of paper towels. But when you have a 55 inch HD TV and indoor plumbing, it also doesn’t make you a fool.

It would be wrong, however, to claim that I gained nothing from the experience. I suppose it was more aggravating than entertaining, more laborious than educational. But under the circumstances, it allowed for plenty of contemplative thought – which, to be honest, is not something I generally spend much time on. (I figure that’s pretty obvious by now.)

I thought about what the future might possibly hold for me, and how I want to approach it. I thought about talent and direction and fate. I thought about how much control I have over my outlook, and whether that control is a good thing. I thought about letting that control go, be it out of carefree conviction or a spiritual leap of faith. I thought about Justin Timberlake, and about staying your lane.

I’m not sure why Justin Timberlake was the most readily available pop culture reference point, but it resonated most with me somewhere out in the forests of Appalachian Ohio. It’s probably because Timberlake is everywhere, but only when he wants to be. And it’s probably also because Timberlake gave up on the one thing that he knew would bring him steady fame, income, and deification: music. For whatever reason, Timberlake decided he’d rather be an actor, using his talents to portray fictitious suave and charming characters that every girl fawns over, as opposed to a personified suave and charming characterization that every girl fawns over.

Timberlake is admittedly a bit of a different breed, as he clearly possesses enough charisma and magnetism to simply trade one career of fame and fortune for another…but the principle remains the same. His future success was more guaranteed as a singer/entertainer, if only because history had proven how successful that lifestyle could be for him. So far, I wouldn’t say that he has failed as an actor (by any means), and he clearly will have the opportunities to get better. But did he make the best decision? Should he really have crossed platforms? Will it eventually come back to haunt him after a string of bombed films and failed attempt at a comeback album?

For whatever reason, being outdoors – specifically in the woods during the fall – always reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. It most certainly has something to do with the imagery, but it could also be my overall lack of poetry knowledge, as well as the fact that my 8th grade English teacher required us to memorize the whole thing. The message of the poem is all about a man faced with a decision, and ultimately deciding to take “the road less traveled by,” which in the end is what makes all the difference in his life. I’m not entirely sure how I initially interpreted this poem (or if I even did at all), but I eventually came to the realization that he chooses the road less traveled by – partly to challenge himself, partly to enrich his life – but also because it’s the path he wanted to choose. The other might have offered an easier road or a more definite outcome, but deep down, the uncharted territory drew the narrator in. Uncertainty, anxiety, potential failure – none of it was strong enough to deter him. He wanted to choose the less ventured road; had to choose the less ventured road. It wasn’t the ending that appealed to him. It was the journey of getting there. Or at least that’s how I’ve come to interpret it. And oddly enough, I think Justin Timberlake probably feels the same way.

Standing in that clearing, the frost of the morning air blanketing me as the sky slowly transforms from smooth indigo to uneven amber, these are things I’m thinking about. And as we begin the last portion of our hike, back to normalcy and civilization, I suddenly come to this enlightening realization about which lane to stay in, which path to travel. Walking amongst the silence and serenity of God’s great creation, I recognize that I’m surrounded by what could very well be the purest and most beautiful scene I’ve ever personally laid eyes on…and I hate it. I absolutely hate it.

The sound of car wheels on pavement as we approach our destination is empowering. I want nothing more than to shower, drink Mountain Dew, and regain cell service on my Blackberry. I can’t wait to check Twitter and update my Fantasy Football roster. I want to eat something that would never be able to survive in a drenched canvass backpack for three days. And most importantly, I want to start moving forward on my own path. I want to choose my own course of action. I want to do what Justin Timberlake would do.

I’m completely unsure where this path ends. I’m not even assured of where it actually begins. But the rest will figure itself out; the revelation will eventually be seen. For now, I know merely what direction to turn, a slight chill on my breath the only indication as to where I am going.

Thanks for reading

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