Staring at Trees…

I’m on another road trip with my family, this time visiting my in-laws in Seattle. Road trips with kids, I’ve decided, are a mixed bag. I always start off with visions of The Great American Journey, complete with sing-a-longs, happy games of I Spy and listening to audiobooks—classics, such as Charlotte’s Web or Winnie the Pooh. Sure, at times it’s actually like that. But inevitably we end up screaming because we can’t hear the I Spy clues, upset because we can’t agree on the audiobook, and tired because Are We There Yet?

Maybe it will take some years to forget the difficult times (just how messy the car got!) and overestimate the good times (of course we always sang on tune!) to be able to wax nostalgic about the closeness that hours in a car brought us.

However, we tried something this time around that was pretty awesome and I thought I’d share. It seemed to calm everyone down and help us realize that the point of this, or any journey, isn’t the being there, it’s the moments we spending getting there. Although this is something I often just practice in solitude, it worked really nicely as a discussion between my husband and the kids.

1–Pick a tree and stand, say, 80 feet away. What do you see? What shapes do the branches make? Is it tall? Short? Densely foliated or are the leaves spaced far apart? How do the branches hang, or are they swaying in the breeze?

2—Move 1-2 paces closer to the tree. What do you notice new this time? What changes do you see as your focus shifts?

3—Keep going, pausing every 1-2 paces closer to the tree to notice new elements. Pretty soon you’ll begin to see changes in the bark or the leaves. On our tree, we began to notice where the sap was seeping out, and where all the bugs were working. Since we’re up in the Northwest, we also noticed the details of the moss on the tree—something that before we only noticed as “green.”

Obviously we can’t do this with every tree we ever see. We’d never get anything done. But it’s a good reminder that unless we take a pause, we might find ourselves missing far too much.

[I give credit to Vicky Kennedy-Overfelt for this activity—she’s an instructor in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at Red Butte Gardens, and I would highly recommend a class from her.]