I'm grateful for the camaraderie. Truly. But I also find myself hoping that people who deeply connect with nature can more powerfully voice their concerns. The focus of this article wasn't a plea for conservation; it was, rather, a reflective piece about seeing trees, and ourselves, more clearly.
A few summers ago, I took a trip to South Carolina for the sole purpose of seeing this tree, called the Angel Oak. It's located in a small park on Johns Island, near Charleston.
The class discussion went something like this.
Lauren: I traveled to South Carolina to see this tree.
Student: Just to see this tree?
Lauren: Yes. After I saw the tree, I stayed at an inn near the ocean for a few days, but the purpose of my trip was to see the tree.
Other student: What did you do when you saw the tree?
Lauren: I stood there and looked at it. I walked around it. Took some photos. And then I left.
Student: How long did you stay and look at the tree?
Lauren: About an hour or so.
Another student: How long did it take you to travel to South Carolina?
Lauren: Well, if I count the hour to get to JFK airport, the flight time, and the drive to the tree, probably about seven hours.
Yet another student: Are you some kind of tree specialist or tree researcher?
Lauren: No. I just really wanted to see this tree.
My students were polite. I think what they really wanted to ask me was: "You traveled all the way to South Carolina, from New York, to see a tree for a few minutes? Are you crazy?"
Here was the lesson I was trying to impress upon them: please pursue what fascinates you. Engage with it. You do not need to ask for permission or forgiveness to do this.
Yes, I spent a lot of time and money to go stand in front of this tree for an hour. I simply needed to see it. I had no other reason to go. I must say, standing beneath the leaves of a 500 year-old tree was kind of breathtaking. I walked alongside its gigantic branches, which snake under the ground and then reemerge through the soil 30 feet away from the trunk. It basically has its own ecosystem.
These students are very young and so curious. I want them to dive into themselves headfirst, for their own sake and nothing else. I want them to know that the world they design will be better as a result.