Day 3 Challenge: Tough Love

Lighting the fires of change.
Lighting the fires of change.

Good morning friends!

I don’t think you’re probably keeping track, but the Day 3 challenge is a little late in the making (like 6 days).  I wrestled with this a lot.  Not because I don’t have something to say–I do–but because I am feeling a lot of pressure from the deadlines imposed by this challenge.  At first this was good pressure.  A challenge? Yay! But it has felt oppressive.  So guess what? I am a big girl, and this girl decided to get some sleep and care for her family instead of fighting to crank out a piece.  Quality over quantity.  I think my decision was a good one.

This morning, I woke up with enough energy (I have always been a morning person by nature, and appreciate it even more now that I have babies) to wrap up this piece.  Better late than never, I say.  The challenge for Day 3 is called “Pick A Fight”.  I don’t really like that title. It’s too combative, and I am a peaceful creature by nature.   However, I am usually willing to say what I think–even if I have to ruminate on it for a while before I speak. So I thought that “Tough Love” was better.  Need to say something that’s hard for others to hear, but good for them? That’s tough love.  Need to say something hurtful because you’re hangry? That’s picking a fight.  I’m mean enough when I don’t eat.  I certainly don’t need a bad attitude in writing.

So I live in an area of the country where we are surrounded by gorgeous forests.  These forests are nothing like the forest preserves of the Midwest that I grew up in.  For heaven’s sake, we have wilderness areas here.  No roads, no people, no structures, no nothing.  Just the quiet of the forests.  I am blessed enough to live next door to Glacier National Park, so that will give you some visuals about what my area looks like.  I am a lucky duck.

I also live in an area with–at least recently–some rather dry summers, complete with thunderstorms and “dry lightning”. This, combined with irresponsible folks who like to smoke in piles of dry pine needles and don’t put out campfires, is a recipe for forest fires.  Now I won’t go into the details of forest management here, but suffice it to say that forest fires around here are a BIG FREAKING DEAL.  Not because everyone runs around afraid that their house will burn down (a lot folks in my town live in a pretty safe valley), but because everyone has an opinion about them.  And they will heartily tell you their opinion, too.  Many folks in my neck of the woods would like the forest fires to be put out immediately upon detection.  This will “save the forests”!  No structures will be destroyed.  Access will continue to public lands, and no one will be inconvenienced. When it really boils down to it for many people, the logging industry and the families it supports will not suffer (and I agree here–no one should suffer). Things will just stay the same. Sounds reasonable, right?

Now I wish nothing but success and love for folks, but I heartily disagree with this. And the more I look at my life, and how things are going, the more parallels I can draw.  Because know what? NOTHING CAN STAY STATIC FOREVER. I’m very sorry, loves.  But it’s true. As much as it pains us sometimes, our lives, just like our forests, are dynamic, living things.  And they simply cannot remain unchanged.  It’s downright dangerous on both counts.

Just in case you’re not up on forest fire management, let me give you a quick run-down on how forests usually work.  Healthy forests grow over time.  They start out as messy little things, with lots of underbrush and little plants.  As time goes by, they get bigger and stronger, with larger trees pushing their way to the front.  Eventually, the shade created by the canopy of those big guys crowds out the smaller trees and bushes, and you get large strong trees and a healthy undergrowth of vegetation.  You will also get limbs on the forest floor that have fallen from trees, as well as entire downed trees themselves.  These decompose and fuel the growth and health of the forest.  It’s a very nice rhythm that the forest has worked out for itself.

But the forest isn’t meant to stay like this forever, and it knows that.  It’s like it’s aware that it is an impermanent, living being.  And the biggest game-changer for forests is fire.  Lots of forest plants are equipped to deal with this change.  The bark of the ponderosa pine is so thick that it protects the living tree underneath while the fire burns through.  Many evergreen trees produce serotinous cones, which means they only open and release their seeds by fire’s presence.  In a healthy forest, the fire comes through and sort of cleans house.  The dead and downed trees are burned, along with the messy brush.  The larger trees are big and healthy enough to survive.  Some cones and seeds can now flourish after the fire, and little woodland critters have lots of places to build their homes.  This is the way nature is meant to take care of itself. It’s a great little (okay, humungous) relationship.

Healthy fire, healthy regrowth
Healthy fire, healthy regrowth

Enter humans.

Somehow or another, humans have come in and decided that we need to tinker with this balance in the forest.  Mostly this is because we now use the forests for our own personal use.  We recreate in them.  We live in them.  We log them for lumber. And let’s face it–a forest that is on fire isn’t all that useful to people. You can’t hike in a fire, nor can you log in it.  And charred acreage isn’t exactly a selling point for a home, and it doesn’t look very nice in a vacation brochure.  So we have decided that the fires are a bad thing, and that we must suppress them.  We put out the fires that we spot and keep them from spreading, thinking that we are “protecting” our forests. But really, we are protecting our own human interests.  And as we screw around with the balance of nature, funny things start to happen.

First off, when fire isn’t allowed to move through a forest, you end up with a lot of “messy build-up”.  Those downed trees? They start to pile up.  The undergrowth gets oppressive.  You end up with a forest that is clogged underneath.  Crowded.  If you tried to walk through a forest like this, you couldn’t, because you’d trip and fall constantly. It’s a lot like a toddler’s play room at four in the afternoon.  You get the idea.

The funny thing is that humans–while we try our damnedest–can’t control everything.  And eventually, despite our very best efforts, lightning will strike, or an irresponsible camper will leave an ember burning, or what have you. And a fire WILL break out.  Now, instead of having a bit of fuel to work with, the fire has a TON.  That crowded understory become the Golden Corral of the forest fire–just one big buffet.  And the thing takes off.  This is a fire that cannot be contained or managed, and it burns so hot and so fast that you basically have to just get out of the way. Those ponderosa trees that have protective bark? Doesn’t really matter in this case, because this fire is too hot.  This is the kind of fire that wipes out everything, just wipes it clean. The forests does recover, eventually.  But it takes a really long time, longer than it should.  It’s devastating.

ground to crown fire

Now this kind of fire IS dangerous and bad, and no one wants this ripping through their area.  But Lordy, friends.  If we would have just let well enough alone–if we would have just let the forest manage and take care of itself, editing and cleansing when needed–this wouldn’t be an issue.  These enormous fires are the fault of the very folks who were trying to stop this kind of thing–humans.

You are now over 1,000 words into this little rant and probably thinking, “Yikes, she’s such a tree hugger.  I came here to be inspired about authentic living, and now I feel like I need a Greenpeace membership.”  And that’s okay, because I’m going to draw a big parallel (hang in there, I really am).  You can completely disagree with me about forest management and still appreciate the next thoughts, I promise.

Nothing stays static.

Not forests. And not us.

This advice comes from a girl who REALLY DISLIKES CHANGE.  I do.  It makes me uncomfortable and anxious and I just want to get under the covers when change comes knocking. But our lives are like the forests, friends.  We NEED changes to come through and clean house.  The best way to accomplish this? Small, manageable changes, just a little at a time.  Those tweaks to our everyday operating that come in and clear things out.  This keeps our lives healthy.  Things might not look the same as they did before the change, but we are better creatures for it.

I grew up in the Midwest, like I said earlier.  My family is still there.  But I have chosen to set up camp over 1,700 miles away from home.  Why? Because hubs and I wanted a change in our lives from where we grew up.  We wanted different opportunities for our children and ourselves.  We couldn’t get that where we were.  So we made a change.

We used to live in a pretty little house in the woods.  We built it ourselves. But once babies came along, it didn’t fit our needs anymore.  The commute was too long and we wanted to be closer to town so that we could take part in all that our charming downtown has to offer.  I wanted to work part time while my babies were still babies, and we couldn’t afford that living where we did.  So we sold our house, downsized, and moved into town.  We made a change.

I am a teacher, and as such I am a serial grade-shifter.  I have taught four different grades in 16 years, ranging from kindergarten all the way to 5th grade.  This isn’t common among teachers.  Most change grades once or twice in their career, and usually only in small jumps.  But when a grade level isn’t working for me anymore (or I’m not the best fit for that grade), then I make a change.  This results in some teasing (“What grade THIS year, Amy?”) and some confusion (“Wait, I thought you taught 4th!”), but it’s good for me.

I said in my last post (here) that the unexamined life is not worth living.  That’s the idea reflected in making changes. And remember when I said that it’s dangerous not to tweak and clean house every so often? That’s completely true.  It is totally natural to want things to stay the same.  We get comfortable.  We know where things go and how they work.  But just under the surface, there begins to lurk some of that messy buildup.  Our downed limbs and trees start to clog things up.  And inevitably, change comes knocking anyway.  Maybe it’s a job transfer that has you moving across the country.  Perhaps it’s the death of a loved one, or a divorce, or an illness. Whatever form change decides to take that day, it WILL come.  And if you aren’t comfortable with it–you haven’t worked through change in your life, and things have remained static for way too long–then you get one of those out-of-control fires ripping through.  Your whole live is leveled, and you are left not knowing how to handle it. This is horrible, and I am by no means suggesting THIS type of change.  But little changes here and there? Or medium-sized changes every so often? That’s the stuff that makes a healthy life.  A dynamic life.

And it’s not too late to start, ever.  Just take a look at things in your life.  What’s been not-quite-right for too long? Can you make a small change there? And again, remember–I have a hard time with change. But I have learned to lean into it, to sit with it and make friends with it, and then invite it in.  Start small, dears.  Drive a different way to work.  Make a new meal for dinner.  Purge your closet and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t fit you. Change doesn’t have to mean quitting your job and moving.  But you do have to know yourself well to make it happen. So dig deep.  Can you make a small change today? And if you’re uncomfortable with that idea, start really small.  Just THINK about that change.  Weigh the pros and cons of making pad thai for dinner.  When you’re ready, jump in. It will feel really good to start with small changes, I promise.  You will start to clear out the messy build-up of life. You will begin to get used to the feeling of change and how positive it can actually be.  And your little section of forest that you’re living in will thank you.

The long and winding road. I am at the starting line, I think.
Take the road less traveled!

Cheers! Here’s to small changes for a dynamic life.

Photo Credit 1: Virginie Moerenhout, Flickr

Photo Credit 2: Larry Lasma, Flickr

Photo Credit 3: Cameron Strandberg, Flickr

Photo Credit 4: Author’s own

25 Comments

    1. Thanks for hanging in there, Lisa (it’s possible I might be a bit long-winded; we’re looking into it)! And here’s a secret about “serotinous”: I learned it at Forestry Expo when I taught fifth grade! 😉

  1. Great analogy, Amy! I’m glad you were able to make the “challenge” work for you and that you took time to write such a worthy piece. I’m even going to have my forester read it!

    1. Awwww! You know, I kept thinking about you while I was writing this one. You are a brave friend who inspires ME to invite change in. So thank you, Sharon.

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