The Botany And Beauty Of Challenge: A Salute To The Wild Wonder.

Everything is alive.  Every moment.  Every event.  Every breath we take and every thing that happens is a potent seed.

So, today, I wonder what is inside the seed of Failure?

Here is what I believe:

Inside the seed of failure is the baby plant that becomes the tree, that always grows upward.

Inside the seed of failure is stored energy that keeps it alive until it reaches sunlight.

If Failure is the seed to the tree of Success.

Dirt is the purpose.

Possibility is the air.

Attitude is the water.

Every morning I walk to the lake.  It does not matter whether it is summer or winter, dark or light, rotten or joyful weather.  I look out at the horizon, up into the sky, back at the city, around at the park.  I pray.  I meditate.  I lie on my back and watch the clouds.  I listen to the loud sounds of the city and the quiet background of Mother Earth.  I greet friends I have never really met who enjoy our shared back yard, including the park district’s adolescent trees and the trees that were there before the park district even had a plan.

Last week, when I looked up to greet my favorite tree it was gone.  It was the singular most interesting and beautiful tree on the lakefront between Belmont and Diversey; most glorious when it had no leaves.  That’s when I first noticed it, 30 years ago when I moved to my neighborhood – in the winter, when it was cold and I had failed at something that was, then, very important to me, and, well, when everything seemed to be going wrong.  I looked up at the tree from where I stood near the water, and despite my misery, I was captured by its twirling profile of coiling branches and resilient spiraling limbs.  The wild beauty revealed its lifetime of dancing daily with the harsh wind of Lake Michigan and taking in the bright, healthy midwestern sunshine.  The trees to the left and right of it stood off a bit and appeared perfectly typical – trees you would see illustrated under the word ‘tree’ in an elementary school dictionary.  They had no whorly arms or curlicue offshoots, no lean or bend in their boughs.  As I looked up at The Wild Wonder, I started to feel uplifted.  There in the dirt one tiny little seed grew up right where the northeast wind pummelled the shore.  She grew around the wind, like she had embraced every gust.  It was a miracle she survived.  I could imagine the little seedling standing up to the wind, shivering and brave, laughing and flexible. It was not a miracle that she was so magnificent.

I climbed up the giant cement steps to the landing, walked over to the spot where she had lived and looked down at the ground where she had grown up.  There was the scab of her trunk, covered in wood chips.  She was gone.  I chose to believe one of those giant bolts of lightning transported her life to a distant galaxy and a team of the park’s arborists took good care of her remains.

Many times, I have brought both of my daughters, Isabella and Sophia, out to The Wild Wonder, my dear magnificent tree, just to talk to them about her life.  I asked each of the girls, on separate occasions, while we stood looking at her, to tell me why she was so different from all of the other trees.  (…one of my parenting lessons on the subject of ‘challenge and support’; in both cases, each girl was 7 years old.)  After considerable storytelling about what had to have been the storms, winters and summer sunshine’s she had lived through, the girls commented how much more unique and beautiful The Wild Wonder was compared to the neighboring trees.  Sophia said The Wild Wonder had grown up doing gymnastics (and went so far as to say the other trees were boring).  Isabella called her the only dancing tree she had ever seen.

Today I salute The Wild Wonder.  With gratitude for her mighty beauty and all of the lessons and wisdom we learned from her life’s story – encapsulated by her form – and for reminding me to be open to explore what is inside any seed of failure and how challenge and support create extraordinary beauty.