I grew up surrounded by trees, and I loved them, and I miss them now that I live somewhere different.
But I’ve discovered that focusing on what we’ve lost sometimes blinds us to the flipside… the good thing that might follow in the wake of the loss.
My childhood neighbourhood was full of trees. Rainforest trees with seeds the size and weight of cricket balls that would suddenly drop from a lofty height with life-threatening potential. Mighty pines that released clouds of yellow pollen, and shed pine cones that I dressed in hats and clothes and stuck paper eyes on during my Handicraft Period (similar to Picasso’s Blue Period but requiring more glue). The blessed relief of dense mango tree shade on a steamy summer-sauna day.
Other trees with edible fruit… exotic pecans (don’t break the nut open with your teeth if it’s got ants in it!) and native macadamias with their spiky dark leaves pricking our skin. Mulberries that stained our hands and faces and yielded leaves for our silkworm projects. Even one neighbour with a custard apple, sweet and gritty and delicious once you pulled out the little grubs that congregated near the stem.
And towering above them all, native gums keeping a serene eye on all this lushness, like a benign prefect at tree school.
The big trees were full of birdlife, starting with the sarcastic dawn chorus of the kookaburras (yes! you do have to get up! ha ha ha), blending into the warbling of magpies, the throat-clearing of currawongs, the mournful hooooo of the storm bird, and the screeching of delinquent sulphur-crested cockatoos, drunk on fermented umbrella tree fruit yet again and swinging upside down in rowdy gangs.
At dusk, the birds went to bed and the night-shift came on. Flying foxes shrieking and squabbling, possums stuttering, koalas grunting and growling. (Anyone who thinks the Australian bush is silent has never been there.)
There’s just something about trees, especially big trees, that speaks to my spirit. When I’m surrounded by something so much bigger than myself, it’s like a visual aid putting my problems into perspective, and making me think of God. My heart lifts a little, my worries are quietened, just a little.
When I bought my own place, I couldn’t afford a big yard. In fact, I ended up with a pragmatic choice, a little townhouse among others just the same, with the redeeming feature of a big open river plain over my back fence. I do like my little house, but I’m sad that the tree police won’t let anything grow taller than themselves. Heaven forbid we should get leaves in our gutters, or, horror of horrors, have to rake them up from the lawn in autumn!
I’ve consoled myself by growing an improbable collection of trees in my little courtyard — which have finally started to bring a few birds other than crows — and visiting other people’s trees when I can. And of course, I’ve grumped about having no trees. 😉
But do you know what I’ve finally realised I get at this house, that I never had much of growing up?
When the trees are all gathering around and overhead, you get only glimpses of sky. And now that I’ve seen it repeatedly, I am able to report that sky is actually quite a beautiful thing too.
Our summer storms come roaring in from the Darling Downs to the south west, or the really vicious ones from the north west. At my childhood home, they would sneak up on us, and we’d be scrambling to get the washing off the line just as a thunderclap released the deluge.
Now I can watch the huge thunderheads approaching for hours, with fascination and sometimes fear.
And the sunsets are simply extraordinary. The evening art display is always beautiful and often exquisite, whether the soft gradations of blue and pink and silver of a clear winter sky, or the infinite combinations of cloud — from delicate swirls and wisps of gold and silver, to bruised purple and lurid orange and sulky charcoal.
And I take the time to look at it, because I’m that sort of person, a dreamer and gazer who probably should be taking the garbage out to the bin but is looking up instead. It thrills me, refreshes me, inspires me.
I have a special memory of driving down my road through one glorious sunset and saying aloud, “Well, God, you’ve excelled yourself today,” and receiving an unmistakeable answering thrill through my spirit. Far out brussel sprout, he heard me! So often I forget to remember that he likes beauty too — he made it, after all!
I have other special memories from the time when my teenage niece was living with me, another dreamy soul who likes to gaze at things. We would often sprawl on the ground in front of my house and watch the changing sky show until the light had all seeped away.
Of course, I continued to whinge and moan about the absence of big trees at my house. And then it suddenly dawned on me one day: the reason I had so much glorious sky to look at was…. (drumroll) the absence of trees. My loss was also my gain.
I’ve seen that happen in other parts of my life too. When I used to spend three hours every day commuting to work, I resented every minute… but now I realise I got much more reading done then than I ever have time for now!
Trees and trains are small potatoes compared to some losses, but can the principle still apply?
I met a woman with terminal cancer. She spoke frankly about her fears, but also saw positives in her situation. “Any of us can die without warning,” she said, “but because I know my time is short, I’m able to make the most of the months I have left.” I was awestruck by her ability to find a silver lining in such a dark cloud. She spent her time talking openly to people about her hopes for eternity, and saying everything that she needed to say to the people she loved.
When my own beloved father died very suddenly, it was a brutal shock. But later I was able to see God’s mercies in the situation.
There was the obvious one, that it was better for my Dad that he slipped away quickly instead of lingering in pain and confusion for days, weeks or months.
But there was a more subtle benefit too. Because we hadn’t been drained by an Intensive Care marathon, we had more health and strength ourselves to grieve and heal and try to get back into life. I’ve done the ICU endurance feat before, and it sucks the life out of you. My grief would have been so much harder to bear, with that level of exhaustion.
I’m trying to learn to be more thankful, every day, even though I often slip back into belly-aching about whatever has gone wrong again! 😉 I’m a praying person, and I’ve begun deliberately slowing down and — before I start asking for things — saying thank you for every good thing that comes to mind that has happened that day, and also looking for a flipside to the less-than-good things, that I could perhaps be thankful for too. It’s a small thing, but it’s a start, and it does seem to be helping change the direction of my mind.
How good are you at seeing the flipside of the things you don’t want? I’m trying to get better at it, but it’s a lifelong process. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
marianne wheelaghan says
Hi Belinda, what wonderful photos and a great philosophy. I do find it hard to see the flip-side of just about anything but especially when it comes to the death of someone I love. I know it’s a simple matter of perspective, a different way of seeing something, which sounds so straightforward, but I also know that it’s worth the struggle. Life is too short to let negative thoughts and feelings take a hold. In fact, each 31st if December my New year’s resolution is to be more gracious and to look for the flipside in people. The fact i have to repeat this resolution every year tells you how successful I am at sticking to it, but I live in hope ;o) Great post. Thanks.
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks so much, Marianne. I wish we lived in a world where we never had to cope with the death of a loved one, and I’m challenged by those who can find the bright side of such a devastating thing.
At a much more mundane level, I’m struggling to take my own advice today because summer has just begun here. I’m sure that sounds lovely in Scotland but in Brisbane I’m trying not to see it as Snake Season, which brings 5 or 6 months of poor sleep and high electricity bills due to heat & humidity!! haha You are right that we need to remember life is short and we have to make the most of EVERY day, not just the “good” ones. 🙂 x
A lovely post, and an important reminder for all of us. I’m not very good at seeing the flipside of things either, but I’m trying to get better at it. I live in a very urban area but would much prefer to live in a place with stunning natural scenery. On the flipside we do have good museums here. I think it’s about being realistic in your expectations and trying to balance that. I love the photos of the sky above your townhouse, and the descriptions of the trees you grew up with.. Australia sounds like a beautiful, amazing place which I hope to be able to visit one day.
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks Kendra… lovely that you are able to appreciate your museums. There’s also a lot of services available in urban areas. I’d like to live out in the country, but I remind myself that it’s handy to be only 20 minutes from a major hospital when I or my loved ones need one, instead of 6 hours’ drive. 😉
Laura Zera says
There are so many important reminders in this post, as well as beautiful imagery. And I’m going to adopt “far out, brussel sprout” as part of my everyday lexicon!
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks Laura. I’ll give you some more silly sayings to add to your lexicon, but I’ll be sure to only send them through one at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed. 😉
Hello there! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin
that might be able to correct this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share.
Belinda Pollard says
Hi there, this blog is created using Standard Theme http://8bit.io/standard/ which is mobile responsive. So it resizes to fit the size of the screen on the device people are using to view it, and if it goes to a phone, the sidebar drops down under the posts. If you are looking at it on a computer, just drag your browser window in and out and you’ll see how it changes.
Hope that’s helpful. 🙂
Helen Barbour says
This really resonates with me. I lost a dear friend to cancer 4 years ago, who had much the same approach to her situation as your friend. She also loved clouds and was a member of The Cloud Appreciation Society – yes, it really exists! (there are loads of cloud photos on their website). I try to stop for at least a few minutes every day to watch the clouds, not just to remind me of her, but also to appreciate the sky’s beauty and to get a sense of perspective as to my own place in the grand scheme of things.
It is certainly all to easy to focus on what we have lost, or don’t have, rather than the good things we do enjoy.
Belinda Pollard says
Helen, it’s such a huge loss, to have a dear friend taken in that way. May you be comforted. I’m so glad you have the clouds to remind you of her, and help get perspective. And I’m definitely going to look up that Cloud Appreciation Society!