Bloom Where You’re Planted

I have always noticed it, but the world is full of litter. The litter is a stark contrast that sticks out on the landscape like a bluebird in a murder of crows. The world is littered with trash, littered with people, and littered with noise. Now, as I look to the sky above me, my ears are assaulted by the sound of a low flying plane. 

All of this litter comes from one thing. Humans. It is my belief that people are the only cause for pollution in this world. 

I look to the sky and hear the planes from the Piedmont Triad International Airport. It is exactly ten minutes and six and a half miles from where I am standing right now. Convenience outweighs mindfulness. As it stands, people are more concerned with doing something quickly, instead of doing what they know is right. They abandon their moral obligation to the planet and their environment in order to save time.

In class, we discussed that there are less than fourteen places on earth that are not littered with noise. These places are “utterly free of man-made sound.” At this moment, I wish I were there. I wish I were somewhere in the world where I could only hear the peek of a woodpecker or the whoosh of water over a bed of rocks. Even now, as I bend down to take a picture, the heavy footsteps of a runner clomp behind me and the sounds of a little dog yapping echo in tune with the stream to my left. The owners of the white dog whisper quietly, but still inadvertently disrupt nature’s rhythm and my own thoughts.

As I take a picture of the stream, I see a red book caught between a rock and the fallen limb of a tree. Once again trash mars nature’s majesticity. 

A red book pollutes a stream.

As I continue my walk, I see the hearts of young lovers marked in the beech trees along the trail. The initials have been stretched and are hardly recognizable after the many years that have undoubtedly passed since they were etched in the smooth silvery bark of the trees. The narcissism of these young people will have an infinite mark on nature. It will pollute the beautiful landscape and the bark of the trees, permanently. 

The initial J.M and W.D are etched in the trunk of a beech tree. According to the tree, the initials were left on March 27, 2006.

Even now, as I reflect on the time I’ve spent within the woods, I think of all the trash that has made an appearance in my pictures. The worst part about litter is that the trash is left because of another person’s carelessness and indifference.

I walk down the  windy trails and end up at the dam. New art has been painted on the concrete slab. The words read “BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED.” I am not sure if I was supposed to take this as a sign, but in the moment it seems relevant to my current situation. Immediately, I am reminded of the Eastern Red Cedars that dot the pavement leading to the lake. These trees are notorious for being drought tolerant and their ability to withstand poor soil conditions. Despite these conditions, Easter Red Cedars continue to flourish and provide shade for the creatures and organisms that seek refuge under their neede-ly leaves. 

The new addition to the concrete slab reads BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED. A welcome message.

Not only do these trees bloom where they are planted, they thrive and are able to support life around them. Despite their shitty conditions, they are able to flourish and remain beautiful. I take the lesson and hope to one day bloom as beautifully.

Muddy Shoes

Lately, as my classes start to wrap, I’ve found myself working a lot. If I’m not working, I’m in class. If I’m not in class, I’m sleeping. I’ve been telling myself to “just get through this week” for ten weeks. It worked.

On a delightfully chilly Sunday afternoon, I decided it was time to take a walk to recenter myself.

Life is full of choices, some are more important than others and none of them weigh the same. When my path splits into two, I am faced with a choice. A trivial decision that has no real consequences, but is still important to me. The trailhead to my right is marked with a sycamore tree. The roots dig into the soil, deep and unwavering, like the invisible tether between nature and the human soul. The second trail is marked with a beech tree. English ivy vines slither from the wet dirt and up the tree’s trunk, in a mess of green leaves that can never be untangled. 

I realized, if I live my life without ever looking up, I would never be able to see how I got where I am currently. Acknowledging how life and its pacing is different now is an important step. Nature has always been an anchor in my life. It provides direction and peace. The whispers of the wind whipping my hair, the happy tweets of chickadees above me, and the thrumming of silence are sensations I never would have been able to hear in my four-walled dorm prison. I never would hear them if I didn’t stop to take in nature’s conversing around me.

Throughout my time in The Woods, I have also identified myself in nature. I see myself within these two trees. I am rooted in my experiences, ones I have brought with me, and memories I have made with my friends and myself during my adventures. These memories and experiences have contributed to a deeper understanding of my soul and identity. My soul lives within the trunk of my tree. With each new thought, I can create, I branch out to create my own experiences so I may grow intellectual curiosity and awareness of my connection to the land.

Nevertheless, I must choose a path. Each trail will lead me to another adventure toward self-discovery and an appreciation for the life that is sustained on this land.

On my way forward, I find a broken bridge. To either side are pilewort weeds. The glossy yellow petals reflect the springtime sun and provide a stark difference between the brown earth and the bright green and yellow from the lesser celandine. 

A patch of brown earth covered with yellow pilewort weeds.

I continue forward. As I take a step, my left foot sinks into the earth. I lose my balance and my right foot disappears beneath a layer of mocha mud. I’m stuck. Figuratively stuck in my constant indecision and literally stuck in the ground like the weeds I was just admiring.  

My black and white sneakers caked with a layer of wet mud.

I fall forward and pull myself from the mud on a fallen tree trunk. I straddle the tree to reflect on my harrowing experience.

Summer Camp Sucks

I went to summer camp for two summers in a row. I absolutely hated it. I hated the mosquitoes and bugs and pooping in the woods. I hated that every time we camped, a monsoon of rain flooded the campground, our tents, and soaked our sleeping bags. I hated kayaking in the lake and tipping over. I hated cooking my food over a fire and it still being cold and I hated the stupid birds that crowed and chirped so early in the morning. 

A delightful lake, similar to the murky waters I swam in when I was thirteen.

Looking back at thirteen-year-old Taron’s summer camp experience, I wish that I could have appreciated it more. If you would have told me now, that I would go to the woods for fun, to decompress, I would have clearly called you crazy. Now I realize, the noise and chaos is what I didn’t like. I sit here on a broken dam that is graffitied by college kids who have since graduated. The comfortable silence washes over me like the pebbles in the stream at my feet. 

One of the things I remember most about summer camp was the bugs. Even now, I can feel their sharp bites on a thigh they merely saw as a roadblock in the way of a new adventure. 

A pile of leaves ants should be hiding in, but aren’t.

At the time, I hated ants. If I’m being honest, I still hate them. I liked that, just like me, they had a life of their own. They had a goal and a purpose and they were willing to fight anything that got in their way. These little black bugs were powerful, strong, and fearless. I have the bites on my thigh to prove it. 

Ants were my creatures. I created a life for them as I waited for someone to ask me to be their friend on the dining hall stoop at 4H camp. I create a life for them now, as I sit in peaceful silence with crows cawing in the trees above me. 

The ants continue to march forward. They focus on the issues in front of them and tackle each issue one bite at a time. They use the community they’ve built and lean on each other for support and guidance. 

Regrettably, one of my favorite activities was stepping on anthills and watching the colony rush out. I know, I know- I was an ant bully and I shouldn’t have destroyed their home because I wouldn’t like it if someone destroyed mine. But I thought the community was so fascinating. When one ant is in danger, they all are. They collectively work together to neutralize threats and rebuild their home. These ant colonies are what teacher’s envisioned for group projects. Every ant has a role and they work together toward an intended outcome.  

If I’m being quite honest, I haven’t seen an ant since the world began to shut down. It makes me wonder, did the ants know that my Earth would stop spinning? Why did the world collectively realize they hadn’t seen an ant in months? Had I simply been so wrapped up in my own head that I forgot there was one outside of my own? 

A Walk with a Friend

The Woods are always shrouded in mystery. Even though I like to explore them, alone, for this trip, I invited my friend, Isaac.

After Isaac, learned about my night walks, he asked if he could tag along. On an unusually warm walk, we started our trek down the trail and into the woods. 

Typically, I enjoy my time alone. It gives me time to recharge and not feel compelled to fill the silence. I like silence, it gives me space to think. Isaac is the type to understand that silence doesn’t need to be filled constantly. Silence is already loud enough, it does not need to be shared with idle chitter.   

Today, the humidity was thick. I felt my hair frizz with each step we took into the woods. I tried to wipe the layer of moisture from my cheeks, but it still felt like I had a second layer of skin. The leaves crunched beneath my feet and the moon shined like a scuffed spoon through the trees and clouds above me. The new company I had was peaceful. Even though I liked to be alone, it was nice to have Isaac with me.

When Isaac asked if he could come, he told me he wanted to see the Underground Railroad Tree. 

“Of course!” I chirped. I didn’t tell him I had never been able to find The Tree in the dark. 

The Underground Railroad Tree is a tree that was not used as a marker, but bore witness to the intrepid escapes and adventures that took place in the pursuit of freedom. The energy surrounding the tree is magnetic. There is no way to explain the energy. This tulip poplar is over 300 years old. When the tree was a sapling, King George I was the King of England. 

I’ve guided many of my friends to The Tree. I’ve shown my sister and my family The Tree at their request. Before that, a friend had shown and shared her own adventures. Even though The Tree is old and viewed by many as a historical landmark, I think the less important stories, like my friend’s personal anecdotes, are just as interesting. I wish that it could talk so I could hear the small stories, as well as the big ones. 

A windy and grassy trail. I think it’s perfect to walk alone, in silence, or with friends.

I think stories like my friend’s are important to hear. They represent a different kind of adventure. Stories like her’s build a bildungsroman that she can tell to her children, so they can pursue an adventure of their own. An intrepid charge into adulthood and learning to leave who you once were is exciting. It gives you a chance to shed old skin and become a new person.

When I visit The Tree, I’m extra careful to be gentle to the land around me. I’ve heard many stories about the spirits and ghosts that roam in the dense woods. I’ve never believed in ghosts, but if they were any, they would be near The Tree. 

A sturdy tree. Not The Tree, but an old one, nonetheless.

I think it’s worth mentioning that ghosts do not have to be people. They can be stories and experiences, legends and whispers.

One day, I hope that the secrets are shared with me, or maybe, I will create my own. Today, though, I’ll start by creating memories on my walk with Isaac. 

The Woods

As I pull on my toboggan, I’m sure to grab my heaviest jacket and my dirtiest shoes. I walk toward the lake, finally stretching my legs after a long day. I hear laughter float through the air and the obnoxious quacks from the Candain Geese waddling in the sand. The gravel crunches beneath my feet and snaps like the rice cereal I ate with sugar growing up. My fingers are ice cubes and I feel my toes stiffen from the cold pavement beneath them. 

The sun is barely setting as I amble down the faded asphalt. For my friends, my night walks are a huge cause of worry. I find the peace and stillness in the air calming and relaxing. The golden sun settles on my cheeks and I close my eyes to enjoy the feeling. The sound of maracas fill my ears and the crickets and cicadas create a beautiful southern cacophony. 

I never have a destination when I walk. Tonight is no different. After a long day of projects and assignments, I decide to listen to the trees as they wave to me in the soft and cold breeze. My mom and grandparents loved to remind me that nature provides a recharge after a long day. Being outdoors, in the stillness and silence is incredibly therapeutic. For the first time today, I can finally hear my own thoughts. If I listen hard enough, if I am still for long enough, I can hear the woods speak to me too. 

My sister called me yesterday to inform me that the infamous “Underground Railroad Tree” had been on the news. She asked me when I was going to show it to her. 

The Guilford College Woods are packed with history. The refugee the woods provided for years and to so many people is incredible. I never cease to be in awe. 

Years before I was born, or my parents, or anyone before them, Keyauwee, Sappony, and Shakori Indians lived and gathered on this land. Quakers used the Light to provide a safe haven as Levi Coffin lead dozens, if not hundreds of enslaved people along the Underground Railroad. 

To be on the same, undeveloped land, is a marvel to me. If I didn’t stop to appreciate the magnificent and quiet resilience, I would regret it for years to come. 

I continue down the winding trails. The flashlight beams ahead and I catch the white tails of the deer I startled. The gentle hoots of a nearby owl remind me of a Tootsie Pop and the squeals of a nearby squirrel eating its dinner, makes me smile. 

When I mention the on-campus wildlife to a non-Guilford College native, I’m always met with disbelief. The groundhogs and crows and geese and deer are the animals I see on campus. If I mentioned the ones I saw in the woods, I think they’d faint.   

One of the reasons I decided to attend Guilford College was the beautiful campus. Before I committed, I visited UNC – Chapel Hill, the major reason I decided not to go? During my tour, I didn’t see a single squirrel. Now as I look up at the trees, I see squirrels so plump and well loved, I’m not sure they can balance on the tree branches. 

Then, with that thought, I think of the community these woods sustain and do my best to not interrupt its rhythm as I trod along with my flashlight.