- Posted August 19, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
An Idea Is A Seed: How a Map Changed My Life
An idea, of course, is a seed. One simple idea, and it showed me a simple path to a complicated country. One piece of paper was the key to foreign kingdoms, and forgotten times. It opened up the landscapes to me: mountains, deserts, beaches, cities, and of course, forests.
How a map changed my life: In a dusty box, on the back of a bus stop, near the University of Washington’s Forestry College, in Seattle, there is a stack of photocopied maps, free for the taking. Like many universities, Washington is fortunate in its wealth of trees providing shade, majesty, decoration, and history. Unlike most others, we were exceedingly fortunate in having a “Tree Tour”, a biological scavenger hunt on a photocopied map produced by one Professor Brockman (deceased). Thanks to this unassuming piece of paper, I found myself inspired and focused in a direction I never would have anticipated in my younger days as a bookworm. Here’s how:
On a map of the campus, Brockman numbered 80 trees and it was a fun challenge to seek them out. From the Deodar Cedar to the Yoshino Cherry to the Silk Tree to the Monkey Puzzle to the Cork Oak, I marvelled at meeting these quiet neighbours and realized how few passer-bys even noticed them. Before long, I was enthusiastically naming them to friends, and even talking to the trees as I encountered them. As I learned more, I was exposed to whole disciplines of knowledge entirely new to me. There is the zoology of their inhabitants, the deliciousness of fruit, the biogeography of home ranges, the geology in fossil histories, the economics of timber, the aesthetics of presence, the arboriculture of health, the photography of growth, the ropework in treetops, the chemistry of photosynthesis, the relaxation in the shade, and- most surprisingly- the friendships formed by common enthusiasm for plants.
My family certainly never anticipated this direction. When they first married, my father (apparently) told my mother that he was not even interested in houseplants, and I certainly was not taken out to hike in the forest as a youngster. My newfound interest in trees as a passion and a career path was novel to them, and to most of our friends. But the excitement was all consuming, and I soon put down the video games and comic books to dig in the garden, catch bugs, hike into the mountains, develop pictures, peer at maps of distant forests, and of course, climb into the trees. How did this tree tour map change my life? It is a gateway through space- I have learned about the mountains of Chile where the Monkey-Puzzles grow, and about the forests of Hemlocks just beyond town. It is a portal through time- I have cracked open fossils of Metasequoia leaves 50 million years old, and watched the growth of trees only two years old. Recognition of individual trees has offered me conversation topics, places to meet friends, and landmarks in a vast and complicated world.
No matter where I go, there is always a bit of the natural vegetation to keep me interested. I have walked along the beach underneath coconut palms, and have sheltered from snowstorms beneath stunted alpine trees. I have delighted in the company of my lover beneath the Gum tree, and visited my grandmother’s grave beneath the Willow.
Trees form landmarks for people throughout our lives and throughout the world- I was lucky to have that seed of an idea illustrated so clearly with a simple photocopied map