When you live your life on the riverbank, you are always at risk of losing the ground beneath your feet.
The fallen tree was once a tall oak. Seldom do you get to see a whole tree, roots and all. This tree would have been a great object lesson for my grade 4 teacher—no leaves to obscure the systematic forking of the branches, and not much soil to obscure the mirroring root structure. Just a clod of riverbank clay to which the roots have clung, but to no avail. When the riverbank crumbles it crumbles, and if you happen to be standing on the broken bit, you go with it.
Sometimes we can read the warnings. The ground cracks. Fissures appear in the grass and loose soil tumbles down the bank. There are human-made warning signs too. But even if you could warn a tree it wouldn’t help. Because the tree can’t take a step back.
A healthy tree can bend and flex to withstand the force of tremendous winds. But it has no defense against the force of erosion. And if a tree falls, there’s no getting it back up on its feet. It’s pretty hard to transplant a fully grown oak.
Fortunately, when the ground beneath my feet gives way, as it has more times than I care to contemplate, I am not bound by the force of my own roots to succumb to the collapse. At the core of my resilience is the knowledge that I can take a step back and regroup when I see the warning signs. I may slide and lose my balance for a while, but I can head off the big fall with evasive maneuvers.
Most of the time. There are still moments when the ground beneath me opens up without warning and I find myself suspended over nothing, like Wile E. Coyote sprinting past the cliff’s edge. The secret, of course, is not to look down. Wile E. only falls when he looks down. You won’t always notice when I’m travelling across the void, because the years have taught me to keep going forwards until eventually my feet touch solid ground again on the other side. And take root in new soil.
Lately I’ve been noticing some cracks in the soil around my feet. Some things that mattered a great deal to me seem less important now, and other things are gaining prominence. I can feel my universe start to slide. In my sixth decade am coming to a new realization—now that I have learned to cross the void when it comes, I don’t need to wait until I lose my footing. I can step off the edge and navigate the air to a new solid ground. Because you can transplant a fully grown person.
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