Learning from nature: the trusting transition from season to season

Eternal Sunshine of the Spokane Mind

Mary Zakheim

Learning from nature: the trusting transition from season to season

On Saturday morning, I planned to go to yoga with my high school friends who were in town for their university’s spring break. After a quick realisation that my car was not willing to go along for the ride (okay, so my service lights have been on since the road trip back from my own spring break two weeks ago), I decided to take a walk downtown despite the windy conditions and disappearing sunny skies.

As I strolled down the Centennial Trail, I began noticing that the tree branches I have become accustomed to gazing through were suddenly bursting with floral buds – pink, white, yellow and green collided in a beautiful dance with the invisible wind and pale blue sky. Branches fluttered in the wind, greeting my trail fellows and myself with a colorful wave, welcoming us to its new show – the floral performance of a new season, of a brave march out of winter, of spring. I responded to the greeting with a smile and a sniff of the bright dance of fragrance – and a quick appreciation to the city that had just the other day forced layers of sweaters and scarves upon me.

Then it all sprung upon me like the first damp rains of spring: the natural and sudden transformation of the city from its parade of frigid, bare branches to its warm, budding ones. It all seemed so natural, that the trees and bushes and river would change with the seasons, unresisting to the call of the conditions that pressed itself upon their willing demeanours. Of course, I began to think of myself in terms of these trees that I so lovingly admired as I continued my ambling walk downtown.

In a mere six weeks, my season will change. I will walk down an aisle, receive a piece of starchy paper, move a bundle of string from one side of a hat the other, say goodbye to the people who have surrounded me for four years and head off into a new and completely unknown bit of my life. Already I have proven to be most unlike the trees, whose willingness to change baffled me as I passed each one proudly displaying its new purpose and aesthetic. Like most human beings, I find change to be a frightening prospect when I first find myself in its presence. As much as I try to embrace the idea of it, the stark contrast of how my life will be the moment my comfortable fort of structure and friendship and community is dismantled is quite unsettling.

Is the eventual course of our lives spoken for by forces much like nature? Or are we the sole deciders of our fate, as so many high school slogans like to tell us that we are? Are we meant to be like the trees and birds and rivers, whose lives flow in tandem with its environment: migrating in the winter, sprouting leaves in the spring, flowing mightily in the summer, trading in greens and pinks for oranges and yellows in the autumn? Is there a metaphorical river that we reside in, floating in, swimming with, flailing in or swimming against with each stroke forward into our lives after the four years of structured peace that our university has to offer us ends?

I’d like to think so. I’d like to think of our lives much like rivers: a sprawling and watery map, with a decisive beginning, a larger ending and a million ways to get from the start to the finish. Each decision pencils in a new snaking creek or wild tributary to the river’s plotted points – and there we are through it all, either accepting the variation in direction and swimming along with it or flailing at the quick currents of change, preventing us from reaching our next turn as the forces of nature intended.

It is certain that we will all spend parts of our ride swimming and flailing and floating and resisting, we are humans, after all, and have much more artificial worries to stress out about than trees and birds and rivers do. It is with this knowledge, however, that I plunge forward into the upcoming twists and turns of my watery map – a much needed reminder each time I catch myself comfortably floating along or catastrophically floundering about, that life is better spent accepting change than anticipating and fearing it.

Let us swim onward, then, to exciting twists and unanticipated turns.

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last, last, last

There’s a strange climate around the talk of “lasts”: the last home basketball game, the last round of midterms, the last spring break, the last semester of university, you get the gist. Oh sure, people will laugh and pump their fists when they speak of these lasts, taking inspiration from the finality of the whole ordeal to prompt themselves and others to live it up, reminding everyone that, you know, YOLO. And then people will laugh at the use of the phrase, “YOLO,” probably make fun of the individual that said it and go on smiling and joking and pushing the actuality of the lasts to the backs of their minds.

Truthfully, lasts are kind of scary. So whenever someone brings them up, I do the laughing, joking thing and pretend like it isn’t actually the last time I get a week off of work to hang out with my friends or the last time I’ll ever cram for a midterm or the last time I’ll ever get to start my day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Crossing my fingers that that last one isn’t entirely true.

But the truly strange thing about lasts is what it does to our ideas about how these last things should go. It shouldn’t, but these lasts make the events attached to the word carry more weight than they usually would – suddenly, we find ourselves burdened with the pressure to make this last year, last semester, last spring break, last week of school the best that it has ever been. Any diversion from the plan of perfection makes our already unstable senior mental state plummet as we search to place blame on non-existent reasons to explain why life went differently than how we thought it should.

What a pity.

Even being aware of the effect that the dreaded word has on me does not shield me from the harrowing results of the L-word being uttered. It starts innocently enough, with a well-intentioned adult asking me how my l*** year of university is going and suddenly my palms are sweaty, my mind is racing and my mouth is blurting out unfiltered words like “internship” and “find a job” and “hopefully”. This seems to appease the adult crowd well enough, as I’ve found that anything having to do with you conducting an “aggressive job search” are the key words that they need to hear so that they smile approvingly and leave you well alone, their fears of being related to a backpack-laden, couch surfing, jobless youth assuaged.

Yet this is not how I want to live out my… er… final year of university – shielded behind shallow words and mindless conversations with adults or jokes and hesitant laughs that deter the reality of the impending moment where we trade in our sweats for suits and our red cups for black ties. Surely not realising that it is over until it’s, well, over is worse than accepting it all now and living as though the word “last” was nothing more important than a word paired with “call” at 2 o’clock in the morning?

Indeed, the idea of lasts only exists in a bounded mind-set. While this may be the “last” time we enjoy a spring break – a time for freedom, friends and travel – this is surely not the last time we encounter those elements associated with spring break. And while we may be saying goodbye to the precise experiences of cramming for tests and cohabitating with friends and winning trivia night at your local pizza bar, it is definitely not the last time we will feel the emotions, thoughts and feelings that accompany those singular events in our lives.

This kind of thinking is how I, at least, find a way to stop myself from rambling and blabbering and laughing and joking when I hear the word “last” describing an experience this year. To remind myself that ending my time here at Gonzaga is not an end to the beautiful things that have happened because of it. It is not the last time I will try to think profoundly and discuss things deeply and laugh at something way harder than need be and make jokes that no one laughs at whatsoever and feel love and kindness and harmony. For these sorts of things, the word “last” does not exist.

Phew.