I’ve come to recognize the signs and symptoms almost as soon as they appear. I expect them, really. Maybe I even bring them on myself. It starts with a little tingle, barely detectable, then a sort of nagging tickle. This usually escalates to a fairly irritating twitch until, eventually, I’ve got a full-blown, undeniable, case of itchy feet.
For the past few months I’ve been hovering somewhere between tickle and twitch, flip-flopping between apathy and anticipation. I hate to leave but, man, do I ever love to go. Sometimes, I think maybe there’s something wrong with me that keeps me from settling down and staying put. Life would be so much simpler if only I were drawn to white picket fences and fixed-rate mortgages and shoes that went click-click-click when I walked. Other times (most times, really) I just feel incredibly fortunate to have both the means and the freedom to move. The luxury of opportunity and circumstance. For now, though, I’m committed to a job that will hold me in my current state of limbo for a few more months and so I figure I may as well try writing as a means of keeping the itch at bay just a little while longer.
It seems like every time I start to dig into the dirt a little bit and plant myself somewhere like a big girl should, a huge gust of FOMO comes along and shakes me down until, the next thing I know, I’ve given away half my apartment and whatever’s left is piled into the back of my car bound for parts unknown. But regardless of how exciting it is to look ahead to new adventures, faces and places, leaving is always a tough thing to justify to various parties with a vested interest like my parents, my employer and myself, all of whom need and deserve to know why I just gotta go.
This time around, I’m going with a metaphor.
Now, I’m no forester but I do know a thing or two about trees. Thanks to elementary school and Bill Nye the Science Guy I know that, like humans, they need food, water and shelter in order to survive. I also know that many species, the heartier ones, can live and grow in a wide variety of environments and climates. In fact, some trees actually thrive under seriously harsh conditions in some pretty questionable ecosystems. Take mangroves, for example. They live along the equator, mostly, and almost always in salt water with these big, gnarly roots that spend half their time choking in the mud and the other half baking in the sun according to the ebb and flow of an intertidal zone. That is one bad-ass tree. If a sugar maple tried to pull a stunt like that it wouldn’t last a day. Of course, that’s not to say that one is better than the other. Mangroves are undeniably impressive but I’d like to see them change colours in the fall or put syrup on my pancakes. It’s not a competition. There are no Tree Olympics. I’m simply suggesting that there’s a very good reason for why we don’t see maple trees in a mangrove swamp and vice-versa.
Another thing I know about trees is that some are more easily transplanted than others. Older trees, for example, are trickier to uproot than younger saplings. And those which are a bit more delicate or have very specific needs require careful planning in order to ensure that their new location will be suitable in terms of soil composition, amount of sunlight, etc. What I’m saying is that you can’t just pull any old tree out of the ground, throw it into a new environment willy-nilly and expect it to blossom come spring. Transplanting is a thoughtful, laborious and stressful process, although certainly not impossible and almost always for the best if the ground in which the tree had been living has lost nutritional value for one reason or another.
And then there are fruit trees. Most of the commercial varieties sold in common garden centres are grown on a previously established root stock. The result is that they tend to grow and mature quite quickly, and their size, shape and productivity are all very predictable. Trees grown from seed and of their own roots, on the other hand, are more natural but take longer to reach maturity and bear fruit. Generally speaking, own-root trees are healthier, live longer and the fruit they do bear has more flavour. They’re a tough sell, however, because most farmers would obviously prefer to know what their tree is going to look like and what they can expect in terms of a harvest. It’s a risky manoeuver to just plant a seed and hope for the best, especially if one’s livelihood depends upon the outcome. Do I wish for a world full of flakey farmers and good riddence to all commercially engineered fruit trees? Absolutely not. We’d all die of scurvy. But I do like the thought of one lucky gardener finding an unexpected apple after years of nothing but branches and leaves. I bet that fruit would taste pretty damn good.
OK, enough with the metaphors. The point I’m trying to make, to myself probably more than to anyone else, is that there is no right or wrong way to grow, and that the rate and ease of growth, not to mention the end result, is going to depend greatly upon putting ourselves in the most optimal of conditions according to our own individual needs. I don’t look, act or respond to anything the way many people do. Therefore, it stands to reason that my conditions for growth and development are going to be very different from most. What’s essential, I think, is to simply figure out who we are, really and truly, and then set ourselves up to thrive.
You know, take root, branch out, grow up. Like a tree.