Branching Out

On a corner in the Royal Heights neighborhood where I live, there are two giant evergreens, white pines, I think, which stand in defiance of a cardinal rule  for conifers.  Each has divided its trunk in two, reaching one arm skyward, extending the other, thick and rather insouciantly, at nearly 90 degrees over the sidewalk, like a semaphore signalman’s letter “T” — sans flags, of course.   I was taught in school that it is deciduous trees which branch out—extend from their trunks multiple broad arms, and hands with sinuous fingers.  It is the conifers whose trunks stand tall and solitary, straight as the Papal Guard, fine feathered whiskers of their needles floating from the spidery sticks of the secondary branches.  These are the stoic trees, imperious and self-contained.

I see these two unusual trees each early morning that it is not too cold or wet for a walk.  And I walk, now, looking toward retirement and some liberty from many decades of 7:30 AM breakfast meetings, Monday morning staff time. It is interesting to suddenly consider being unencumbered from the entwining structure of external expectations, to stand alone and self-contained.

My doctor says that, barring something unforeseen, I should prepare to be here for another 20, 30 years.  Depending on the emotional vagaries of the day, this message resonates as either a sunlit open door—or the abyss.  I have been lucky in my work life.  So many times my own desires have found support in the needs and interests of others, and I have been able to pursue a creative path within the context of a paying job. And that context, despite the compromises required in any corporate setting, has given me the platform to make a contribution and provided considerable security.  Now I face, alone, the tangled web of Medicare and Social Security—and what to do with all the time ahead.

Perhaps these two iconic trees I see each day are not so odd.  I’m sure there are many reasons a conifer’s shape would alter from the expected; a lighting strike, an injury, a worm.  But that there are two of them, so very large and standing prominently at adjacent sides of a lot, they are striking to me as I round the corner on my daily walk.  It’s as if they were saying ‘hello,’ and ‘goodbye, now,’ each extending an arm to wave as I walk by. I take these quirky apparitions as a reminder to be flexible, adventurous, not tied to expected outcomes—mine or others’, and as a message that in the time ahead there still is room to branch out.

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