Non-Conformist Nature

“I don’t like pine trees, they are so conformist.”

Her feet steadily followed one in front of the other, kicking up a minimal amount of dust, as she declared her position with a decided tone.

This was the beginning of the trail where the ground was still level, a straightforward and simple path.

Two miles later, we had began the set of twenty two switchbacks. The trail zig zagged in and out of the forest, becoming exposed for a few turns as we navigated across the rubble of a rock fall with delicate steps. I pondered how long ago it happened, guessing several years since there were plants thriving in between the cracks.

We returned to the shaded canopy and approached a dry riverbed. It looked like it should be crossed, but the trail was no longer clear. Could it be up that hill? It seemed unusually steep, and not well-trod. But going across the river would lead us on a downward path, the opposite direction of our destination. We paused.

Apparently there was an old bootleg trail here before the switchbacks were put in. It was steeper and undesignated, a rambling route created to throw off a scent. The trees alone know such secrets, sealed in sap and forgotten footprints.

As we explored the alternate routes, the ground surrendered underneath our weight with a slow depression. It held well, but the springy response hinted at another past. Awoken by the wind the trees began to clamor with an ascending rush. This is them at their loudest, but it remains sonorous to the point of peace.

The evidence of a louder occurrence was well hidden around us. It would have been a violent disruption, thundering down in a rolling tumble of split wood, dirt clouds, and the smack of granite colliding. The remains litter the floor, now reincorporated as debris from the generations that compacted over them. As the ground gave way underfoot it exhaled the breath of history, where a rock fall’s disruption was reincorporated back into a world of muted cracks and wind-rustled leaves.

We decide to trace our steps back down the trail a bit, only to find the switchback curve we completely missed when we walked straight ahead instead of rounding the corner like we were supposed to. As we resumed our uphill ascent, we passed a thick pine that had fallen at one point, then grown outward and curved back up, making a L-shape that stretched back towards the sky.

“This one is ok,” she declares, “it clearly isn’t conforming to anything.”

We stuck to the trail, and the trees continued to live as they do, independently reaching, cohesively existing, conforming and not conforming as nature tells its own story.

Teneriffe Falls

Teneriffe Falls, captured in the spring and much fuller than the dry trickle we witnessed today.

Defined by Age, or Age Defined by Life?

Early Saturday morning I awoke to the dim morning light of grayness before the sun arrives. The birds were still hushed as every other campsite around relished in deep slumber beneath the whispering trees. Slowly I began to collect the pieces of my trip scattered around my bag to squeeze them together tighter than before. It was still too cold to bear leaving my pajamas so I put a change of clothes in my pack for later. My mom had already dismantled the rest of our campsite so we quickly began the process of puzzling together everything into the back of her Prius.

We each went to the bathroom one last time before beginning our long journey ahead. Flustered, my mom came out of her stall right when I had entered the bathroom. She sighed and said to me, “Happy Birthday.”

Then my Dad, Mom, and I squished in, like a tightly packed berry in the bright red car, to begin the ride home. As the window views disappeared the sun peeked over the tower of granite behind me.

view of the Yosemite Valley view as you drive in and out

An estimated 8 hour drive is long enough, but with traffic and lunch breaks I had a grueling 11 hours before we made it from Yosemite (in Northern California) back down home to San Diego (right at the bottom.) This left me almost more time than I needed to peer out at the landscape and peer deeper into my thoughts.
It certainly wasn’t the “amazing day” all the people on Facebook wished for me, but it wasn’t a terrible day. It was simply ordinary. Complacency towards this day has become common for me anyways since a summer birthday usually means an afterthought. Plus I never liked celebrating myself that much. Yet as we shot past California farm country, and swerved through rolling hills or rocky mountains high, I began to wonder about the paradoxes of people’s views on birthdays.

My brother called me half way through our drive and had to remind me “Turning 20 is a big deal, you aren’t a teenager anymore, this is like the prime decade of your life. You should at least try to do something exciting tonight.”

I responded, “Ha ya I suppose, I just don’t feel that different.” I didn’t want to say how my inner oldie just wanted to watch the Olympics all night and go to bed by 10.

Now I know 20 seems really young to a lot of people, and it is. I can’t even legally drink yet, though I don’t care much about that either. But I remember in high school if I met someone who was 20 I felt like they were lightyears ahead of me, a star far away living the glamorous, fun life I wanted. Then I thought about my parents, who prefer not to celebrate becoming a year older anymore, and the way aging turns from a desirable thing to a dreaded event.

I am still very young in the eyes of many, and surprisingly old to many more, yet I have been wondering about wisdom lately and how it can inhabit every age and form. There are days when I feel dry of any thoughts worthy to say, and then there are moments where I swell with a passion for the truth that can only come from God. Either way I ebb and flow like every human, and aging means little to me anymore. Whether that is wise or not I don’t know.

My brother was right when he said that my twenty-something years will be some of the greatest of my life, but somehow I don’t want to be the only reason I live them to the fullest. Because if I view them as the end-all be-all, what happens when I turn 30? This decade may be an age of miracles, a time of living life to the fullest, but I don’t want to define my life by my age – I would rather define my age by the way I live my life. I don’t believe we are ever too old or too young for anything, starting new, fighting for a dream, finding love, or speaking the truth.

One of the people who comes with us to Yosemite each year, someone my mom has been friends with since birth, is a beautiful 59-year old woman. But last week she climbed Half Dome, twice, in three days. I can barely do that at 20, so who is really older? Another great woman who denies her age is my mom; she hiked up 3000 feet in just over 3 miles to the top of Nevada falls, all with a bad knee, but with every stone step up and every switchback down she refused to give up. I’ve heard both these women refer to themselves as “old,” but I laugh every time because I just don’t see it, I only see the youth of their life that keeps pushing the boundaries.

View (from left to right) of the back of Half Dome, North Dome, and Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

So I turned 20 on Saturday. Woop-di-doo. I’m all for celebrating the gift of life God gives us, but I don’t want to be defined by my age anymore. I want to have the joy of two-year old, the humor of a six-year old, the daring of a sixteen-year old, the spirit of a twenty-something, the intelligence of a thirty-five year old, the love of someone at fifty, and the wisdom of an eight-five year old. Pack all those things tight, puzzle the pieces together, and somehow I think it might look a little like Jesus, and like the person I want to be.
How do you feel about your age?
Is there a best age of our lives you think?