Deeply Rooted: Advice from Herbie, New England’s Oldest American Elm Tree

According to Frank Knight, nothing lasts forever.  But even in death, the examination of a life well lived can teach the greatest lessons life has to offer, especially when the life is that of a community’s 235-year-old beacon – a tree named Herbie.

Knight, the volunteer tree warden of Yarmouth, ME, has been fighting to keep Herbie, New England’s largest and oldest Elm tree, alive for the last 50 years, according to an article written by The Boston Globe’s Jenna Russell.  Now age 101, Knight will have to see the life of his beloved tree come to an end on January 18.  Herbie, a tree believed to have been planted in 1775 – a year before our country even declared its independence – fell victim to Dutch elm disease decades ago.

Now, as the community comes together to mourn the loss of Herbie, they have instead chosen to celebrate his life by creating the Yarmouth Tree Trust to preserve and renew the treasured trees that line their streets.  Items will be made from Herbie’s trunk and sold to help aid this investment in the future.

However, the Yarmouth community is already selling T-shirts designed with Herbie in mind.  As a campaign to raise money for Herbie’s removal, as well as the Tree Trust, Yarmouth created shirts featuring “Advice from Herbie”.  This advice conveys many universal truths – truths as beautiful as nature itself – and it makes us realize we must take some time to learn from the life on this earth that we so unknowingly take for granted.  Here, we honor (and expand upon) the life lessons taught by Herbie the Elm tree.

Stand tall and proud.

Be who you are and don’t care what others think of you.  Be confident with your individuality because no one else can ever be you or take your place.  You’re special and you have something very important to offer this world, whether you realize it yet or not.

Sink your roots into the earth.

Find yourself and never let go.  Remain steadfast in your beliefs and never let others sway you from remaining true to who you are.  Standing behind your morals will give you a kind of strength not many attain.  Knowing what you want and what you believe in will keep you strong and dignified as others may waiver in their uncertainties.

Be content with your natural beauty.

Stop obsessing over those minor imperfections that cause you to dwell on your appearance in the mirror for hours at a time.  It doesn’t matter if every hair is in place or if the circles under your eyes are a little bigger than normal.  The beautiful person you are inside shines through in everything you do, completely overshadowing those physical flaws you keep trying to conceal.

Go out on a limb.

Take a chance.  The worst thing that could happen is failure, but who cares?  We can only learn how to do things right when we recognize what we’re doing wrong.  So do something crazy, make some mistakes, or speak out above the crowd.  Eventually standing under those leaves are going to cast a never-ending shadow on who you want to be.  Climb to the top.  Maybe you’ll only find clouds, but the chance the sun may shine is more enticing than never knowing what might have been.

Drink plenty of water.

Stay healthy (and drink those suggested eight glasses a day)!  Taking care of yourself – mind, body and spirit – is your first priority.  You will never be able to do any good for anyone else or the world if you don’t make yourself your first priority.  Only then can you pursue your goals and make this world a better place.

Remember your roots.

Spread your wings and fly.  Explore faraway places and distant lands.  But no matter how far from the soil you may reach, always keep a piece of yourself grounded.  Remembering who you are and where you came from can be details that get lost in the shuffle of pursuing your dreams, but it is those roots connected to where your story began that keep you humble, honest and connected to the values and truths that you hold dear.

Enjoy the view.

Ignore the ugly things in life that cloud your vision.  Forget the rundown houses in the poorest section of town; focus on the families thriving on each other’s love as they struggle to make ends meet instead.  Pay no attention to the latest homicide reports on the news; revel in the beauty of a child’s first cry as they enter this world.  Not everything in this world is ugly, and if we can even see this beauty in the face of death, then there still may be hope for this planet yet.

To read The Boston Globe’s complete article about Yarmouth, Frank Knight and Herbie, click here.  To learn more about Yarmouth’s Herbie Project, click here for a countdown to Herbie’s removal as well as ways you can contribute to the Yarmouth Tree Trust and keep Herbie’s memory alive.  (Photo courtesy of the Yarmouth Community Services website.)

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Playing with Bombs

Driving down the street at night, headlights aren’t all that’s glowing at this time of year.  Icicle lights adorn dozens of houses, while inflatable Santas ride sleighs, merry-go-rounds, and even motorcycles.  But as the lights atop the bushes blink that bright red and green, we know deep down that the ‘Peace on Earth’ we aim to achieve each season is simply a distant, seemingly unattainable goal.

The holiday season is a time to celebrate life, yet young men and women are thousands of miles away from the friends and family they serve to protect, fighting a war to preserve the freedoms thousands have already died defending.  Local television channels and radio stations play recorded messages from soldiers as a way of keeping them connected to their loved ones at home.  Charitable foundations work to compile care packages that show our support.

Even Facebook users have come together with the group Project Red Shirt, which at the time of writing, has garnered over 731,000 members.  This initiative is based off the story of a businessman on a plane headed to Chicago.  Seated across from a sergeant, this businessman asked if the man was going home only to find that the sergeant, with a folded flag on his lap, was actually escorting a fallen soldier home to his family.  The businessman thanked the sergeant for what he and every other soldier does for our country, and upon landing, his presence was announced and he was allowed to deplane first so he could receive the casket.

Now, as a way to honor those serving in our military, those who have served, and those who have fallen, the group calls for all those showing their support to wear red shirts every Friday as a way of celebrating the soldiers who have shed their blood to protect our liberties.

While some speculate whether or not the businessman’s story is real, the point of the matter does not lie in its possible falsification, but its universal truth.

Troops are falling.  Families are mourning.  Many go to war, overflowing with the vigor and ambition of youth, only to return in a casket, robbed of the future that had once filled them with life.  And if they do return alive, they are surely forever scarred, left to readjust to society despite the horrors and atrocities they have seen.

And while these men and women fight for ideals, thousands are sacrificing their own lives so that we may continue living as we already do.  They give us peace of mind, but until such conflicts cease, we will never achieve peace on Earth.  As Stevie Wonder sings in his Christmas classic, ‘Someday at Christmas’:

Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

Lives are not expendable.  Whether one or one million people die in combat, any number is too great.  And though they have willingly put their lives on the line to preserve their country’s future, we must value each and every member of our military as if they are a member of an extended family we all share.  Every man or woman is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s husband or wife.

Coincidentally, Christmas Day falls on a Friday this year.  So, while you’re looking for ways to spread some cheer, put on your favorite red shirt – something both festive and meaningful.  Remember to take those family members in your presence into your arms and into your heart.  Give them a little extra squeeze in honor of those who can’t hug their loved ones this holiday season.  And remember that the red you’re wearing not only represents the bloodshed, but the love we send in our prayers to soldiers overseas.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Every person is connected to everyone else.  All human beings – past, present and future – share one far-reaching characteristic that serves as a common link, intertwining even the most different of people.  It has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or religion, though it has become an integral part of how societies have come to function over the passing centuries.

This bond hinges on one specific attribute: stupidity.

Foolishness has become commonplace in every detail and aspect of today’s world.  This folly lies in the leaders we choose to run various aspects of our government.  It lies within the man texting while driving the car next to you on the highway.  It is the vulgar words mumbled under your breath, the women with suitcase-like pocketbooks that rudely whack you as you peruse the mall – the bigot who used the word “gay” in a derogatory manner.

No matter what your claim to stupidity is, there is no one on the planet that can deny they haven’t done something even remotely ridiculous or dumb in their lifetime.  Theses missteps, stumbles and falls are all a part of what makes us human and connects us on a deeper level than what we look like or what we believe.

And at this time of the year, idiocy levels are running high as vultures of all faiths flock to the malls in order to mercilessly scrounge for whatever they can dig their claws into during this gift-giving season.

The holiday season is no longer represented by “peace on earth” or “goodwill toward men”.  Now, it is all about competition.  Who can get the best presents?  Who can get the most for their money?  Who can get the best parking space?  Instead of caring for other individuals, we push past them for a better spot in line.  Others avert their eyes from the volunteer ringing the Salvation Army bell.  Some scramble by others as they trudge through the overcrowded malls, hitting into them with their bags of loot, not even an “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” uttered.

There was one instance this season where people were waiting in line at a local Best Buy to get a jump on their Black Friday deals.  These customers lined up at 3 o’clock the afternoon before, sitting themselves against the side of a building instead of alongside loved ones at their dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner.  With only a hunger for the best prices, these people were insane enough to give up precious time with their families, failing to celebrate one holiday in lieu of another.

The most precious thing we can give each other is our time.  We can never show each other how much we truly care for one another with a great deal on the hottest gift item of the year.  The time you spend – not the money – will be what those you care for remember, and believing otherwise is just sheer stupidity.

So instead of wrapping that newly-attained gift the moment you get home, wrap your arms around a loved one.  Redeem the season by spreading joy in place of contempt, for we all have another attribute in common – our capacity to love.

So I Play the Numbers Game…

It is like driving through the fog at night. All you can see is the light emanating from your headlights. Yet these beams barely stretch out a few feet, only illuminating what is immediately in front of us. And, no matter where you look, even the faintest objects have a haze surrounding them.

Sounds a little bit like life, wouldn’t you say?

We can only predict what will happen in the near future. Nobody knows for sure what is waiting for us down the road amidst the darkened fog. Something can dart out in front of the car at any moment, causing us to change direction forever. But, whether we put the brakes on or not, the road must eventually come to an end.

So, if this road is life, then how should we proceed? Should we follow the strict lines of the pavement? Should we change lanes without signaling? Should we risk getting lost on the winding streets?

To live life is truly the greatest gift we can give ourselves. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all,” according to Oscar Wilde.

Without vision, without dreams, without love, we are merely empty souls, just cruising the highway of life. To live is to treat every day as if it may be our last.

Do not speed up, do not slow down. Forget what speed you are traveling at and take things as they come.  Do not fear the occasional speeding ticket or parking violation – there are going to be a few minor setbacks here and there, but one person’s judgment of your journey should not discourage you from following your own path.

And if you find the need to stop once in a while, feel free. Pull over to the side of the road or visit the nearest gas station. Take in the view, grab a candy bar, refuel – there is nothing wrong with refocusing your vision.

Then, when you are ready to take off once again, set your own pace and your own destination. There is no taxi driver in the front seat – you are the navigator of your own life. So throw the map out the window and unplug your GPS – just because there are already plenty of predetermined paths to follow does not mean you can’t create a new one of your own.

But most of all, do not hesitate to honk your horn. Don’t let someone block your way. Feel free to make a little noise.

Life shouldn’t be about sitting in traffic, waiting for the crowd to move just the slightest bit. It’s all about squeezing into the breakdown lane and sneaking off the nearest exit. Don’t just wait for the opportunity, seize it. Maybe the back roads are exactly where your true passion lies.

No It Won’t All Go The Way It Should…

When it came to making a decision, Robert Frost took the road less traveled. Unable to follow both paths, Frost chose the one he felt to be most promising.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Yet one has to wonder why there must only be one path to follow. Why can’t we wander down one path for a while and then suddenly decide it may be best to head back?

It seems as if we always have to make concrete decisions, ones that do not allow us to change our minds. We set high standards and goals for ourselves, leaving us feeling obligated to achieve something even if we lose the desire. Others see us as cowards or someone who easily gives up if we do not follow through.

But what if we were to travel down that lovely, green, hardly-tread path to find that it is simply not what we had imagined? Why shouldn’t we be able to shrug our shoulders, take one last look around and then head in the direction from whence we came knowing that we are going back to familiarity with newly acquired knowledge we never would’ve gained had we never taken the chance?

We are constantly urged to try new things, yet we are forced to cling to one straight path. However, in a world that is so strictly oriented toward climbing to the top, we must not hesitate to veer off in search of what we truly desire.

If there is a babbling brook a few feet to your right, do not spend your life walking beside it. Take a few moments away from the trail you are on and splash some cool water on your face. Refreshing yourself may be what refreshes your soul, exposing an entirely new path no one ever even imagined.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

There is a flash and suddenly a giant boom as the clouds roll.  Windows shake from the vibration and lights flicker, threatening a power outage.  A child runs to their parents in the middle of the night, woken up and scared of the storm outside, their imagination running wild as the sounds persist in the dark of their bedroom.

However, there is no immediate danger.  This imaginary evil only exists in the child’s mind, though the fear holds strong nonetheless.  Whether what we perceive is truth or fantasy, its power can alter how we proceed in life.

While children are simply frightened by the potential monster under their bed, or a possible boogeyman in the closet, adults are as easily as scared by the unknown.

For many, the future is full of fear.  When we are younger, the future seems bright, full of new words that help us express ourselves and swing sets that allow us to soar to new heights.  But with age, we become tight-lipped and afraid of falling, fearing the actual essence that makes life worth living.  We fear risks and decision-making and change.  Remaining stagnant feels less threatening than taking a step forward even though moving may only result in a stumble or fall, while inactivity will slowly crush the soul.

To be scared stiff is to miss what could be.  There will always be the chance that things will go wrong and you will have to start over.  But there is an even greater chance that things will turn out wonderfully.  Most of the qualms we have about the future stem from our own minds, starting off as worries and manifesting into paralyzing ‘what if’ scenarios.

But most of all, we often do not make that move forward because we are afraid what we want may actually come true.  If we stop ourselves preemptively, we will always keep the dream alive, for having a dream to aspire to sometimes means more than trying and failing.  However, if one never tries, one will never learn that they could very well obtain exactly what their heart desires.

Yet nothing is wasted.  Every effort, every challenge is a chance to learn more about yourself and the world around you.  Only fear can blind you from the beauty and possibility that surround you.  And though it may sound cliché and a tad cheesy, one line from the Hilary Duff movie A Cinderella Story says it all: “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

Train of Thought

Note: I hate writing in the first person, usually.  Making it all about me seems so selfish.  But trust me, it serves a purpose (I think), so I shall make an exception.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling.  Not around the world, or even the country, but this one rather short route that links the two places where my heart lies.  I’ve begun to frequent the train station so often that I know the hefty gentleman who takes my ticket is a Yankees fan, and I believe the women at Dunkin’ Donuts are catching on to my love for cranberry juice.

And whether it’s the man sitting next to me on the train, with his incessant clapping and Darth Vader noises, or the woman in the terminal arguing with herself, it’s amazing to think that, for some reason, we all crossed paths at that moment.  Even though we were not friends, nor acquaintances, we all still ended up heading in the same direction at the same time.  For a little while – a mere second in the grand scheme of things – we were all on the same path, moving toward something.

Stand in any public space and take the time to imagine: At that very second, whatever is going on in your life has brought you to the same place as those around you.  You may never talk to any of them, but then again, perhaps a new best friend is milling around the crowd and any moment, you will meet each other.

Life comes together in odd ways.  The people you saw from afar today could be the ones you spend your free time with tomorrow.  The person seated behind you may one day be the person who promises to always stand by you.

Some of those you encounter will be fleeting passersby, others will remain forever.  But no matter what, we must keep those we hold dear close to our heart.  Though our paths may diverge from time to time, there will always be those few people that mean more than a polite smile, those who mean enough to make the trip.  Home is where the heart is, even if the pieces are scattered to the ends of the earth, a little part residing with each of our loved ones.  And despite all obstacles, it is up to us to make sure each fragment doesn’t skip one beat.

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