On Being an Oak Tree

Ledges State Park, Madrid Iowa, Photo Credit Terra Ash Bruxvoort

Ledges State Park, Madrid Iowa, Photo Credit Terra Ash Bruxvoort

“In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” -Margaret Atwood

As soon as I woke up yesterday I got in my car, put on some Old Crow Medicine Show and drove the hour to Madrid for a hike. I needed a bigger, more open space than what I could have at home. I felt like I was 17 and out of school at 3:00 in the spring. My mom wouldn’t come home until late and my dad would be out in the field, and I spent many afternoons driving to the country and going for hikes while my peers went home to play video games and drink orange soda.

I lived on a farm in Mitchellville, Iowa, until I was 14 years old. Growing up, I spent a lot of time wandering around our acreage and going for hikes in Thomas Mitchell Park with my mom. It wasn’t until I moved to the suburbs that I realized how much being close to nature benefitted me, and how different my life was from all of my friends. It was this realization that made me interested in the environment and nature when I went to college. I felt like I had forged some connection with nature–no matter how shallow.

I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to be the smartest, the best, the most perfect. It’s an impossible goal, and as I’ve gotten older I have mentally realized this. But the desire is still there.

I wanted to take a picture of myself while I was on my hike yesterday. I set my camera up on a log, put on the timer and ran into view. I must have taken at least twenty pictures, none of which were “good enough.” I wasn’t “good enough.”

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Ledges State Park, Madrid, Iowa, Photo Credit Terra Ash Bruxvoort

Nature is full of imperfections, death and decay, and often those are the images I gravitate towards. While beauty is, well, beautiful, the strange things are far more interesting.

I’m starting to take comfort, and maybe even pride, in my strangeness. After so many years, an entire life, of struggling between being strange and passing off as normal I’ve decided to stop pretending. I am strange, and beautiful, in a natural, human way. I will never be a girl in a photograph. I have too much flesh for that.

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Ledges State Park, Madrid, Iowa, Terra Ash Bruxvoort

As a child, I often tried replicating the way other people acted. I would go spend a day with a friend and come home talking like them and wanting to do the things they did. I wanted to try on all of the hats. I wanted to be everything. I’ve grown tired of being other things. If an oak tree can be an oak tree, then why can’t I be what I was made to be?

Our society doesn’t respect or accommodate individuality. I feel like we are corralled through our childhoods and stuffed in tall buildings. Only a lucky few escape and make the most of life. Only a lucky few get to be humans. I would love to see a world where children are children, and they learn to experience a sunset or the overwhelming smell of lavender. I would love to see a world in which adults participate in and care for nature. I would love to see more seeing in this world, and much less looking.

Our outward appearances have become the stuff of life. Instead of noticing one nice thing about myself in a photograph, I focus on all of the things that are wrong. We airbrush and hide our flaws. No one can ever know that we have skin and are not made from plastic. Plastic is not real. We are real, and there is no shame in that.

It wasn’t until the end of my hike yesterday, when I put down my bag and laid down on a fallen tree that I felt at peace. The sky was a deep gray blue, and I watched the clouds as the rain rolled in. In the depths of the woods I felt sprinkles of rain hit my face and it was in that moment that I felt more beautiful than I would all day. It was in that moment that I was the oak tree.

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