January 15, 2009
By Karly McMillan, Hartland, WI

This summer, for the sake of horizon expansion, I allowed superfine sandpaper to shoot clots of pine particles directly into my airways as an attempt to mold a simple plank into the solid, serpent-smooth quilt rack. Unfortunately, the sand paper had its own ideas. I was striving to produce perfection; it wanted to create something in its own image, something riddled with scratches, dust, and “creative” imperfection in the way of deep, incurable gauges. It was during these hours of mind-numbing erosion that I drifted back to the tree that had treated me better.

The original tree of my life was the only decent tree in my fetal neighborhood. Other arborous life was either too small, too sappy, or simply out of reach. But this organic god had a staircase of branches to welcome even the shortest of its admirers. What I recalled specifically while battling that infernal board was how the tree’s branches were perfectly smooth. It was later determined that this phenomenon was the result of years of children’s feet -- calloused against pricker plants and gravel driveways -- polishing our stairway to heaven. It seems my memory has allowed even this tree to get a little too sappy, but looking back on it, it taught me the spiritual truth that there is no Us verses Them simply because it straddled the border between My Yard and Theirs. It existed happily on both sides. The sense of We became bigger.

Strange how nature can connect people in a way that the species can’t. The most common example: star gazing. One stares into the abyss of space and feels everyone else who is or has or will contemplate the same moon and the same stars. My proof is a memory formed only a year ago on an adventurous long-run/walk/struggle-for-survival through the glory that is Devil’s Lake National Park. I was there with the best friends I have had to this point in my life, doing what defined my childhood: running on the Ice Age Trail and snooping around government funded parks. As we sped down the quartzite staircase toward Balanced Rock, I stumbled as a step shrank away from my foot. In that second, I pictured myself bouncing down the cliff face, my body disappearing amongst the rubble sticks that follow me. Fortunately, instinct threw my hand out in front of me. There, it landed on a tree. A tree with bark rubbed and oiled and polished by the hands of all my fellow campers who had stumbled at the exact same place I did and threw their hands out to protect their bodies from harm. Once again, They became a part of Us.

This sense of unity may seem trivial but growing up in a household of very quiet people, one feels detached. Thoughts went unshared and thus were ignored. But this unity, this combined effort for everyone to touch this tree just once and make it smooth, forces one to see that everyone is connected. Everyone grew up with Saturday morning cartoons, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, itchy sweaters, and two ambivalent dogs. Ok, so maybe They didn’t have the exact same things, but we do have a common past. We are from dust and onto dust we shall return. So I try to forgive and understand my fellow dust bunnies in any small way that I can. Whether it requires some humility, or not screaming at the kid in my AP U.S. History class that the word “Anglican” sounds like “Anglo-Saxon” not “angel” so shut up before I tear his jaw off and use it to mangle his vocal cords.
Drugs help.

The author's comments:
P.S. This picture is amazing.

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