Winds of Choice

October 13, 2013  •  4 Comments

On a recent "day trip" we stopped for just a few moments at Big Talbot Island State Park, between Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach in northeast Florida. Like all the Florida State Parks I've been fortunate enough to serve (as a young man) or visit (across my whole life), Big Talbot Island is a place of outstanding natural beauty.  It holds a special place for me because in my younger days - before the island was a part of Florida's award winning State Park system - my friends and I frequented the place.  There are stories to be told of flounder gigging and the nonsense that went along with that activity.  But I think I'll keep those chapters of life to myself for now (wink, wink)  

Red Cedar at Fort George Island, FLRed Cedar at Fort George Island, FLThe coastal barrier islands of Northeast Florida were once home to many beautiful ancient Red Cedars. Most have been destroyed. This specimen shows the fluid form typical of these twisted giants. The island was once the home of many ancient Red Cedar trees, once a common species on the barrier islands of Florida's coast.  Most were destroyed by greedy people who didn't comprehend their value.  That too is another story for another day.  The Red Cedar shown here was photographed on Fort George Island, another nearby property managed by the Florida Park Service.  If you have never done so you really should explore the wonderful parks of that region stretching from Fort George Island to Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach.

That is the trip we made on that day when I visited Big Talbot Island for the first time in more than thirty years. Like coastal hammocks everywhere, the trees on the island have been shaped by the climate in which they grow.  The prevailing sea breeze has bent and twisted their trunks into beautiful forms that leave no doubt about the direction of the ocean.  And the salt spray borne by that breeze has pruned them beyond the ability of any arborist.   These trees, as surely as those of the mountaintop, could serve as models for the artisans of Bonsai.

Just as the trees in the photograph were shaped by their climate we are shaped by the climate of our world.  As my mentor and friend Jim Armstrong points out in his book,"Change: Reflections on Personal Growth & Social Transformation",

"The word climate has more than one meaning.  It denotes 'meteorological conditions,' but also it means, 'a prevailing condition in human affairs.' It is not only atmosphere, it is attitudinal." 

  Yes, we are shaped by our climate.  We grow into a shape influenced if not dictated by the prevailing winds and pruning of our lives.  The food we eat, the environment in which we live, the activities we pursue, the people with whom we surround ourselves, the notions and beliefs we hold, and more, make up the climate in which we grow. All shape us in body, mind and spirit. (That's why my sister can adopt a pose in the photograph below that only great trauma could induce in me. She has chosen to care for her body in ways I have not. ) If I grow in a climate of guilt, shame, and blame, I am likely to feel guilt and shame whether or not they are warranted.  Perhaps, just as those coastal trees point the way of the wind, such a climate will influence me to point my fingers at others in blame and judgement.

Yoga TreesYoga TreesAt Big Talbot Island State Park the trees are shaped by the sea breeze into beautiful, leaning forms. My sister becomes a part of the natural setting as she assumes a pose that would hospitalize me. There is an important difference between humans and trees though.  The trees growing on the barrier islands of Northeast Florida did not choose their climate.  The oaks didn't pick Fort George Island as acorns and decide, "this is the place for me."  I didn't choose the climate into which I would be born and spend my youth either.  As grateful as I am (and that's one helluva lot!), I didn't pick the era into which I would be born, a time of vaccines and air conditioning and burgeoning technological advances.  I didn't choose to grow up in a privileged, white, Roman Catholic family in the United States.  Most certainly I didn't choose parochial education (the nuns seem much kinder and gentler at the distance of a few decades than they did in the immediacy of childhood!)  As a child I was as stuck with the climate I was given as are the trees.

But since adolescence at least, I've been able to make some choices about the climate surrounding me.  I could pick my friends.  Whether to participate in extracurricular activities, and which activities those might be were up to me. (Drama Club, Junior Achievement, and Photography fit me; sports not so much.)  And of course as an adult the range of choices is broad.

Trees continue to grow and therefore to be shaped by their climate for the entirety of their lives.  That is true of us as well.  As Tony Robbins is quoted as saying, "if you aren't growing, you're dying."  Just as we continue to grow in every stage of life, we continue to be shaped by the climate that surrounds us.  Perhaps we can't change the climate of Washington DC (not directly or immediately, at least.)  But we do have choices.

So I ask myself, "What choices of attitudinal climate shall I make today?"  Do I choose an attitudinal climate of fear and xenophobia, or one of openness and acceptance of 'the other'? Will I protect what I think I know and believe and hear only the voices that reassure me, or will I risk ambiguity and uncertainty in order to discover what has until today remained beyond my comprehension?  Do I choose the winds of victimhood or the fresh breeze of self determination?  In my losses do I see myself denuded of all I care about, or in that pain am I pruned into a form I may not recognize but is just as much and perhaps more essentially 'me'?  

May what I choose to eat today, the music to which I listen and the programs I choose to watch, the articles I select to read, the people with whom I converse, and the direction of my awareness in solitude bend me, twist me, shape me so that my (increasingly ancient) form may, like those with whom I stand, point toward justice, truth, peace, and the source of them all, which is love.


Well we have become a materialistic society who is uncaring and forgot what love is all about! And yes no matter what comes up there is always an explanation of the end! We live in a here and now society that there is no time to deny what ever comes up because tomorrow it will be gone for it will be thrown away or upgraded! It is the humans who fail to see that we are moving so fast to get a head we are not living we are just existing. I choose to live even if it is a simple existence for I am so much more alive than many!
I continue to choose to think about the Flounder gigging with loved ones. What a trip!
Frogmore Focus
Yes Jeff, you've hit the nail on the head! An aspect of the broader attitudinal climate (as Jim Armstrong calls it) is the insulation people withdraw into. It's possible, in fact it's easier than the alternative, to hear only what reinforces my own views. Such epistemic closure is, I think, a major element in the ideological division of our country. Those of us who agree with John Stewart DVR the Daily Show and send clips and comments to one another. Those who prefer Fox News do the same on the red end of the cultural spectrum. I'm tempted to "unfriend" those who post on Facebook articles I find idiotically narrow minded (including kinfolk I otherwise love without question). To do so, though, would be to succumb to the very same closed-mindedness I decry.

So, the challenge I pose for myself is to make choices that shape me in the ways of justice, peace, truth, and above all love. It's harder than it sounds in the current climate of vitriol, obstructionism, and denial of fact, isn't it?
Jeff Henderson(non-registered)
It occurs to me that ‘climate of choice’ has become an industry. There is someone willing to serve up a custom envelope of validation to whatever sensibilities one has and chooses to nurture no matter how irrational, harmful to others or harmful to themselves such a climate may be. So the xenophobes do not think they are xenophobic. The tyrannical minority who thwart the will of the people see no irony in their demands for imposition of their sensibilities in the name of ‘liberty’ that suits them and no one else. Some would see no great loss of an ancient cedar grove if that kept pencils cheap. I would say we could use some climatologists of human affairs to differentiate the toxic climates from the nurturing ones. But since so many can’t accept the dispassionate facts about our meteorological climate what hope is there that they could come to understand that the climate of human affairs they choose to dwell in may be toxic to them or to humanity itself? The problem of course is not that we have too many choices about our climate. The problem is that every choice, no matter how poor, self-serving or irrational, finds validation.
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It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. Henry David Thoreau

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