When I was a little kid, I loved to climb trees…
I grew up in a small, Midwestern town that was home to nothing but a post office, a general store, and a few hundred people at best. Needless to say, there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do; my friends and I were constantly looking for ways to entertain ourselves. I’d say we were fairly successful in our efforts – from playing cops and robbers on our bikes to escaping the summer heat in the local creek, we always found a way to have fun. Still, despite our countless games and endless adventures, climbing trees remained my pastime of preference.
There is an exceptional freedom in finding yourself a little closer to the clouds, surrounded by leaves and birds and bugs and sunshine – one that, to a child, is overwhelmingly magnetic. I found myself simply unable to resist the pull of this freedom from a young age. Conveniently, my family’s little farm was home to a small orchard abundant with apple and cherry trees. I can recall spending countless hours in their branches, keeping an eye on the sky above and the world below. Those were some of the most significant moments of my childhood.
So how exactly are these moments relevant to my bridge year?
I spent the past week in a little town called Panchgani – it holds a special place in my heart, as it’s the place where I began my journey in India. Although I had already spent three weeks there this past fall, I felt that its natural beauty was beckoning me to take a break from the big city and return; so, on a brisk Monday morning, my best friend, Holly, and I hitched a ride and made our way into the mountains. I was at a loss for words by the time we arrived at our hilltop destination. The air was invigorating, the flowers were in full bloom, and the view was utterly breathtaking. Yet, the real magic happened the following morning…
Holly and I were permitted to stay at a local Initiatives of Change center on the condition that we participated in several of the sessions that were being held; so we awoke before dawn that Tuesday and headed to the main hall for our first meditation gathering. After a few cups of coffee to kick the early morning disorientation, our group was led outside. The sun was still hidden behind the plateau, but bold streaks of orange and red were just beginning to paint a dark sky. I was hardly able to tear my attention away from the resplendent colors and focus on the meditation guidelines being specified. After our session leader addressed the value of reconnecting with nature, we were sent off by ourselves to find a sequestered spot where we could sit quietly with the earth and take in the morning.
Instinctively, I was drawn to a magnificent tree with its tangled mass of sturdy limbs rising gracefully towards the painted sky. The intertwining branches formed an ideal ladder, and I scaled it with ease. High above the ground, I found myself overcome with a nostalgic sense of freedom. I closed my eyes, felt the gentle breeze on my skin, and listened to the sound of Mother Nature waking up all around me.
Living in Pune has been a tremendous adjustment these past several months. I am constantly weathering the chaos that accompanies residing in such a populous city. There are moments when I immerse myself in the pandemonium with wholehearted amazement; still, there are other times when I drown in my own bewilderment. I can’t help but stare up at the endless columns of apartments and compare them to prison cells; I wonder, if their tenants could taste real freedom – the joy of bare feet on a dirt road and no care in the world – would they ever go back?
I may never understand how humanity can settle for busy streets and tiny cubicles, ignoring the magical lure of nature; I doubt I will ever fully grasp this way of life. But when the city gets entirely overwhelming, I’ll cling to my freedom. It’s what enables me to fearlessly embrace every second of life in Pune: the knowledge that I can always return to the tangled mess of branches in my memory and let nature heal my soul.