A block and a half away is the DuPage river and its paths. As I enter the commons that abuts the river I have two choices, I can turn right or I can turn left.
Turning right takes me down a cobblestone path that leads to downtown Naperville. Along the way, there are luxury houses, colorful fountains, covered bridges, and public sculptures. It is beautiful but in a scripted way. Every bend of the path carefully calculated to be the most aesthetically pleasing. However, turning left takes me to a different reality. The reality of a preserve called McDowell Grove.
I turn left. Within minutes of walking, I am on a gravel path that winds through forest and prairie. The path takes me under a railroad trestle, then under a highway, then past a dam. Soon I am walking among trees, then through an open and wild prairie. A prairie not unlike prairies of the past. Low and rolling, buzzing with life as if to spite the long lingering winter.
I walk carrying an old camera. My Canon 7D slung over my shoulder on a strap that transects my chest. That strap designed to counter its gravid 820-gram weight.
I looked to the right and then to the left as I explore photographic possibilities. I have been on this path a hundred times, but I always find something to peak my creative interest. I enter the prairie and force my vision to the right. In front of me stands a lone tree surrounded by tall grasses. Behind me is a forest of-of trees, each member huddled closely together.
My mind floods as it starts to compare and categorize the two visual experiences. What are the advantages of being a lone tree? What are the advantages of being a tree among many in the wood?
My thoughts generalize and regroup. What are the advantages of being in a group? What are the advantages of being apart from a group? I pull my camera from my hip and press it against my cheek. I squint into the viewfinder and compose. Click, click, click. I take three shots shifting my field of view slightly with each. I slide my camera back onto my hip and continue walking. Although I move forward my thoughts remain on the trees.
My thoughts generalize and regroup again. Now I am focusing on my children and the lessons that I have taught them. Those lessons both directed and inferred. Lessons of ethics. Lessons of integrity. Lessons of justice.
I realize that there are many paths in life, I reflect that I have tried to instill in them the values that will allow them to become strong and honorable adults. Values that places ethics before gain. Values that place integrity before popularity. Values that place justice before complacency.
My thoughts shift back to the trees. In some ways, those that stand together are protected. Protected from the wind and the frost. The tree that stands alone does not have those protections, so it must become strong and resilient on its own. For its efforts, it gets to grow freely, without pressure from its neighbors to conform. However, to grow freely doesn’t mean that it will grow well. Other factors determine this.
Most trees grow together in forests, but an entire forest can be destroyed by the single lighting flash of a thunderstorm. After such a disaster the lone tree is the one that survives, that continues to grow, that ultimately determines the new direction for its species.
My thoughts shift back to my children. I see them as trees standing in a prairie. Not bending to those around them. Growing strong and able to battle the wind and the frost. I hope my lessons will help them grow well. However, I can only plant a seed, they will grow as they wish. I cannot determine this.