I (Coach Will) spent my senior year of high school in the woods of northern Michigan.
Coming from the beachy, year-round vacation lifestyle that is Southern California, the harsh reality of seasons nearly knocked me on my ass that year. I’d been cold before, but losing sensation in my gloved fingers in the 5-minute walk from the dining hall to the rehearsal shed? Puhhleaaase.
The student body was a high-strung bunch to begin with (it was an arts high school after-all...think FAME, but surrounded by lakes and trees), but the overwhelming winter, unwieldy teenage hormones, and prodigious amounts of artistic talent-potential (and therefore, expectation) warped us into a seething mass of odd-balls.
No parents, no place to go off-campus, no parties, no avoiding anyone (there were only 500 students total across the 4 grades). It was a place designed to help young adults focus their efforts as completely as possible on the pursuit of their art. And sap their sanity.
By February, we were white-knuckling our coping mechanisms like life-rafts. We couldn’t even comprehend anything beyond our own, personal survival (as I said--we were a dramatic group of adolescents).
We binged Netflix, and started gossipy rumors. We had stupid arguments with our roommates, about soy milk and gangster rap. We fell (face-down) in love, and broke each other’s hearts. We felt insomnia as the crushing malady that it can become. We looked ahead to our futures with desperation, seeking relief and deliverance.
And then the sun came out.
First, in just glimpses, in March. The clouds would part, and the remaining snow would glint, and for a moment I could remember what ‘solar heat’ meant.
Then, in April, the tiny buds on the trees would beckon us outside on Saturday afternoons to begin testing the ground for dry spots where we might lay down, heads on each other’s bellies, close our eyes and let the spring wash our souls.
By May, the tortures of winter were nearly forgotten. The sheer magnificence of burgeoning green, crammed into every corner of the horizon, settled us, softened us, and reminded us how good things could be.
It was a day in May when my friend, sensing some of that old winter desperation in me (to finish a final paper), grabbed my shoulders and said: “Will. Sometimes, you need to move at the speed of plants.”
He was right. As we walked outside, those plants rewarded my deep breaths with smells of richness and renewal. My eyes rested in the leaf-filtered light from young trees and their much older siblings.
And I was able to see myself as part of the world, and not the center of it.
Plants offered a way for me to see life as larger than myself, both more delicate and more powerful. I would do well to learn from the way that plants survived and bloomed at their own, unhurried pace, without concern for what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do.
Each spring, I remember my friend’s reminder. I think back to that frantic, delusional winter, and the relief that spring offered. And as I sow seeds in my small raised beds this year, I cheer all the varied life-forms (plants, people, and all the rest) that are using the sun and making a statement.
- Coach Will