Trees and arborists

A pair of arborists spent the day on my street working on an enormous old tree.  There were ropes, harnesses, helmets, assorted saws and other tools involved.  There were also spectators, ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 98.

I’m not sure exactly what the allure was for my various neighbors, but what kept me watching throughout the day from my desk was that these two moved around, up and down the trunk of the tree, in amongst the trimmed branches, on and off the truck bed with vitality.  I realized that it’s not very often that I see vitality on people in the context of their work.

I was reminded of the one thing that stayed with me from my high school biology class. At the very beginning, we were charged with coming up with a way to describe the difference between things that are alive and things that are not.  There was a definition our teacher was after, which few of us arrived at, but we all discovered that the identifying features of life are tricky to articulate.  I found myself in a similar inquiry this afternoon as I watched the tree folks at work.  What was it that made them seem so alive, so much more alive than many of us seem most of the time?  Was it the way they were moving?  The way they were moving in relation to each other, and to other things?  The expressions on their faces?  The tone of their voices?

I eventually found myself thinking that maybe vitality is one of those things that eludes description.  You just know it when you see it.

It’s also certainly something we could use an awful lot more of.

The arborists finished their day at 8:00 as dark descended, twelve and a half hours after they arrived.  As the trucks pulled away I wondered what might change if we put as much emphasis on preparing kids for lives of vitality as we strive to prepare them for lives of employability.  What would it mean for our collective physical, emotional, and intellectual health?

And might it actually lay a more sustainable generative groundwork for the outcomes – things like happiness, safety, health, comfort – that inspire our commitment to employability?

2 Responses

  1. Lilian Katz writes about “dispositions” and vitality surely is one we’d like children to keep. Many of the best dispositions are inborn, but we “civilize” them out of the children…

    I’ve been thinking about “agency”. As I started reading recent Reggio Emilia materials I came across the word carrying, for me, a new meaning, and now it pops up all the time…. agency being that disposition that says, “I can get this thing done”. Babies are chockfull of it, but after a while much has dissipated in most children. I’m sure that it was agency that got me into the little bit of trouble with grownups that I experienced very young…. I just wasn’t docile enough to suit them.

    If you’ve thought about agency (in these terms or others) I’d love to hear.


  2. Oh I so love this post! In the sea of daily anxieties and logistics it’s so helpful to have guideposts like this, reminders of what we’re aiming for.

    It’s not to know this or that, not for our son to learn this or that or to meet X or Y benchmark. It’s THIS vitality that you’re describing. It’s THIS that we want for ourselves most days.

    So well captured in this one scene with the arborists and the tree. And wonderful too the image of people drawn to watch it, like a wonderful story unfolding. I like to think the tree felt cared for too in all this but I might be anthropomorphizing just a bit!

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