Habits and their ways

by Steve Brock on July 25, 2013

Damme Trees

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the bicyclists or the angle at which I shot the photo.

These trees are simply leaning in, like the way a dog tilts its head as it listens to a high-pitched sound.

We encountered these trees a few weeks ago on a bike ride outside of Bruges, Belgium as we neared the small village of Damme. Only in Dutch can you merely mention a town and sound like you’re swearing.

Apparently, the wind through that area is so consistent and pervasive that the trees have grown askew over the years, leaning to the side in a uniform sway. They didn’t get that way overnight but through long-term, persistent forces.

I realized on this trip to Europe that change for us is quite similar. I think back to when I was younger and the mere surprise and shock of a new place/culture or the distance from home on a trip was enough to create an often acute sense of change. Life transformation came fairly readily, or so it seemed at the time. But I’m not sure those so-called changes really stuck.

bent trees and bikes near BrugesThis trip, however, reminded me of the old adage that “no matter where you go, there you are.” There you are. You. Me. Our old selves. The ones we carry with us and can’t leave behind like an out-of-date suitcase or yesterday’s paper.

Just going away may make us aware of the rough edges in our lives. But changing them? That takes more than a trip or two. It takes work. It requires new habits.

If we really want to change, we’ll need to apply small but consistent efforts over time. A long time. We’ll have moments when things seem better. But also long stretches when nothing seems to budge.

Yet when we step back, we can see that time and effort can have a dramatic effect. If we cultivate the good habits, the holy habits and spiritual disciplines we know we need, then we see can positive changes. If not, we may one day wake up and realize how much we, like the trees near that Damme village (sorry, old habits – see? – die hard), have grown up in ways we didn’t expect or want.

Don’t get me wrong. Those trees seem to be doing quite well. And they’re rather beautiful in their distinctive tilt.

But that’s not how trees are meant to grow.


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Wonder may be closer than you think

by Steve Brock on September 13, 2010

Connor walking down the beach

As you can see, there's not a lot of beach to enjoy...

 To complete this loosely connected trilogy of beach-related tales that started with seagulls and then moved to serendipity, let me share one other lesson I learned from my recent skimboarding adventure with my two sons.  

Our skimboarding “beach” is a half-mile walk down from the main beach at a popular state park south of Seattle. We’ve been to the park dozens of times over the last decade and a half. But in the past, since we tended to come here when our kids were younger, we always stayed in the main swimming area along with other happy, splashing families. Couples, kids and groups all tend to clump together in one stretch of beach like remnants of biscuit dough in a mixing bowl or the way moviegoers waiting to get into a theatre all line up in front of one door, oblivious to the other, open entry on the other side of the ticket booth.  

Trees by the water

Another look at how the trees grow right on the beach

On this day, however, our destination lies beyond the usual play and spray area. Getting there required two activities. 

The first necessitates, because the tide was in, climbing over, under and around the numerous trees, branches and driftwood that litter the way. In many cases, the trees protrude horizontally from the steep hillside that drops down a mere five to ten feet from the high tide mark. You have to practice your hurdles or limbo moves to get by these deciduous barricades.  

 The second means witnessing a part of this stretch of shoreline I thought I knew but clearly didn’t. A hundred yards past the normal boundary of our experience lay a world I’d never seen, a stretch of coastline that could have been someplace on a different island or continent.  

What I found this day wasn’t anything dramatically new, but familiar objects like rocks and trees that I saw in a new way. Let me share a few of these small wonders with you. The images most likely won’t convey the total experience, but they rarely do. That’s why so much of the most meaningful moments of wonder on a trip are meaningful to you alone. 

Walrus log

On this beach, water, wind and time create a virtual sculpture garden. This particular log actually looks like a walrus if you get the right angle and use a lot of imagination.

Dog Log

This one requires less squinting and imagination to see the doglike shape of the log.

Tree roots wrapped around rocks

One of the most fascinating things this day was the interplay between objects captured best in this image of dead tree roots that have grown around and captured the rocks

Roots around rock - close-up

A closer view of how the tree has enveloped its neighbor.

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