I recently wrote about the wisdom of trees and talked about the story of Larry the Leaf. 

Unfortunately, I got the wrong story. 

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The book I was actually talking about was Freddy the Leaf, not Larry. If you’ve since gone out and bought the Larry the Leaf book for your kids, I apologize, you should probably get the Freddy the Leaf version since that’s the one I remember. 

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But hey, if you are also a consistent reader of this blog then you know that I am not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story and I thought that post was a pretty good story. 

Even more importantly, in having that mistake brought to my attention, I found myself looking up at the trees again. As I noticed all of these wonderful trees holding on to their beautiful fall foliage just a bit longer, it reminded me of when I had the chance to talk to an arborist a few years ago about replacing the trees in our neighborhood. 

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We have the villainous Bradford Pears lining our streets because our neighborhood was built in the late-80s and all the new developments back then used Bradford Pears because of their amazing growth rate, their beautiful spring bloom, and their lush canopy of leaves. 

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Unfortunately, as the New York Times article explains, the trees also come with a myriad of issues due to their ability to spread to other species and become invasive. They also become very unstable because of the speed of their growth and the lack of a strong root system.

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As I was walking our streets with the county arborist, I was fascinated by his ability to look at a tree and quickly determine its viability. 

An arborist sees a tree as an ascending story of health. The roots, the branches, the orientation of the branches in relationship to the trunk, the leaves and their fullness throughout the canopy – all of these are immediate signs that the arborist reads and comes to a conclusion about what can be saved through removal, whether the tree can still thrive, or does the whole thing need to come down.

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As we walked, I’d watch the arborist – let’s call him Stan – scan the tree from the ground to the sky and quickly jot down a few notes in his book. We’d then walk to the next tree and he’d repeat the process, over and over. I was fascinated at how quickly he determined a course of action for the future lives of, what looked like to me, perfectly healthy trees. Instead, in his eyes, he saw a series of mistakes, errors, and future catastrophic injuries waiting to happen. 

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I am a CrossFit nerd through and through so I couldn’t help but think that Stan’s expert eye worked almost exactly like that of a coach’s eye watching an athlete move through an olympic lift. 

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Athletes think that the olympic lifts are too complicated, too hard, too advanced for them, but they aren’t they are quite simple. We say it all the time – grip, stance, position. 

Nine times out of ten, if an athlete has a problem with a lift, if they can fix their feet, they probably fix the lift. The stance is the foundation upon which the whole lift rests. Bad foundation, bad lift.

Someone’s grip matters because it’s the connection to the bar. That’s the point where they translate their jump, aka second pull, into power and execute a smooth lift of the bar to the final receiving position.

Finally, each position functions as a critical component of transitions. It’s about blending the correct timing with the appropriate speed through those transitions; if those are disoriented, then the lift never materializes.

As an athlete becomes more skilled at the lifts there are obviously more nuances to appreciate, but in the end, sometimes it’s truly as simple as grip, stance, position…and not just because it fits so well into my metaphor of tree’s roots, trunk, and branches.

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What I found even more fascinating was that Stan got his head wrapped around what could have been a very complicated problem by simply looking at one thing, then the next, then the next. Roots, trunks, branches, leaves. He’d work his way through the problem one step at a time, then make a decision. Fix one thing, then the next, then the next.

Many times, what appears to be a problem too vast, too complicated for us to handle, is actually just a series of simple observations waiting for us to comprehend so that we can make the next decision. Paralysis occurs when we can’t see the next step.

When building a good lifter, a coach will start with the foundation of the feet, then work on the grip and stance, then, maybe after a few months, will worry about adding weight to the movement.

Similarly, trees take time to grow because they lay a good foundation with their roots. Their trunks begin to ascend into the sky, and only then will they spread their branches upward and outward. 

But sometimes we bypass the process. We plant a tree in the wrong soil. We chose a tree because we thought its branches would offer shade only to find that it’s a future storm hazard waiting to crush my back porch. We fail to recognize the rot spreading through the trunk or see how the highest branches have died and no longer have enough energy to support any leaves.

Optimally, we want to plant trees in the right environment because that’s the best way to let its foliage bloom when it’s ready.

But what if we find ourselves having jumped ahead too quickly in our training, or perhaps we’ve let our roots become a bit rotted with recent lifestyle choices that don’t support the rest of our goals and desires?

Then be like Stan and do a quick scan of your system. Figure out what needs to be cut, what needs to be trimmed. Maybe the whole tree needs to come down – whoa, that just got dark. 

More likely, we just need a little pruning, a little reset. Go back to focusing on that grip, that stance, and that position and work on the foundation again so that next spring, we all come back lusher, fuller, and more vibrant.

See you on the Creek.

-Coach Jack