Falling

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People prowled the meadow camping area and forested stages in vibrant tie-dye everything, bizarre caveman outfits to incite conversation. Earth Fest, an underground music festival in the forest, was crawling with hippies and wannabes.

This past weekend I attended a music festival outside Taichung, Taiwan on a farm near Puli. It was difficult to reach without access to a car, and it was only through the kindness of friends I made it to and from unscathed.

Much of the music was Psytrance or something psychedelic in nature with long, repetitive, rhythm sequences and minimalist eerie tones. It’s not my favorite music, but it was an excellent excuse to dance with friends in the forest and wear bright colors. Most of all to forget responsibilities.

At some point Saturday night I went on a tree climbing expedition with friends, Will and Micah.  Maybe their girlfriends were there, maybe not. At any rate the girlfriend’s presence was not felt because they didn’t climb and didn’t add anything to the conversation or overall experience.

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Taiwan doesn’t have many pine trees, since most of it is covered in tropical jungle, but of course if you travel to a high enough altitude you see the ecosystem become more temperate and there are a few pine trees.

We chose a tree and in my excitement I scrambled monkey like up the tree. One step, and a thunderous crack later I was back on the ground with an “OOOoooophhhh.”

I fell. The branch had broken under me, my feet sinking before I noticed just like a cartoon character.

It wasn’t a small branch, but a bigger one and even as I fell I didn’t feel a great amount of terror, just surprise. Before, I had felt so certain of my actions, maybe reckless in my lack of fear.

I hopped up quickly, to show myself and my friends I was unhurt. Their faces looked back with wide-eyed owl like concern, and I immediately apologized for scaring them before climbing back up the tree.

  
Climbing trees holds a significant memory from my childhood, one in which I had another fall from a Ponderosa pine straight onto a rose bush. My cousin Gabriel pulled me down the hill in a wagon to receive medical attention from the adults. Something about climbing makes me desert my cautious nature and instead focus on getting higher with a one-minded intensity I rarely experience in anything else.

I love getting a better vantage point and using all my limbs to pull myself up. It’s a completely different animal trying to get down a tree and just as difficult as it was going up. Climbing trees uses common sense, reasoning and probability. Can I reach that? Will it break? Which branch is a better reach? Where do I want to go? Up; is usually the direction I want, but we learn to compromise and move sideways sometimes.

Falling is a natural part of learning, or maybe I should say failing. When you are younger it is expected and a physical short fall on short legs. The reward is great and the risk, small. As we get older there is a stigma, people who fail frequently are pigeonholed as ‘losers.’ In reality these are the people who are learning the most.

I remember my mother telling a story about my brother touching a hot stove. She told him not to touch, explained why and then he touched it anyway. I recall thinking, “My brother must be so stupid. I don’t need to touch the fire to know it’s hot. I trust mom to tell me the truth.”

Our family has a long standing tradition of letting people learn their own lessons, but not when it comes to safety of course. Protecting yourself from bodily harm means you must trust the judgement of others and listen to caution once in a while. This is still a difficult task for me, to trust the judgment of others when they tell me I can’t do something.

When my father visited Taiwan he told me to sell the motorcycle I had, he advised and I paraphrase, “Sell that motorcycle. It’s too big for you, and buy a nicer scooter instead.”

I know my father has experience riding a motorcycle, he knows I have a small stature and he is only looking out for my safety. But I couldn’t sell it until I learned how to ride it. He was right, it wasn’t safe, but sometimes unsafe things are what make us feel most alive. Sometimes learning a skill that scares us, gives us confidence to change.

So I climb trees, and I fall. I learn how to ride scooters and motorcycles, and I fall. But falling is learning. The hard way, but the hard way makes a strong impression and it never hurts as much as you expect.

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