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From the Publisher’s Desk – Head banging won’t bring answers (March 30, 2016 issue)

By Keith Whitson

There just wasn’t time to help. I felt horrible as I thought of the situation at Saturday afternoon, but hoped things wouldn’t worsen until I could attend to the matter.

It had been a busy day of accomplishing tasks in the yard. Now I was cleaned up and ready to head out for a list of stops, purchases and visits.

The door to my backyard storage unit was standing open. I was sure I had closed it, but evidently the wind had blown it back open. After walking over to take care of the matter, I spotted a small bird inside, crashing into the top window in the far back. It was continuously smashing into the glass, seeking freedom. The sight of me made the bird panic more, so I closed the door, with hopes of helping later.

As I thought about the situation throughout the day, it became a lesson.  How many times have we gone off the path to explore and ended up off course? At that point, we were drawn to the brightness before us as a means to freedom and happiness. If that small bird could have just realized the answer was in turning around and going back the way it came. There was a door open behind it, with lots of space to return to freedom. Instead, it kept banging its head on the dead end solution before it.

There are consequences to nearly every decision in life. Sometimes things can take us off course. Driving is one natural illustration. I am so grateful for navigation tools, either by cell phone applications or built in automobile systems.

I grew up with Atlas. Atlas wasn’t my sister or a relative, but rather a necessary trip companion. I didn’t mind traveling anywhere as long as I had an atlas and could keep track of where I was on the road and where I was headed.

I do recall choosing a route at times that seemed like the shortest distance from point A to point B. The atlas didn’t warn me I would be winding around cliffs and going along gravel roads. How much quicker it would have been to originally gone out of the way to get to a smoother, straighter highway.

I have even turned onto a few one way streets by accident. Once, I drove on the sidewalk to avoid oncoming traffic. Things have gotten better and navigation systems have gotten better. Wouldn’t it be so nice if we had a voice that spoke every decision we should make in life? “Take the opportunity appearing in three day. Get out of the way now. Your answer just ahead on your left.”

Several years ago I was walking through the woods and stopped to take in the beauty around me. It was at that  point that I noticed a tall poplar that had made its way up through the cluster of trees nearby, which were also fighting for the same existence.

At the base of this tree was one of those mountain grapevines. I don’t know the exact name for them and I never saw any with grapes. That’s just how I always heard it referenced. It was fun to try and grab a dangling end and use it as a swing. The extensions of the grapevine clung so tightly to the tree.

As I stood there, I noticed the grapevine must have been clinging to this tree for years. The vine had no strength on its own to stand straight or support its climb. It relied solely on the tree for support.

Its pattern was obvious when viewed from the ground. It started on a straight path, clinging to the trunk of the tree, and once it got to the branches there were decisions to be made. It could have kept growing straight up, but rather chose to go left sometimes, then back on path and then to the right.

I don’t know what caused the path to alter. Maybe it got tired of the upward climb and chose a limb to rest on and prepare for more. However, the main focus was reaching the light that shone through the dense top of the tree. The sun was the guiding force that was drawing it up from the darkness below.

As I stood there, I thought about how much quicker the journey would have been if the grapevine had stayed on course. There were lots of years that had taken it all over that tree before coming back to the center. However, it was still clinging to the base, still growing and still reaching for the bright spot at the top.

I thought how true it is of our lives and our journey through this life. That grapevine’s story was laid out before me. I could see its life history. Some places it slipped a bit and sagged away from the branch, but it always held on to what it could.

I returned to my storage shed Saturday. The small bird was still making efforts to achieve freedom. I could tell by the marks on the window it hadn’t tried any other  window or direction. It was determined the wrong way was the only way out.

I have some side doors on the storage building that open wider for a lawn mower. I opened those and eventually the small bird found freedom. I was relieved and I’m sure it was.

Sometimes we have tunnel vision and keep banging our heads at a dead end, trying to force it to be what we need. Often, if we turn around, the answer is clear and we can get back to where we are going.

Just as in driving, sometimes we are too stubborn to stop and seek direction or we may go far off path trying to take shortcuts.

Hopefully that bird learned a valuable lesson. It reminded me of one.