Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Kissing trees

From the Editor


December 6, 2018

Early in the Disney movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Quasimodo sings a song about the privilege others have of simply being “out there,” meaning outside the bell tower to which he is confined.

“Out there among the millers and the weavers and their wives, through roofs and gables I can see them. Everyday, they shout and scold and go about their lives, heedless of the gift it is to be them. If I was in their skin, I’d treasure every instant.”

It is impossible for me to listen to that song, to that particular part of the song, without a shiver running up my spine. I don’t really make resolutions for the new year, but I do tell myself each year that I want to live with Quasimodo’s resolve to treasure small moments of life as well as the big ones.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that life doesn’t go smoothly for Quasi. He fulfills his dream — he sneaks out of the bell tower. Doing so has major consequences for him and for others. Throughout the movie, he faces two choices: stay locked within the bell tower again, a place he can be safe from others but lose out on what life has to offer; or, risk his comfort, his safety, all he knows, to step out and experience the life he’s dreamed of and more.

I was thinking of Quasimodo about a week ago, riding in the van of my brother and sister-in-law. There I was, in Georgia, with some of the best people I know – my brother, my sister-in-law and two nephews. In that moment of thinking of where I was, who I was with, I was profoundly grateful. I was aware to some degree of the gift it is to be me, not because I’m any sort of great person, but because of who I love and who loves me.

The trip to see part of my family was like one big Earth-to-Alycia siren.

Behind their house in Georgia are some woods. One afternoon, the boys and I made our way through them, just walking and stopping whenever and wherever. One of my nephews, Ezekiel, is four, and he is inquisitive, bright, sensitive and, so far, the best four-year-old boy I have ever been acquainted with. At one of our stops, he nearly stepped on a baby tree. I pointed it out to him, and he immediately had questions ­— anything from why it was growing there to if it would survive. He also wanted to know why it was growing at such a funny angle.

I told him and Isaiah that the tree probably would have a bit of a fight ahead of him. He was under a bigger tree, so the roots might be competing for water and space. The larger tree’s canopy also might prevent enough sunlight from reaching the poor guy. Well, Isaiah, who is two, promptly gave the tree a kiss (which shows you his immense heart) and we all wished it the best of luck as we went on our way. We stopped to kiss many more trees and give a word of encouragement.

It's times like those that I feel keenly Quasimodo’s sense of wonder over the mundane. That’s part of what I love so much about the song — he’s not even looking for much more than just a chance to do what we think of as normal stuff. Stopping to consider trees which were growing wonky and discovering mushrooms to stomp was a way to re-situate me to life — not to grandeur and life’s abstractness, but the solid things, the hard materials.

I guess I’m still learning the posture of thankfulness, even though Thanksgiving is gone and past. But like Christmas spirit, thankfulness should be practiced year-round. Sometimes we need little reminders to turn on the light in the darkest of places, to find the joy around every corner.


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