Douglas Fir

Look up but watch where you’re going.

On a recent trip to the mountains I was reminded of the diversity of the forest and the interesting world of trees. I may not work in the field, but I have a four year university degree in biology which included more ecology, botany, and entomology coursework than any normal lifespan should have to contain.

Even though it didn’t turn into a job, those four years earned me an immovable respect for the natural world and a firmly entrenched fascination with the diversity of living things.

I was looking up at the trees, but not really watching where I was going.

Of the many of varieties of trees I was looking at, and among the dozens of species that make up the mountain forests, there is one that has held my interest for a very long time: the mighty and curiously-named Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. It has held my interest not because it is necessarily an interesting tree, which it probably is in its own right, but because when I learned about this tree as a kid my best friend’s name was “Doug” and I always felt a bit jealous that he had his own tree.

Yet, the Douglas fir was most definitely not named after my school chum, Doug. It was in fact named after a nineteenth century Scottish botanist and explorer named David Douglas. He is credited (in the narrow bandwidth of European science) with first cultivating the fir which would later bear his name. He did this in his twenties. In his twenties!

I certainly did not discover or cultivate much of interest in my twenties. Though in my thirties I helped cultivate a daughter who is now a teenager and who is anxiously contemplating her future education. We spent nearly an hour last night having a heart-to-heart conversation, me trying to bear witness to her struggles to find a meaningful life path, and also empathize through recounting my plight of squandering a university education in an interesting field for which I still have passion but most definitely no career.

She is young and still looking up at those millions of trees in the forest and their possibilities.

I’m getting older and often watching my feet, trying to remember to look up occasional and admire that world around me.

Look up.

David Douglas died under mysterious circumstances at the age of thirty five, but the officially documented cause was still interesting. Like a cartoon villain in a Gilligan’s Island rerun, he fell into a trap hole on a Hawaiian island and was mauled to death by an angry bull while his dog watched from the edge the pit. I suppose it could be said he, being a young and ambitious guy, spent a lot of time looking up at the trees and what was under his feet ultimately got him in the end.

The moral of the story is that if you’re always looking up at the trees someone might name one of those trees after you forever securing your legacy… but also don’t be surprised if you fall into a hole to your immediate doom.

The parenting lesson is that I need to give my teenage daughter the ability to look up and admire those trees, take her to the forest (both literal and metaphorical) but that I also need to be a good dad and keep my eyes on the ground for her. Maybe those four years of university weren’t a waste of time after all.