Gazing out the window, I spotted the small, scrubby tree on the hillside. But then the train crossed a metallic bridge, and the tree disappeared from sight. Returning from the incredible NCTE conference on Sunday, I found myself identifying with that tree. Trees grow. And I had grown.
One of my favorite authors, Donna Santman, once taught me that if at the end of a conversation we are thinking more, thinking differently, or have more words to say about what we thought already, then that conversation was good. NCTE 2019 had felt like a conversation. A conversation about equity, about inquiry, about representation. And about growth.
Staring out the window, I felt like I had outgrown myself. Which felt good. And fleetingly, I wondered if trees ever felt good when they grow. Maybe not.
Unless they’re a Wishtree.
I thought about the insignificance of the tree. After all, it was only one tree on one hillside. And not that big or remarkable. Among 8,000 teachers this weekend, I felt that way. A little. There were so many larger, more remarkable and knowledgeable trees there. But then I thought, ‘I’ll bet that little tree might host a nest in its branches someday. Or maybe it will help someone to think something important. And those two things alone could make a difference in the world in some way, for some reason.’
Chuckling to myself in my gray Amtrak seat, I realized… well, that had just happened to me. Hadn’t it? Not the nest. But the thought. I also realized that even small trees like me can make a difference, too. And that should be what life’s about.