So last week I went camping with my darling nieces, Gwendolyn and Alice, who are six and three respectively, as well as their mum Emma. Had a great time, and learned more than a few things. I learned how to build a fire when your lighter is dead, and that ten years in classrooms and libraries leads to sunburns if you’re not careful. And I learned about wood chips.
See, while I was laying in a hammock reading about the history of medieval magical practices, Gwen and Alice were exploring with their mum, and found a great playground near our campsite. After dinner we headed down to said playground, which was your standard sort of blue and yellow climber with children clambering all over it (I really need to get a camera or something with a camera so I can actually take pictures of these things. Seriously). It had a newish coat of paint, and a layer of fresh, almost brand new wood chips all over the bottom of the play area.
The girls ran into a number of other children, and rapidly established a pecking order and played princesses and tigers while Emma and I sat near the edge and watched. And I played with the wood chips, just picking up one at a time and tossing it so it whirled through the air, seeing how far I could toss them.
“What are you doing?” Emma asked me, and I felt like I needed a funnier answer than just throwing wood chips and watching the kids.
“I’m searching for the perfect wood chip, but the only way to know is to throw it,” I replied.
“But then it’s gone.”
And that’s when it hit me. Let’s imagine for a moment that experiences are wood chips. From far away, they all look sort of the same, and you don’t have to pick up any of them, but if you want to look for good ones, there are a few ways to handle it. One way is to pick up the ones that look best, and see if they’re good. Some of them are perfect, but the only way to know for sure is to see them in motion, whirling through the air. If you just collect them and hold onto them, you can’t be sure. But if you toss them, you could lose them and never find them again. Another way would be to just look at the pile, and poke around a bit, but worry about getting dirty from picking them up. As I relayed that, Alice saw what I was doing, came over, and demonstrated another way to deal with it, scooping up a whole pile with both hands and tossing them all into the air. She didn’t care which ones were perfect, she just had a bunch of wood chips, and then they were flying.
There are all kinds of ways to use wood chips. You can build things out of them, throw them at someone else, eat them, stack them, hide them, show them off, paint them funny colours, get more, give them away, or a million other things. And in that, they’re like experiences. We can treat them in lots of different ways, and how we treat them is going to shape how we treat ourselves and other people. My immediate reaction was to wonder what the best way to treat them was, but that’s oversimplifying them. In some ways, they’re like wood chips. In others, they’re not. They mean different things to us, and they unpack into more complicated ideas, right? Some of them we should hide, some of them we should show off, some of them we should look for more of…
But then I thought again. What makes our experiences similar? What do they all have in common? They belong to us. Just like the wood chips make up the foundation of the playground, our experiences lay the foundation for our outlook. Experiences may be different, but how we treat them doesn’t have to be. We can decide to hide one and show off another, or we can decide that we’re going to treasure all of them, or use them to build something, or throw them all away. Some of these choices seem better than others.
This is mostly just musings about wood chips from camping, but it’s funny how imagination can make you think of things in new ways. How do you treat your experiences? If you treat some of them differently than others, why?