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Carl Wernicke: The Nature Of Change


Sunday morning I went for a walk down our driveway, which is lined with woods that stand mostly untended by human hands. The day was gray but the sky was brightening with wisps of blue showing through the low clouds. A fierce storm had blown through in the early morning darkness, a wind-driven rain lashed by lightning, the kind of storm that always makes me feel glad to be tucked into a warm bed.

That morning, after walking to the highway to pick up the newspaper, I was about halfway back when I sensed that something was different. I didn’t know immediately what it was, but I soon realized that a tree had fallen back in the woods. The silvery bark of its long thin branches now pointed up toward the sky, and the underbrush was trampled down where it fell.

Our driveway is about a quarter-mile long, and I’ve been walking it past these woods for 12 years now, so I know them well. In that way they are comforting. It isn’t as if I can place each and every tree, but the whole pattern of it is in my mind; I see it even without really looking. So I didn’t so much see this fallen tree as I sensed it. My eyes caught the silvery glimmer of the branches, and my brain alerted my conscious self that something was different. That caused me to study the woods until I realized what I was looking at.

For some reason this started me thinking about the process of familiarity, and how it affects people. Some of us always seek out the stimulation of new places and adventures, while others of us find more comfort in what we know. I find that I adapt to new places quickly, but I like to stay long enough in a new place for it to start to become familiar. I find my enjoyment of a new town or a new piece of woods rising substantially as I come to know which street brings me back to my hotel, or which path takes me back to a scenic place in the woods. I like returning to places that I know, even years apart.

Back on my driveway, I wondered: were these woods the same old place that I knew, or did the fallen tree make them altogether new? I decided that it was really both. Nothing stands still, so even when we think we know something, it can change in the blink of an eye.

All it takes is a storm in the night, and in the morning what you thought you knew has taken on a new form. Maybe that’s what makes storms so exciting as you lie in your warm bed, hearing the power and energy as it blows through. You know that when you wake up in the morning, everything will still be the same, and everything will have changed.