The Speed Of Trees

How fast is the speed of life?

My day job has always had a degree of flexibility in working hours, and whilst we have “core hours” of 10am to 4pm, as long as we work enough hours each period and our public service commitments are covered each day, you can pretty much start at 7am and finish at 7pm – or anywhere in between.

A couple of years back this flexibility increased greatly.

A few months into the COVID pandemic, our leaders started to realise we weren’t going to be back in the office in a couple of weeks, and a plan to provide everyone with mobile devices and the required infrastructure was gradually rolled out.

Being able to start work from home at 7:30, then finish at 4:15 to take my son to his trampoline class, with a school run or two in between, is something I couldn’t have done (or would have been allowed to) a couple of years ago.

Working from home, plus this greater possible range of working hours has significantly improved my work/life balance for the positive.

So the need for rushing has reduced, as the demands for me to be in a certain place at and for a certain time – tethered to the 9-5 -have relaxed.

But I still feel it could go much further.

There have always been concepts that have baffled me as an adult, like “rush hour”.

Why does virtually everyone who works in a retail or office based role need to start work at the same time, therefore clogging up the roads and overloading public transport, increasing stress and pollution all round?

Why not have staggered shifts so rush “hour” becomes a less rushed two or three or four hour period?

I recently read a fascinating book on trees, called The Hidden Life Of Trees.

Amongst many interesting revelations, the author tells us trees are often far older than we think. He suggests, in a round about way, that most humans are too impatient (and I wonder perhaps envious) of the long lives and incredibly slow yet steady incremental growth of trees to truly appreciate them.

We want it all and we want it now, how could we possibly relate to species where 200 years old is considered young, and that takes half a millennium to reach its prime!

Yet again I think nature has it right. Why all the rush? Why all the surface froth and noise, the unnecessary, the excess?

As a child I remember weekends on my granddad’s farm that seemed to last weeks, with no urgency to do anything.

For example, how he made (and then ate) a sandwich with such steady deliberation and care and pleasure, savouring every moment, enjoying the butter made with milk from the farm, and fresh cucumber and tomatoes from his greenhouse.

And now, with my own children setting their own (slow) pace of exploring and learning and growing, again with no pressure to rush or to be anywhere at certain times, I’m questioning the pace of life that most of us fall into again.

Many who take up (or rediscover) film photography say one of the main appeals is the slower pace.

With only 36 (and sometimes only 24 or 12) shots per roll, we’re encouraged to make each frame count, rather than the spray and pray approach possible with digital cameras, taking 36 shots of the same scene in seconds, with the intention of keeping the best shot afterwards.

But then being overwhelmed with just how many photos we took that day and not returning to any of them, so they join the growing mountain of forgotten images on dusty hard drives.

Fortunately, many of the pluses and lessons from my period of five years or so shooting film have carried over into digital again, including how many shots I make on each photowalk.

Once it would have been 100-200. Nowadays the same walk might yield 20.

Anyway, how about you? What speed do you photograph at? At what speed do you live your life? How have these speeds changed over time?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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14 thoughts on “The Speed Of Trees”

  1. I love efficiency, and I enjoy the feeling of heavy productivity. But that can also be a rabbit hole, and in time I find myself burning out. I have to remind myself to slow down, that some perfect level of productivity and efficiency is not achievable and striving for it goes too far.

    1. Yeh I relate to that Jim. I love being productive, getting stuff done, and in an efficient way. I enjoy writing lists of things to do, and crossing them as they get done. But yes it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of always wanting to do more, and then only looking at what didn’t get done rather than what did.

      I think there’s much to be said of the concept of “good enough” rather than perfect, too.

      1. Dan, I forgot about our mutual love of lists. My iPhone reminders app has been a game changer for me and lists. I have 22 !!! different lists and when I get an idea or task that needs to be added my virtual assistant Siri adds it for me. It is an unbelievable help in me managing my thoughts, ideas and moving through life

      2. Susan, yes I love a list, whether as a means to remember what I want to get done, or a top 10 kind of list. I’ve always loved them, just helps bring some order to the world – and my mind!

        At my work we have extensive Planning history for the properties in the district, going back to the late 1940s and early 1950s in some cases. There are two relatively small cabinets that each contain multiple drawers containing thousands of microfiche. It’s incredible so much can be stored in such a small area, and second that you can find what you want pretty easily due to the numbering and ordering system.

  2. There’s something of a paradox in that when you’re young and have decades ahead you’ll rush around as though there’s no time, then when you get old and can see the end looming you slow down and take things easy. Of course it’s not always a matter of choice: life circumstances tend to demand what we do and how fast we do it: it takes me a lot longer to do things these days, whether I want to spend the extra time or not.

    1. Yeh I get that, life in terms of certain annual events passes faster each year it seems.

      And yes there are some things I find so fiddly and frustrating now, however slowly I try to do them, I generally avoid them!

  3. Dan, The speed I take a photo depends on what it is. If it’s the birds in the birdbath I take quicker photos because I want to catch the action but if it is a flower or tree on my walk or a sunrise or sunset I take my time. Not lots of time but enough to frame it up nicely for my pleasure later on. I used to be a super speedy person achieving things in a fast way with quick mental processing especially in my job as a librarian and in my college years. Even when I was sitting relaxing reading or watching TV I’d be mentally engaged in a speedy way. Since developing severe fatigue and energy and mental problems that have slowed me right down at times from moment to moment my speed is affected.Right now I am typing quickly but when I go for my walk afterwards I will walk slowly and deliberately. I am incapable of constant speediness and have learnt the art of stillness. I know how to be as still as a tree

    1. I think you’ve learned valuable lessons, and really none of us are capable of constant high speed at anything without burning out in some way.

      What’s the point of doing anything fast if it’s not enjoyable and your health suffers in some way.

  4. I am blessed in that for at least thirty years now I have been able to work from home most of the time. I know that for many this is an impossible dream, but for the twenty years before I worked round the clock shifts, first as a policeman, and then in air traffic control. I would not have missed any of it, but I am happy that I can keep working past the usual retirement age at a pace that mostly I control. I learned a long time ago now that being first, best, or the most is unimportant. Money is a completely useless measure of either worth or success, and my contribution to the world is in fact the same as my contribution to others.

    1. Steve, It was so nice reading your response. Many years ago I questioned my value as a human being not having my own family, being unemployed due to severe illnesses and mostly only being able to do “odd jobs” in the Universe like writing a response to a post like now. This is how I matter and if not this then me admiring the clouds. Right now I don’t know anything about you other than your post and here I am writing to say “thank you for being here”

      1. Susan, Steve has been a regular contributor here for a long time, certainly years. I’m glad you, like myself, gain something from the wisdom he shares.

    2. That’s amazing Steve, that you’ve been working from home for so long when for probably the majority of us in the west the pandemic was the first time we were forced into finding ways to make it work.

      Yeh contribution in terms of your time and energy and love is so much bigger than anything monetary.

  5. I love that tree picture, Dan.
    For photography, it’s always my goal to relax and unwind. I’ve had photowalks where I too 0 pictures. Nothing caught my eye. I still had a good time walking though!
    For music, I had always wanted to be successful, but it never happened. Now, looking back as I’m in my 50s, I don’t think anyone would remember my songs by now anyway, because does anyone still listen to rock unless it was a huge band?
    For my work, I learned a lesson when I was in my early 20s… I have always worked with software development, so I’m not sure how this would apply to other fields, but I pace myself at what I think is my 90% ability (it’s a guesstimate). I always reminded myself to not rush anything, always do things a little bit slower than I actually am able to. It was in that period that I was identified and even admired by my peers as a very highly productive programmer (it’s what they called us back in the 90s…) My current boss, who I started working for this year, knows this very well. She told me, “pace yourself, it’s a marathon, not a sprint race”. She gets it. And she’s also known as an extremely high performing professional.
    Find how fast you can go comfortably. Then slow down by a bit and that’s probably a rhythm you can keep and with it, go very far.

    1. Thanks Chris, I’ve taken quite a few pictures of that tree, but not visited for a couple of years. It’s only a few miles away so I should.

      That is excellent advice about the 90%. I think I’ve always done this, perhaps not quite always at 90% though, ha. I figure if you go flat out then you’re setting an expectation with others that this is something you can sustain. Then when you can’t maintain it, they get disappointed. Better to pace yourself at 80 or 90% capacity and maintain this quality and standard over a long time, I agree.

      It’s a bit like relationships too. If you go into a new relationship on your very best behaviour for want of a better term, then it’ll be expected that you’ll maintain it. But then it becomes such an effort, you’re not ever relaxing and being yourself. Again I think it’s better to be as good as you can be for a prolonged period, and accept some flaws.

      Some people go into relationships with massive expectations (especially in stupid reality shows on TV), that they can never possibly be met, and they end up with nothing, because everything had to be so perfect. I’d rather have an 85 or 90% fantastic relationship then accept that gap and the flaws in myself and the other person, than expect 100% and be searching for it my whole life.

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