It does not take a person long to realize life is not a linear path, not a straight line progression from “A” to “B” to “C.” It is this winding, this venturing, this sometimes outright bewilderment that makes the journey so much more valuable than the destination.
As J.R.R Tolkien told us “Not all who are wander are lost.”
These are lessons I see in my life as I cast back to memories, places and events. Often our most treasured mementos are small scraps or tid-bits, photos, certificates memorabilia of time spent, friends gained, experiences had. There is the small, dirty 8 X 12 american flag that hangs on the wall of my home office. Diplomas from high school, college. At times, when lacking inspiration or befuddled on the path of life ,I like to stop and look at these things. I like to remember why I chose to hang on to them, in some cases hang them up. It gives perspective.
My career in trees has been no different. As many of you know I grew up in the industry. My father, with a background in forestry, made the leap into arboriculture around 1970. A leap many would make later and still do today. I can remember going to work with him on occasion as he visited crews, spoke with client’s, put out the fires that all tree companies have and expect the sales representatives and managers to deal with.
One memorable time in the fall of 1980 my father and I received a unique opportunity. I had not realized the full scope at the time, I was young. In retrospect, I have come to understand just what an opportunity it was and I am forever grateful.
My father often got called in to help settle tree disputes. October 27 1980 was no different. A neighbor cut a tree on a client’s property. Not a big tree, in fact it was not felled with a chainsaw, but an axe. Regardless of the mode, amends needed to be made, value assigned.
The tree was cut as a form of exercise popular at the training camp that bordered the client’s property. The owner of the camp was Muhammad Ali, it was one of his boxers swinging the axe. Because of the interesting nature of the job, my father took me along.
I remember a lot of talking. Standing on the stump for scale as my father snapped pictures, took notes. Eventually, the formalities over we had an opportunity to go into the camp proper. As I remember the camp was clouded a bit in secrecy. Normally a private place so fighters could concentrate on training, it was more so this day. It makes sense now as it was only two weeks after the Ali/Holmes fight. A fight many believe should have never happened. A fight that served as a sour end to a brilliant career.
Eventually, quite by surprise, as I remember, it turned out Muhammad Ali was there and had agreed to meet with us for a short time after a work out.
The room was small and dark, the champ lay face down on a table as one of the trainers massaged his legs. The conversation was brief. Ali looked up at me and my father thanking us for the help with his tree problem. We had to struggle to hear his voice Then he reached across and gave me a left hook to the chin. With the light tap he said in his trademark soft spoken voice, “always do your best.” His eyes glinted in the light from the doorway behind me. His face open and honest.
Great advice from a great man.
It was not until much later in life that I came to realize just who and what Ali is. What he had done for sport. What he did for the world. In the historical context his advice was the basis of his last fight. For a man who spent his whole life fighting, in the ring, in life, in politics and religion, he always did his best.
So now I share a distinction that only a few have. I took a left hook from Muhammad Ali and I am better for it.