I was beginning to think I’d gotten pranked.
The narrow trail had stretched on for the past 20 minutes, with no baby oak tree in sight. My shoulder muscles protested with each additional step as I lugged two giant, orange buckets of water and the sun rose higher in the sky.
20 minutes ago, I had eagerly nodded as the volunteering lead pointed me down the path. Another volunteer standing next to him had remarked that he hadn’t seen any tagged trees that way, but the lead had gently insisted it existed. And so I’d set off in search of this increasingly elusive being.
Several times I set my buckets down and scouted a few yards ahead for the tree, never straying too far for fear that the water would quickly attract insects. As the minutes climbed, I considered watering any of the other thirsty plants I’d seen and turning back around. But the thought of failing to find my first tree to water pushed me forward just one minute more.
I finally arrived at a steep slope and paused at the top. Lugging 20 pounds of water down it seemed risky, especially seeing how soft and crumbly the sand was. Resignedly, I started to turn around, when a glimmer of silver halfway down the slope caught my eye.
There she was, not even knee height, maybe two or three years old, a teeny little thing encased in protective wire. And of course she was in the middle of a slope.
The added challenge didn’t matter to my reignited excitement. Carefully, one foot at a time, I made my way down, testing the ground, sliding here and there, until I finally stood before the parched plant.
“I got you, baby,” I exclaimed like a self-proclaimed superhero, gently pouring water at the base and pushing dirt and leaves around her to contain the water. Whipping my phone out, I snapped a photo of her and her tag number to report back to the data collector.
All the tiredness and doubt vanished as soon as I’d located the tree. I was thrilled to provide it some nourishment during a woefully dry season, and proud of myself for sticking to my quest.
When I trekked back to the meeting point, I spotted the data collector and proudly stated, “36 is watered and doing well!” She looked down at her clipboard, brow raised.
“Hmm… I’m not seeing a 36 on my chart. Are you sure that’s the number?”
I showed her the photo I’d taken.
“Weird. Where did you find it?”
I pointed on the map. She shrugged, bemused, before adding a row for the tree.
The gamer in me was beside herself. I’d discovered a secret tree! (I wish I could then say I slowly turned to the volunteering lead who was standing a ways away with a wink in his eye before disappearing in a sudden whirl of wind thereby revealing himself as the spirit of the mountains. But he was just really knowledgeable about the trails, which is magical in its own way!)
That secret tree taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes it’s worth it to keep going until we find what we’re looking for. It may take longer than expected, and we might want to throw in the towel and turn around. But if we just try a little longer, take another step, press on, we just might find it.