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The tallest tree in the world

| Friday, April 30, 2021

When I was younger, I used to walk past the tallest tree in the world every day. I can still remember the way it split the concrete sidewalk beneath it like a supernatural behemoth, its trunk stretching for what seemed like miles into the sky. To my childish mind, I never dreamed I would see a tree of greater height; I marked distance by looking for the tips of its leaves kissing the sky, and I knew that I was close to home.

As I grew older, trees have maintained a particular significance in my life. They were a comfort to me when I was homeless, a canopy from the hot New Mexican desert, a place to rest my back upon that I knew would not break. My father taught me how to do pull-ups using a low-hanging branch, and I could show you the trees that my sisters and I used as safe zones and portals to new worlds in our imaginary games when we couldn’t afford store-bought toys.

This significance has carried on during my time at Notre Dame. I could show you the first tree I climbed during my first year here; a story that should probably go untold. I remember the way the wind caressed the leaves on walks around the lake, and I could point out the tree I chose to study for an entire semester as part of a theology class.

A tree is a signpost of time, and the stages of my life have been marked by oaks, aspens and cottonwoods. Some of the oldest trees have lived for thousands of years, and the rings inside of them are the pages of history books waiting to be unfolded.

It recently came to my attention that a sizable number of trees on campus have dedications beneath them. I am unsure of how this detail skipped my attention for this long, but I found myself captivated with the names emblazoned beneath the trees just past Main Circle on the way to the Dome. In a way, these dedications are like the folds you make on the corner of the page in your favorite book; a subtle reminder of the moments that were your favorite.

This is my last column for The Observer, and as I look back at the 50 columns I have written during my time here at the University, I feel as if each of those columns is a tree ring that I hope has impacted you in some way. I hope my words have pushed you to think of issues in a different light than you might have otherwise considered. If you have kept up with my columns or if this is the very first one you have ever read, I want you to know that every column I have written is a tree ring deep inside of myself. I have written on my joys and my sorrows, my passions and my angers. There were times when I would brainstorm for a column by thinking on the things that maddened me the most; there were columns that were incredibly hard to write at times because of the issues that I covered. I have received bitter hate mail but also people reaching out to further the discourse I have ignited.

I am still a vagabond on the search for my identity, a search that I have no doubt is inherent to the human condition, but I feel uniquely free whenever I sit down to write. If you want to truly understand who I am, you can find it somewhere tucked into the folds of the columns I have written for The Observer. I wrote myself into those lines, and I want to thank the people that inspired me to find the words during the times I felt I didn’t have any. If there is anything I wish you would glean from the dusty tomes that I have written over these past four years, it is that I write out of a deep love of language and the beauty and potential that it holds to bring people together.

I know that if I could go back and see the tallest tree in the world from my childhood, it probably wouldn’t seem as colossal as it once did to my young mind. I still hold this tree in a mythological splendor in my memory, but part of me knows that it is scarred with time and the weathering of the seasons. But I will never forget the way this tree made me look up, the way it made me hear that inexplicable calling in the wind between the leaves, the way I searched for the glow of the sun between its branches. I hope you will hear this call in your own life, and that my words have sparked the search for it inside of you. I leave you with this column as a tree somewhere out on the quad, a dedication etched beneath its branches.

Gabriel Niforatos is a senior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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