Posted in Being human, death, joy, Nature, redwoods

Dirt and plants and rocks MATTER.

Bear in mind, I remain firmly convinced that the ninth circle of hell is located somewhere in Fletcher Allen Hospital.  Or maybe hospitals in general.  And I don’t even believe in hell.  There’s a lot of great people working there, and I encountered many of them this time — including lots of nurses wearing bright red pins saying “WE’RE WINNING” — but a hospital is a hospital.

And I was stuck in a room I’d previously been massively delirious in towards the end of a five-week stay from hell.  This room:

A bare hospital room, facing the window.
A very bare isolated hospital room. Not bad or uncomfortable as rooms go, but alarmingly delirium-inducing in many of its qualities. Also unique on the whole ward so you can’t mistake it for any other room.

I was forgetting things.  Things like the redwoods.  I knew they existed but I couldn’t remember them.  I was forgetting who I was.  Large chunks of my normal thinking were falling out.  And I couldn’t fucking remember the redwoods.  I knew I should know them, but I didn’t, and it frightened me.

It reminded me too much of the blank delirium.  The kind where white blankness fills up more and more of the world until the world goes away, and you’re lost in the snow.  I didn’t want to be lost in the snow.

So I was looking out the window one day and I saw this:

Trees and plants and pathways viewed from a sixth-story hospital window.
Trees and plants and pathways viewed from a sixth-story hospital window.

There was a child running and playing down there.  I wondered how the hell you get down there.

A wonderful LNA — i’d name her, but I don’t want to invade her privacy — made it her personal mission to figure out how to get down there.  I heard her asking around all day.  She finally came in with a post-it with written instructions on how to get down there.  It involved a lot of weird back routes.  They don’t make it simple.  The hospital is actually several unrelated buildings kludged together by a maze of corridors, with that unexpected garden in the middle of it all.  I’ve explored a lot of the corridors, but I’ve never found the entrance to the garden.

Anyway, when my evening caregiver arrived to visit, the LNA and I were ready with a wheelchair to get me down there.  She went over the instructions with him, and he pushed me down.  We found it pretty easily, she gave good directions.  I’d actually been very close to the entrance before, and never known it.

It turns out it’s this place called Peter’s Garden.  It didn’t take much thinking it out to know that Peter must be someone who died.

A sign in a garden, reading: WELCOME TO PETER'S GARDEN. "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Ralph Waldo Emerson. Donated by the friends ofPeter's FUNd Racer.
Peter’s sign.

You can read more about Peter and the garden here, it includes a link to a Powerpoint of the construction of the garden.  From what I understand, he died in his forties of cancer and his family and friends raised the money to put the garden in.  I heard later that the chemo ward overlooks the garden directly.

Anyway, I got up and walked around a little.

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When my feet touched living soil, I could remember the redwoods.  I could feel my body.  I could remember who I was.  I could feel the way things connect together again.

I still have big holes.

I still have gaps in my head that didn’t used to be there.

But something happened in my soul.

In the middle of that hell place, there’s life.  There’s dirt.  There’s plants.  There’s beauty.  There’s dead plants.  There’s amazing flowers.  There’s REAL.

Someone put it there, someone made it this way on purpose.

I’m really grateful to whoever decided to do that.  And to the LNA who made sure I could get down there when I was losing touch with everything that mattered to me.  It gave me back a lot of strength in a really scary situation.  It got me through a night where every time I closed my eyes I thought a bunch of black blobs were coming to eat me.  It got me through a tense, scary morning with an uncertain future.

The gaps are still there, the tenuousness of my health is still there especially now that I’m out of the hospital, the uncertainty is still there, and I’m not working with all the thinking I should need to survive what’s in store.  But I can feel who I am, where I come from, and that can mean the world.

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Posted in Being human, Nature, redwoods

This is the heart of everything I do and everything I am.

 

Elaborate crocheted wall hanging depicting the forest floor of Redwood Terrace.
Elaborate crocheted wall hanging depicting the forest floor of Redwood Terrace.

This is an excerpt from a book by Terry Pratchett. It’s called The Wee Free Men. It’s a children’s book set in the Discworld universe. Children’s books are where a lot of wisdom about the world is hidden. If it’s the right kind a children’s book.

“Oh, they’re around…somewhere,” said the Queen airily. “It’s all dreams, anyway. And dreams within dreams. You can’t rely on anything, little girl. Nothing is real. Nothing lasts. Everything goes. All you can do is learn to dream. And it’s too late for that. And I…I have had longer to learn.”

Tiffany wasn’t sure which of her thoughts was operating now. She was tired. She felt as though she was watching herself from above and a little behind. She saw herself set her boots firmly on the turf, and then…

…and then…

…and then, like someone rising from the clouds of a sleep, she felt the deep, deep Time below her. She sensed the breath of the downs and the distant roar of ancient, ancient seas trapped in millions of tiny shells. She thought of Granny Aching, under the turf, becoming part of the chalk again, part of the land under wave. She felt as if huge wheels, of time and stars, were turning slowly around her.

She opened her eyes and then, somewhere inside, opened her eyes again.

She heard the grass growing, and the sound of worms below the turf. She could feel the thousands of little lives around her, smell all the scents on the breeze, and see all the shades of the night.

The wheels of stars and years, of space and time, locked into place. She knew exactly where she was, and who she was, and what she was.

She swung a hand. The Queen tried to stop her, but she might as well have tried to stop a wheel of years. Tiffany’s hand caught her face and knocked her off her feet.

“Now I know why I never cried for Granny,” she said. “She has never left me.”

She leaned down, and centuries bent with her.

“The secret is not to dream,” she whispered. “The secret is to wake up. Waking up is harder. I have woken up and I am real. I know where I come from and I know where I’m going. You cannot fool me anymore. Or touch me. Or anything that is mine.”

I’ll never be like this again, she thought, as she saw the terror in the Queen’s face. I’ll never again feel as tall as the sky and as old as the hills and as strong as the sea. I’ve been given something for a while, and the price of it is that I have to give it back.

And the reward is giving it back, too. No human could live like this. You could spend a day looking at a flower to see how wonderful it is, and that wouldn’t get the milking done. No wonder we dream our way through our lives. To be awake, and see it all as it really is…no one could stand that for long.

Tiffany draws her strength and everything she is, from the land she was born on. In her case this is The Chalk, the Discworld equivalent of the Chiltern Hills chalk country that Terry Pratchett himself was from.

I also draw my strength and everything I am from the land I was born on. It’s a place called Redwood Terrace. It’s very small, and even people who live nearby have rarely heard of it.  But it means everything to me, and to the few other people I’ve heard of who were born there.

Everything described in the passage is something I have experienced with Redwood Terrace. That is why the place is sacred to me. That is why no matter where I go, I have roots that go down right into that soil. And I may live in Vermont, but a part of me is always in Redwood Terrace.  It doesn’t go away with distance.

Jar of dirt from Redwood Terrace.
Jar of dirt from Redwood Terrace.

The photograph at the beginning of this post is actually a wall hanging I made. I designed it, and I crocheted it. It is my tribute and reminder of the soil the forest floor in Redwood Terrace. I also keep a jar of that because my connection to that dirt and everything under and inside of it it is that important.  I’ve heard of someone else from Redwood Terrace who does the same.

I won’t say a lot more. Because there’s a point where you’re trying to talk about something that doesn’t really have words. And if you put too many words on it you just confuse people including yourself. But Terry Pratchett did an incredible job of writing around an experience that I have had with Redwood Terrace. And that other people I know who have that kind of strong ties to a particular place, they’ve experienced similar things as well.  The book may be children’s fantasy, but the description is something more real than you’ll get in a lot of nonfiction.  You find that in a lot of children’s books if you know where to look.

So this is really the heart of my existence. It’s not something I always talk about. But it is always there.

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A tree with moss and fungus in Redwood Terrace photographed by my best friend.
Posted in redwoods

Visiting the Redwoods

 

Light shining through the canopy of a redwood forest in San Mateo County.
Light through the redwood canopy

The part of the redwoods we lived in when I was born are sacred to me. My best friend is trying to visit there. Too many feels.

Thank you world for dirt and trees and fungal mycelium an redwood sorrel and slugs and salamanders and the things beneath everything.

redwood terrace fungus 01
Fungus growing on the sides of a tree

Don’t forget no matter what happens that the world is a place of terrifying beauty and depth and we owe a debt of gratitude for our existence.

These aren’t things anyone has good words for, even people with much better words than mine.  But we need to draw strength from what is good.

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Redwood trees

And we need to put back into the world as much good as we can, precisely where we are needed, wherever that is, however strange or small.

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Circular wooden building with ladder surrounded by plants

And this doesn’t go away, no matter what happens, no matter what is done, what snow, what is ahead.  This is both birthright and duty.

It’s important to find where we need to be.  And then be there.  Thoroughly be there.  Do there.  Whether it makes sense on the surface or not.

Sometimes we feel separated flailing in the dark.  But each do exactly what we need to do.  And underground our roots are deeply intertwined.

redwood terrace tree plants
Plants growing up a tree

Disconnection is an illusion.  Underneath our feet is more connection than most of us can imagine.

We are each in some way exactly what we need to be.  We do best when we find that and deepen it and act from that depth.

The world needs you.

redwood terrace forest floor 01
Forest floor with redwood sorrel, fern, and other plants

Our obligation to the world is unbreakable.  So is the impossible level of love underlying anything we look at.  These things are connected.

If you feel disconnected, look down.  And down.  And down.  And down.  You have roots in everything, whether you feel them or not.

Forest floor with redwood sorrel and the shadow of the photographer.
Forest floor with redwood sorrel and shadow of photographer’s head

These aren’t platitudes.  This is a reality as difficult as it is beautiful.  It’s also important.  Especially now.

And there s strength and depth in places you may have never been able to look. You don’t have to feel it for it to be there.  It’s there.

redwood terrace yellow grass
View out over yellow grass and green redwood mountains turning blue in the distance

Quote from my friend, who took these pictures:  “In the forest, yes, look up at the cathedral canopy, but also look down.  Everywhere is alive.”  She’s right.  And it’s the life everywhere in redwood forests, my earliest home, that has taught me who I am, where I belong, and what being alive means.