Sunday, January 17, 2010

Write of Passage - Day 6 (CONT.)

August 7, 2009: Crescent City, California -- Afternoon in the Redwoods

Cote and I checked out of the motel, mid-morning, and took Hwy 101 north, back-tracking just a bit, in order to reach the Redwoods National Forest. We had driven this exact same stretch of highway last night, when we made our way to the coast, but the fog, the drizzle, and our mild state of exhaustion, hid the overwhelming beauty of the landscape now before us. Everything this morning was large, and green, and alive in the bright rays of sunshine. Our spirits were refreshed, our energy levels had been restored. The trees surrounding us were absolutely massive, yet we still had no idea just how big they were going to get.
As we drove on, Cote laughed at me every time I craned my neck to see through the top two inches of our windshield, trying to take in the full height of every tree lining the roadside.
"Just look up through the sunroof, would you, you goof."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot we have that."
But within seconds, I would be overtaken again by the sheer size of another giant redwood, and I would find myself pressed to the steering wheel once more, my eyes straining upward, my mouth gaping open.
We really didn't know what to expect when we arrived inside the state park, and we really didn't know where to go. So we drove slow, looking in every direction, but mostly up. There were little dirt side roads, off the main one we were on, that seemed to lead to hidden places deep inside the forest glades. We decided to take one, and soon found ourselves squeezing between rows of redwoods, ferns, and foliage. Little pull-offs were available in case two cars met up, but that didn't seem to be an issue. We were all alone back here, nestled inside the quietness
and majesty of the towering trees. Finally, Cote and I just couldn't stand it anymore. We had to get out of the cocoon that had become our car. It just didn't feel be locked inside such a small space when we were in the midst of such exquisite beauty. These trees needed to be experienced up close and personal. We pulled the car into a little cove, and got out. The forest air filled our lungs, making us feel as if we were every bit a part of the world we were stepping into.
With the car's motor now turned off, the only sounds we heard were our own two voices, and those seemed to echo back to us from the canopies far overhead. Cote and I began to explore. We found nooks, we found crannies, we found trees growing so close to each other, they appeared to be double-trunked. We climbed up between them, using bark-covered ledges that grew at odd angles. We circled round several wide solid bases, their coarse woody exteriors scraping the palms of our out-stretched hands.
Our exploring eventually led us to the other side of the one-lane road, where we discovered the
4-foot high stump of a mighty redwood long since gone. It took a bit of effort to hoist ourselves up, but once we did, Cote and I stood in utter disbelief. The diameter of the trunk that stretched out beneath our feet was incredible. We could walk across it, lie down upon it, and lower ourselves into the deep crevices that years of decay had carved into this redwood's core. At first it was a mini-playland. Then in a sobering instant, it became a sacred space. Cote and I imagined the tree that once stood here, and
despite the thousands of others that still surrounded us, we somehow felt the loss of this single, solitary one.
We sat down quietly and traced the trunk's inner rings, touching the carved names that now criss-crossed over them. Many people had been here before us, leaving their mark for others to find. For a minute, Cote and I thought about adding our own. Doing so would prove our presence; we could officially record our rite of passage, 2009.
"Do you want to carve your name?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"I don't know. There's a part of me that does, but then there's a part of me that doesn't. In a way, it just doesn't feel right."
"I know. It seems disrespectful somehow."
As we talked our way through it, Cote and I shared thoughts about caring for the environment, and the role we both play. Our perspectives, our actions, our daily
brushes with nature, effect the world we live in, either directly or indirectly. Cote and I kept talking, and as we did the engraved names began to transform before our eyes. Now they looked so unnatural, so out of place. We decided that adding our own would be like adding insult to injury....sprinkling salt, if you will, in an open wound. We wouldn't do it. We couldn't. Instead, we got up and left this place exactly as we had found it.
From this quiet little sanctuary, we headed down the road towards Stout Memorial Grove, a well-known section of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This time we parked our car in a mini-parking lot, along with a few others, and hiked a short distance down towards the infamous stand of trees. Now here was a playland! Lying wide open before us, was an all-natural wonder-world, that had been rightly protected and well preserved. We could climb up, crawl over, tuck in, and hide behind. This grove was full of redwoods, stoic and strong, mighty soldiers standing at full attention. They were amazing to look at, to stand beside, to touch. There were others as well, that had fallen over by natural causes, but still served with great purpose.....for they fed the roots
of those still standing, those still living, those still breathing.
It was here that I gave Cote her next letter. It came in a very special box, and I'm sure held a very special message. Cote sat in the crook of a tree, and opened her treasure. When she did, I stepped back and gave her some space. I didn't want to invade the moment or accidentally intercept a message that had been written just for her. She took her time, quietly savoring the moment, the note, and her thoughts about the special person who wrote it.
The rest of the afternoon, Cote and I simply played inside the Redwood National Forest. Watching her move about was like watching Mowgli from the movie, The Jungle Book. (Did this make me Baloo?). It was magical, it was serene, it was comical, it was unforgettable. Cote skipped, she jumped, she balleted. She defied gravity. She pushed
herself to the limits, time and time again. One moment in particular, will forever be ingrained in my memory. It was when Cote decided to jump from one cut end of a mighty fallen redwood to the other. (Part of the massive trunk had been sectioned off and removed, because the tree had fallen directly across the marked trail.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes. And I want you to take my picture when I do."
"That means I'd have to watch, and I'm not sure that's going to happen."
"C'mon, Mom......tell me when you're ready......."
I snapped the picture, I caught her in mid-air. Bare-foot with what appeared to be a hint of wings upon her shoulders. Cote made the jump. Just barely. She caught the other side, waist-high, and pulled herself up the rest of the way. Little did I know a lesson about life was coming next.....
"Should I jump back?"
"Excuse me? I don't think so."
"Why not?"
"Um, because you barely made it the first time."
"But, I did make it. And if I don't try jumping back,
I might regret it."
"Ok, so let's think about this, shall we? Cote, you made the jump the first time. You proved to yourself you could do it. If you jump back now, you'll be landing on a narrower part of the trunk, and a part that's smoother and more slippery than the rough edge you just jumped to. All this means there's a higher risk you're gonna slip off."
"But life is about taking risk, remember? 'Fully participating, everyday' and all that stuff."
"Life is about taking good risks, thought-out risks, risks that make living more meaningful. Not about taking EVERY risk that comes along. Think about it, Cote.....tomorrow you're supposed to climb a tree. A very big tree. Huge...two-hundred and fifty foot high. You have waited a long time to do it, well over a year. What if you jump right now, on a whim, and then fall and break your leg? You won't be able to climb tomorrow's tree. You won't be able to make this bigger dream of yours come true. So is it worth the risk to jump again right now, when you know it may cost you climbing the tree tomorrow?"
Despite her mother's impeccable display of knowledge, it still took Cote several minutes to concede and come down.
But she finally did. She realized that I wasn't just being an over-protective mother, but that jumping would truly be pushing a limit that wasn't worth pushing. It was a risk whose price tag was just too high to pay.
We moved on, down the trail and discovered more trees, more treasures, more truths. Cote has a way of looking at the world that invites me to adjust and expand my own. Like, for example, when we came upon a
particularly beautiful and extremely tall redwood. Cote looked it over, from every standing angle, top to bottom, and then decided to try an entirely new point of view. She wanted to experience this tree from the position of lying down. So, she did. Without hesitation, Cote plopped herself right beneath that massive tree, and stretched herself out upon the ground below. It didn't matter that she was going to get dirt in her hair or that people would surely pass by before she was done with her experiment. The only thing Cote cared about was capturing this moment from a totally different perspective......from an angle most others would never consider. When I saw what she was doing, I couldn't help but join in.
So, there we were. Lying on the ground, side by side, looking up into the redwood's vast canopy overhead. There was something about lying prone that slowed our breathing, and brought us to a higher realm of consciousness. Our eyes drifted up through the branches,
where sunlight filtered and danced between the leaves, casting white-gold streaks upon the foliage and our faces below. We felt the solidness of the earth beneath us, woven with roots, while the view above made us feel feather-like and floating with possibility. It was incredible. How else can I describe it? Cote snapped a few more pictures, including one where we joined our hands together in the shape of a heart, commemorating our love for this tree, this place, this moment. A mother and a daughter.....taking on the world.....lying down.
By late afternoon, we had to pack it up and head out. We hated to leave the redwoods, but Eugene, Oregon was over 200 miles up the road, and we needed to be there by nightfall. Cote and I had more trees waiting for us. This time, they would be douglas firs. And the challenge for us wouldn't be to take them lying down. We'd have to face them instead, by climbing up.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rooted Together

What you are about to read is a clip that I've kept in my journal ever since my mother passed away, seven years ago. When I was packing for the "Write of Passage" journey I'd be taking with Cote, I tucked this piece of paper into my bag to keep with me. I knew the Redwoods were going to be one of the most powerful experiences I would share with my daughter. Since trees have a way of speaking directly to my soul, the words written below have brought me much comfort and peace over the years. I know my own mother lives on in everything I do; her spirit has been rooted within me. Thank you, Mom, for the lessons, the love, the memories. May my own daughters' lives be enriched by your legacy.

Epilogue from Motherless Daughters:
A Legacy of Loss
by Hope Edelman

"Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.
This is what I mean: In the redwood ecosystem, all seeds are contained in pods called burls, tough brown clumps that grow where the mother tree's trunk and root system meet. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire--when, in other words, she dies--the trauma stimulates the burls' growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother's root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide."

Powerful Words

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. ~Kahlil Gibran