Monday, March 22, 2010

Write of Passage - Day 8

August 9, 2009 - Sleeping in Trees
(Eugene, Oregon)

"A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches,
Cozy as can be house.
A street house, a neat house,
Be sure and wipe your feet house,
Is not my kind of house at all---
Let's go live in a tree house.
~Shel Silverstein,
Where the Sidewalk Ends

Night-time slipped in slowly as we climbed our way back up the trees. Jason carried one more treeboat, while the rest of us had only ourselves to worry about.
We were dressed in warm, loose clothing, we had brushed our teeth, and had somewhat washed our faces. Our biggest concern at this point, however, was to make sure our bladders were as empty as possible. We had 12 long hours ahead of us, 120 feet up in the air, strapped into harnesses for safe keeping. Heaven forbid we should have to go pee somewhere in the middle of all this! I know, I know......You're probably wondering how does one handle such a call of nature in this unique situation. Well, let me just say......not comfortably. We had three basic options. 1.) Hold it. 2.) Use a sinister-looking plastic cup and tubing device called a "Freshette." Or 3.) Climb back down at the hour of desperation, take care of business, and then climb back up....all in total darkness. Obviously, we found none of these three choices appealing, but we pushed onward and upward, hoping for the best, and determined to handle the worst.
It didn't take long for our anxieties to fade with the setting sun. The higher we climbed, the more the trees closed in and closed off all worries, all cares. We were shielded, 360, by the towering evergreens. Distractions dissolved, peace and serenity materialized. The sun slipped further into the horizon, brushing our skin with streaks of golden amber and blurring the sharp edges of every limb, every pine needle.
Everything turned still, and the night air turned cooler.
There was nothing eerie about the experience, though. No scary sounds, no frightening images suddenly began moving through the shadows. Cote and Jenny decided to climb all the way back up to the top, while Jason stopped halfway to hook up the fourth treeboat. I stayed to help, what little I could, holding loose ropes and gadgets, while he tightened straps and leveled the canvas hammock.
When he had finished, Jason started upward to fetch Cote and Jenny, who were now waiting for him in the growing darkness high overhead. (We were each given a small clip on light, so that we could see things at least directly in front of us.) They couldn't come back down until Jason attached their descenders, just like he had done for us this afternoon. I decided to stay put and get my treeboat ready for the night, spreading out my sleeping bag, putting my pillow in place. It was slow moving, as I had to crouch on one end while I worked the bedding at the other. The treeboat hardly moved at all, though. It was stable and sturdy, even as it hung only between trunk and branch.
The hardest part of actually preparing for bed was sliding into my sleeping bag. The safety harness strapped around my waist made this quite challenging. It bunched, it gathered. Pulling the sleeping bag up as a blanket was awkward. The rope attached at my midsection needed to dangle over the side of my hammock. We were given about 3 feet of slack, so that we could move around a bit. But, if we happened to forget where we were in the middle of the night and got up to take a moonlit stroll, the slack would quickly pull tight and we would only
fall a few feet. Ok, how weird would that be?!
The saddest part about these sleeping arrangements was not having my journal and pen handy. Yes, I had brought them up with me, but they were buried in a duffle bag hanging from another branch about two foot out of reach. Oh, how badly I wanted to capture all my thoughts, feelings, and impressions down on paper.......every detail of our day, every nuance of our night. But I couldn't bring myself to lean that far and reach for the supplies I needed. If I dropped something now, it would gone until morning. I couldn't risk my journal falling, having it lie vulnerable and alone, swathed in total darkness, over a hundred feet below. Who knew what crawling creature on the forest floor might find it, chew on it, or worse yet, discover writing so irresistible it would drag the entire notebook away forever. (Ha!)
Thus, my only other option was to concentrate as hard as I could, committing everything to memory, and keep it corralled there until I had the chance to spill it all out on paper. So I combed through the events of our entire day--the conversations, the climb, the beauty and magic of every specific moment. Before long, my mind and body fell into total relaxation. The physical demands of the day and the cooling air of the night, had sleep sneaking in, quiet as a thief. I was somewhat aware of my companions when they returned from above, but the only sounds I heard were tunnel-like, as if from miles away......soft, tired voices, a couple drawn-out yawns, the shuffle of bedding, and a nearby hoot owl warming up his vocal cords for the night.
How long I'd been asleep, I don't know. But when I awoke, I was shocked to see how bright it was. Could morning be here already? The trees were so illuminated, they shone in pure whiteness. The needles and moss were haloed in light. I blinked to bring my sleepy eyes into focus, and realized it wasn't the sun having this effect at all. Oh, no. The white light casting piercing rays through the branches overhead was from the moon. It was full and it was magnificent. I couldn't believe how powerful it looked. I guess-timated it to be about 3 AM. Our friendly hoot owl called out again, to let me know he was awake too. There was still plenty of night left to go, still lots of time to sleep. But a part of me didn't want to. I wanted instead to stay here with the moon, the owl, the forest at night.

I slid deeper into my sleeping bag, tucking the fabric up under my chin, allowing the cool night air to nip only at my cheeks. I never got cold, and I had been sleeping incredibly well. The treeboat was comfortable; I felt safe and snug. The canopies were quiet, no mosquitoes infiltrated the air. Jason had told us they don't venture 30 feet above the forest floor, but no other flying insect was being a nuisance either. He had "warned" us the only creature we might encounter would be a tree mouse, but so far, so good. They seemed to be sleeping peacefully somewhere else tonight. My eyes, ears, and senses took in everything around me, I was mesmerized by every detail. Sleep wasn't giving up, though. It fought hard to pull me back in, and before long I gave up the fight.
I reawakened sometime around 5 am, the hour my internal clock usually rings. I decided I didn't want to start fidgeting too much yet. Debbie wasn't due to arrive until 8:00. It would be a long, 3-hour, cross-legged wait, should I stay awake now. So I closed my eyes again, willing sleep to come find me one more time.
A little after 6:00, I knew I was done. The sun was beginning to break through the trees to the east, warming the air, stirring the forest. Birds began to flutter in flocks overhead, briefly landing in branches, and then taking flight again in search of their breakfast. I watched in amazement. I was a silent witness to their morning activities, an undetected bystander in their private backyard. I saw my camera dangling from the foot end of my treeboat, so I leaned forward to grasp it. The other three treeboats, hanging slightly above and off to the side of mine, were still quiet; nothing and no one seemed to be stirring. Since I couldn't see inside of them, I couldn't tell if anyone else was lying awake, saying morning prayers or just breathing in the fresh clean air of this magical new day. I snapped some pictures, and continued enjoying the sacredness of the moment, the quiet solitude of the new day breaking open.
Just after 7, I heard my companions begin to move. Cote lifted her sleepy head, and I was finally able to say,"Good morning, Sunshine!" I don't think she was ready for such a perky greeting, though, as she immediately flopped back into her boat and let out a muddled little groan. To my right, Jenny also started stretching, yawning. Higher, up above us all, I could hear Jason beginning to rustle around a bit as well. Their movements were slow, unhurried. There was no reason to rush. We took our time, as we took in the unparalleled beauty surrounding us. When the sound of an approaching car broke the natural noises of our forest, however, we all began to kick it into high gear. No one else would be traveling this deep in the Oregon outback, this early in the morning, so it had to be Debbie arriving with breakfast. What happened next, I still can't believe.
Jason climbed out of his boat and made his way to a dangling rope, one that wasn't attached to any of us. Calling out to Debbie below, the two of them set up and put into motion, a pulley system. Jason tugged, and whatever it was that Debbie had packed in the basket below, rose higher and higher. Within seconds, a care package arrived at our lofty perch. It contained 3 thermoses and 3 terry-soft white washcloths. Jason opened one canister, and poured its contents out onto each of the three towels. Peppermint! Warm, inviting and refreshing!
He handed a cloth to each of us, and we washed the sleep of night from our faces. The scent was heavenly, and the warm, clean feeling was incredible. What an unexpected treat in such a remote location. Could it really get any better than this?
Yes, it could. Because coffee and juice were offered next! Are you kidding me?? Sitting in our treeboats, breathing in the crisp morning air, sipping hot coffee and conversing about our night......It all felt like a dream, and yet, in many ways......I had never felt so awake.
The rest of the morning continued in much the same fashion....slow, without rush, with unexpected, pleasant surprises. We packed up our night-time gear, and descended back down to the forest floor a final time. Our re-entry into reality, if you will.....much like a space capsule returning to earth. We broke through the atmosphere's gravitational pull.......
Debbie had prepared a light organic breakfast for us, which we ate with gusto and many thanks. By 11:00 a.m. we knew it was time to begin our goodbyes. Jenny had a long day of driving south, and Cote and I needed to begin our quest east. We had gone as far as the Pacific Ocean, we had lived out our dream of climbing trees, and now it was time to turn the car around and make our way back home. There was still plenty of adventure waiting for us, but we had conquered the pinnacle of our journey. We had done what we had set out to do. It was still all so hard to believe.
It took us an hour and a half to back-track out of the Oregon woods and find Route 58 East. We hit the highway and picked up speed. Not for long, though. At Willamette Pass, we came upon a small chalet style motel, sitting quietly along the edge of the road. The place was quaint, cozy, and too cute to pass up. It was only 3:30 in the afternoon when we sped by, but Cote and I couldn't help ourselves. We looked at each other, said, "What do you think?" and then we turned the car around once more. We were the only travelers to check in to the Willamette Pass Inn that Sunday afternoon, but by being so this just added to the enchantment of our cozy location.
We grabbed our backpacks and journals from the car. We took a couple hot showers and put on our comfy clothes. We lazily spent the rest of the night, in my journal.....Cote, on facebook. When we got hungry, we walked to the patron-less tavern next door and picked up a basket of chicken to share back in our room. The day quietly came to a
close. Cote and I had two warm beds upon which to lay our heads and four solid walls to block out the sounds from outside. But that night, as I slept safely inside the comfort of our room, I dreamt only of being in the trees of yesterday....

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