the nature of her
Light shimmered through the pine needles as if white gold rained down on the trail she followed in desperation. She moved like a salmon up stream against the steady flow of park visitors exiting the hallowed woods named after John Muir. She had barely slipped passed the park rangers standing guard to make sure no one trekked back to the trails just before closing. She was small, and as long as she didn’t disrupt the graceful tide of the pack coming directly for her, she could slip by unnoticed.
The hazy California sun was lulling its way towards the Pacific, and the deep shadow of Mount Tamalpais had already blanketed Cathedral Grove in darkness. She had never been on the trails this late in the evening and when she got passed the thinning herd, the solitude of the giant redwoods engulfed her.
She always felt small in the world. Not just because she was tiny but because she was often overwhelmed by the magnitude of life. To everyone who knew her she had always been more than capable of so many things even from a very young age. In her 20’s, she relished how much people admired her fortitude. In her 30’s, she began to realise that they needed her to be resilient for their own sakes because it gave them inspiration and courage. In her 40’s she began to debunk the myth, but to no avail. By then, she had lived such successful unconvention that no one believed she was lost – even after two harrowing mental breakdowns. She fought so hard to make it through with grace and dignity that no one could fathom how weak she felt. Standing in the cathedral of giant redwoods, her 5 foot frame was severely dwarfed against the 300 foot giants.
A ripple of exhilaration surged through her, like the mid-nights she prowled through foreboding graveyards alone and alive. In these places, she could feel the pulse of the primordial swelling everywhere. People like to try to manufacture the pulse at clubs and concerts, with drugs and liquor, like the Raves she grew up attending South of Market in a San Francisco that vanished like she did with the passage of time. But the pulse cannot be made or even cultivated, it is the never-ending song of the universe that merely has to be heard.
In this 800 year-old grove of sequoias, it was louder than she could have imagined. The smell was so intoxicating, she swooned, almost unable to breathe at all. Her eyes were adjusting to the dark and with them she could see the eyes of others coming out to play now that all the loud, chattering, smelly humans had gone. Some of those eyes resented sharing their domain with people, and she smiled to herself, recognising the animus that rises when territorial claims are so blithely ignored by everyone. She silently asked for their permission to stay. She slowed and deepened her breathing and let her body acclimate to the rhythms of the world. Well beyond her ability to see, she felt the ground beneath her rotate beyond the light of the sun, ending the day and welcoming the night.
The snap of twigs beneath heavy foot falls beyond her sight line sent a rush of adrenaline through her veins. If it was the park police, she would be arrested. If it was someone else….she remembered being in these woods decades ago with her mother and younger brother. They had come in the winter, just after the divorce, to grieve really (though she had never thought of it that way before), and as they sullenly made their way back, each of them at once had the realisation that they were in danger, like prey becoming aware of their predator. The body of one of the Trailside Stranger’s victims had only been found a week before, and though none of the three would mention it as they picked up their pace, they all revealed the same fear when they got to the safety of their car.
She looked for the obligatory beam of light a park ranger or the park police would use, but she saw none. She could feel her anxiety and panic rise. Something was wrong. Something was always wrong. She felt trapped between authority and danger all her life and at the same time she was overwhelmed by the thought of freedom from either. There was always something chasing her. Had it followed her to these woods or was it always here waiting for her? She felt dizzy and paranoid like she did on those rare occasions she smoked pot to meditate. While she was always able to find a deeper connection and much wider expanse while high, the subsequent freak out coming down usually erased anything gained by the mind alterations.
She stepped off the trail and headed further into the forest, careful to drop her centre of gravity and move from there so as not to make a sound. She didn’t know where she was going or what she was seeking, she was following something that beaconed from a primal place she had never felt before. It was so deep, it felt like it was coming from fathoms away and at the same time it was right here with her. When she came to the base of it, she knew, and she reached out and touched its bark like a long- lost lover.
She hadn’t known the craving for it until she touched it, and as soon as she did, the cells within her recognised the almost imperceptible electrical charge. And something within her began to take shape. Something that had lay dormant since before she was born. An experience of. A knowledge of. A memory of. Life.
She was born disconnected from Life. And circumstance after circumstance drew her further and further away from it. She had dreams from as early as she could remember of jumping off of the bridge of the golden gates on the other side of that mountain. She had never wanted to live. It was too much for her. There wasn’t enough of her and she was too weak to find sufficiency in the despair too few dared to look at.
The night before she had a nightmare. She was shot in the neck and bled to death. She dreamt through the bullet entering her flesh, through the shock and horror of realising this was the end, through the endless gorge of blood, to the moment after the end where there was just black and silence. She realised as she remembered the dream, that there was no pain at any point along the way. It was curious to her that every moment of her existence seemed fused with existential pain, even moments of joy were tinged with it, but when she dreamed of death, there was none, not even physical.
As her connection to this strange actuality grew, she began to have a sense of herself that she had never felt. Her fears lifted and began to move away from her, and at what felt like the base of her spine, an opaque form, like a shadow within, began to take shape. As she stood in a strange conversation with herself and the tree, a struggle took place between the leaving and the growing. If she let go of all the pain and all the fear, what would she have left? How could she be who she was with something so new and so powerful taking hold, taking over, taking root? She had no say in the matter. She couldn’t stop it if she tried, but what would remain?
‘Your nature.’ Was the answer that came so gently into her mind she almost couldn’t grasp it. ‘Your nature, which has always been the essence of you even when you were nothing. Your nature is what people saw all along even when you couldn’t. Your nature is what connects you to the rest that have similar or equal natures. Your nature is what you’ve always relied on, it has always served you, and it will remain yours even after you transcend this existence. Your nature is your elemental property. It is immutable.’
When she opened her eyes in the pitch black, tears were streaming down her cheeks. ‘My nature,’ she thought, ‘of course.’ And a nymph like joy that she hadn’t felt in ages swept over her. ‘My nature.’ It was time to reveal, without hesitation, her nature. The quest for the grail she had sought all her life seemed to be over, but her true life’s adventure had just begun.