Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Into The Woods

Humboldt State Park, Burlington Grove, Site 15, looking up.

In novels, the protagonist traces the features of a loved one's face and vows to recall every line and detail. Entire passages are devoted to photographic description, details, distances, lines, the sound of leaves beneath a foot's step, as though no moment was ever lost, no sense untouched. All vivd recall, and I believe that it is a power, a gift, to be able to hold someone, or some place, in such clear and certain memory, as though it were more than memory. As though they could be there. When I held my children as babies, as newborn wonders, I tried to absorb every sense of them, to memorize the softness of their heads, the way their bodies fit in the turn of my arm, the cries, the coos, the warmth... I wanted to know that at any time in the too near future I could recall all of it... to be clear and certain of my memories, to feel them with me, again.

In the Redwoods, in Limekiln, where trails rise from the beach into the fern lined canyon, where only the treetops see a full sky, entering Richardson Grove, visiting the Avenue of Giants, skipping stones along the Eel River, looking into a canopy that reaches beyond anything I can touch, I feel the same longing to trace those features, to breath in every detail, hold it, and memorize the happiness I know when I am in these places. I am happy in the Redwoods. But not superficially, not skin-deep, mindlessly giddy. I find myself breathing with the sense that I had been holding my breath, for too long. I find myself breathing as though to make it last until next time. The cool shadows, the earthy rich and pine infused air, the insulating quiet... all the things that I love and catalogue, in hopes of bringing home this Redwood happiness to carry with me, everyday.

Richardson Grove State Park, Site 12, making ourselves at home.

Our first night in the Redwoods, we took the trail just behind our tent, and wound our way down to the Eel River. The river is low... all of California is low on water. It is desperate and perilous, and scary. The climate is changing, for all the world, and we cannot be ignorant to the harsh facts, nor indifferent to the changes we can make. This isn't meant to be a lecture, but seeing the changes, feeling the effects, it cannot be left unsaid that our choices matter. In the city, with tap water, and bottled water, and sidewalks, it's easy to forget that the beautiful, natural places we love need us to see the big picture and feel strongly about our planet home.

Yes. Well, two nights in the woods move me to caring, to wanting everyone to care.

Where was I?

We followed the trail to the Eel River, crossing beneath the highway, and coming out at the rocky shore. At first we were only skipping stones, but then Alex inflated a tube for Maria, then some of us were wading in, and floating, too. It was sunset, but the light was sufficient for seeing the snake at the riverbank, for finding nice flat, round stones that could touch the river surface 1, 2, 3, 4 times, and skip along to the other bank. We waited for dusk to fall into the river valley, for the bats to come out and flit about the seasonal bridge. We stayed so long that the hike back, up the valley, into the woods, was dark, shadowy, and ripe for suspense, and a far from home sense of daring. I liked going into the tent that night, refreshed and tired, happy.

Our second night in the Redwoods, we were returning from Oregon, from our last day with Ron and Delia, and we stopped in Humboldt State Park. We'd lost a tent pole by this point, but otherwise we were seasoned and savvy one-night-car-campers, and we went straight to our jobs. I made a dinner of egg burritos, beans, salsa. Alex and Bambi, with help from Maria and Max, unloaded gear, pitched the wonky tent. William and Maria brought fire wood to our site. Max found countless Redwood stumps to scale, some were hollow. Maria made campground friends, and their tag games ran through the grove and tents. I kept looking up, and feeling small and happy. I kept breathing, and being struck by that feeling that I had not been breathing, not enough, for quite sometime. I wanted to fill all my reserves, to bring home the smell of pine needle floors, Redwood bark, the breezes between the branches. I'd like to try for more words, to be emphatic in explaining how good the Redwoods are, how time beneath those boughs, among those giants, restores and heals, but I suspect you know places like this, too, and perhaps no explanations are necessary. I'd like to think we can all be so lucky, we can all close our eyes and feel those places, again and again.


{Depression, mental illness, and Autism spectrum disorders are better understood than ever before, but the challenge of living with these, with managing the hurdles, the obstacles, the rockier paths... the daily struggle to find a new-other normal, can be hard. It can also be damn near impossible, exhausting, and heartbreaking. There is a popular quote going about: Be kind~ Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. I'm a caretaker, a parent, and from this vantage point I see what a harrowing and painful journey life can be when a loved one suffers with depression, sees the world from an atypical viewpoint, tries to fit in. Outside of our usual places and routines, the challenges can be even more pronounced, and difficult to navigate. I'd like to insert an uplifting affirmation here, to suggest that a hike in the Redwoods can heal depression, or that 'giving up is not a choice, because ________ will save you.' I cannot say what will save anyone. I cannot say that life will get 'better.' But, I do hope, oh so fervently, that we can be kind, that we can accept those atypical points of view, and respect the pain felt by people. Any of us may find we are struggling to fit in, and I hope that we, each of us, has a place to go that is comforting, and restoring, that the people around us can be patient, and supportive, can put judgement aside and just breath more deeply, listen, make the time to follow a different path, to be faithful company to someone who feels unsure. It may not be a cure... but it builds a bridge, and it can save someone feeling too desperate, too hopeless.

Robin Williams is gone, and his passing is sad because he was a good person, generous in deeds, an amazing entertainer, because in funny ways, I can mark my life's milestones through his work, but the part that crushes me is that he could not go on, that depression took such a firm, wicked hold, that he needed to let go. I don't resent him, I don't think he was weak, or that he didn't try the 'right thing,' take the 'right path.' I just so fervently wish he had found something, because I need to believe that we can all make it out of the darkness, without choosing to stop breathing, without letting go. I cannot help myself... I like a happy ending. It may be selfish, too, I know, to think that 'only living is a happy ending'... and it grieves me more to appreciate the depth of pain that leads to these unhappy endings. Someone wrote that Robin William's fate seemed "inevitable," and that idea devastates me. In fact I say that's BS. I need to believe that our fates are rewritten every day, in a moment, and that we can continue to expand our knowledge and caring, so that someday depression and all the other challenges of physiology and wiring, can be understood, and healthfully attended. Please, if you are a caretaker, or if you are someone who needs some extra care... please accept my sincerest wishes that today is a good day, that you find support, encouragement, a place to breath and feel welcome, everyday. We all need these things. I know I do.}


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Sylvia said...

Beautifully written, Natalie.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

Natalie you are an amazing writer and you express your caring heart in wonderful ways. Oh, those redwoods! How I adore them and yes, to stand in their ancient presence and breath in their special fragrance and to still the mind to absorb the deep quiet of the woods can put us in touch with something so much greater than ourselves that is full of hope and love and strength and restoration . . .

Wow, you go through a dozen eggs in one breakfast . . . I forget how much food it takes to feed a family (I'm on of 5 kids but it's been decades since we all shared the breakfast table every morning)!

Aha . . . so THAT's how he got to the top of that chopped off tree trunk! ;-)

warren said...

Your writing is always nice, but I agree with Sylvia...very nicely written and...just something that is heartfelt even more than usual...thanks!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos, beautiful thoughts. Blessings and thanks for your posts.
Love you. Me

judy in ky said...

Beautiful words and thoughts. I wish everyone could take these things to heart. There is so much beauty in the natural world and I am afraid of what man is doing to it.

Janece said...

Natalie - I'm moved... not sure of the words to express my thoughts after reading yours. Gorgeous writing! And the heart and mind that created it, even more so. Thank you for being that stand in the world and for the world that you describe. It shows and makes a difference!

Anonymous said...

"...or if you are someone who needs some extra care... please accept my sincerest wishes that today is a good day, that you find support, encouragement, a place to breath and feel welcome, everyday."

Thank you, Natalie. I struggle with depression once in a while, and your words are so very heartwarming. Depression seems like existential claustrophobia; frightening and very heavy. I wish every person struggling with it to be able to keep their eye up on that bit of light, to find even one little toe hold of positive thought from which to find another and yet another, out and up into the bright world again.