Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lush and Green

A new start. Isn’t that what we all are always asking for? I’m always screwing up all of my grand plans. Time to begin again. Too often the reminder comes from another’s end. It’s that reminder of mortality that shocks my mind into realizing that I waste all of my time and achieve none of my goals.

I’ve always envied those who believe in an afterlife. I never have. Not as a young toddler. Not now as a jaded and tired adult. It sure would make things easier to handle - believing that this is just a stopover before some sort of paradise. Of course, since I have not been blessed with an all consuming faith, I will instead apparently be headed towards a torturous eternity. Or so I’ve been warned. I don’t care. I don’t pay any attention anymore.

How does one ‘move on’ from a loved one’s passing? I sure haven’t figured it out. Are we supposed to? Why is it that I can feel guilty when I’m not completely absorbed in sorrow for those who are not here anymore?

I contemplate these thoughts as I stop on a small dusty platform that has formed alongside the steep pathway that has been forged over years of hikers passing quietly through this forest. A partially exposed tree root the size of my leg keeps the crackled hard pan level. I can feel my heart pound and my accelerated breathing dries my throat. Sweat drips from my temples and coats my exposed arms. I never remember the ground getting so dry when I grew up near here. Now, that I’m a tourist, it’s always sunny and warm. I take a deep breath as I try to restart my stiffening legs and return to the uphill trek. Not much farther to the top. Dust rises as I shuffle my feet to regain momentum and get back to stepping up the pathway.

Once I reach mostly level ground along the pathway, the trail widens and the surroundings become greener.  I can see the sky and some clouds have partially obscured the bright sun.  A sign post marks the name of the trail I walk along.  It portrays a sketchy map of the remainder of the trail that ends in grasslands high over the ocean, but I only know that from experience.  The lines on the map don’t really tell me anything.  A crinkly pile of paper snagged together by a dangling clipboard waves in the freshening breeze displaying guest sign in sheets.  I glance through the handful of names written down in varying styles of handwriting.  There have been visitors on this very day from as far away as Germany, Japan and Australia.  I wonder how they knew about this place.  I lived less than 10 miles from here as a kid and didn’t know about it until I hung out with a school chum whose family lived nearby.  Most of the people who have signed are from the northwest.  If I were to visit Australia, I wouldn’t know about anything there.  My only accumulated knowledge is from Men at Work and Midnight Oil lyrics in the 80s and some of those local flavor pieces on the NBC Sydney Olympics coverage in 2000.  The ones I would generally avoid by flipping to other channels.  Oh and how could I forget those Australian Toaster Biscuit ads?  I grab the carved wooden pencil that is attached to the clipboard with a white string.  I scratch out: “OZZY” and “HELL” on the lines next to “NAME” and “FROM.”  This is what I have always done when visiting this place, ever since my 5th grade class wandered through here with my hippie teacher in search of deer scat.  The humor long ago wore off, but I remain intent on keeping up traditions.

I kiss the wind and make the rain
Jealous enough to fall for days
I fall on you when I hear thunder
I kiss the ground you lie under

Moving on ahead, I notice that the firs are starting to become taller again, and the shadows grow into a severe darkness. The horizon in front of me disappears as the trail begins another upward trajectory. I am completely exhausted. It’s difficult to believe that this trail used to be so easy to traverse. Only one more steep stretch and then the ocean will become audible, the towering trees will end abruptly, and daylight will be regained.

To my left I see the small river widen far below as it merges with the oncoming ocean. Just past it is the inviting beach. That beach will always signify the last time I truly understood the innocence of childhood play. It was there where a few of my friends and I were on the precipice of adulthood and the push to do adult things and become responsible, but shrugged off the pressure and played like 8 year old boys. That beach is perfectly framed between two trees poking up from below me. This is the place. I carefully step off the narrow pathway created by countless footfalls smashing down the long grasses that would otherwise be blowing in synchronized dances with the wind. I continue off the trail and slightly downhill until I feel like it’s no longer safe. I sit down on a piece of what looks like driftwood, but cannot imagine that it drifted all the way up here. Sitting below the level of the grasses and small shrubs mutes the roaring of the violence of the sea crashes into the rocks several hundred feet straight down. From here, I know only the most keenly aware passersby will be able to detect my presence. I am, after all, not supposed to stray from the trail.

Now I only sleep when spoken to
So I'll lay here still in morning dew
Drink up with the flowers and trees
Above you all is lush and green

I contemplate what this place means to me. It does not evoke memories of my mom. It is supposed to. This is where she wanted her remains to be placed. I never realized how much this place meant to her. To me, it will always evoke thoughts of running around at dusk with 25 grade school classmates playing what seemed like the most majestic and grand game of Capture the Flag in history. It reminds me of eating beef jerky for the first time. It reminds me of my experiences with my childhood friends. I don’t associate this place with her at all. Guilt wells up inside me. This has always been the problem. When she got sick, I was away at college. When I returned home, I was never fully there. I had spent most of my teenage years dreaming of escaping and finding my feet in a new life – a life built around my passions somewhere else. My small taste of freedom was still fresh and I wanted to go back. I had started to build a new group of friends. I thought that I had finally found love. I thought that I was finally building a foundation for my future. Then I found myself back at home, stuck there recovering from surgery, while trying to handle watching my mom wither away. I was selfishly strongly aware that what she was going through was likely what I would have to deal with sooner or later. It felt sooner as I struggled to recover from a disastrous month long hospital stay. The biggest difference is that despite my battle, I did eventually start to feel my strength return, while she continued to decline. As I felt better, I began to pull away again toward the pull of life. I will never forgive myself for this. I was at home to help, but I wasn’t there at all.

My thoughts are interrupted from the sound of muffled voices coming from the trail above. I stay completely still, as if they might’ve heard the thoughts swirling around in my giant head. I think that I hear Australian accents. I smile to myself, because I’ve always enjoyed many of the Australian accents I’ve heard over the years. Australians always sound enthusiastic. They get me fired up. This may have everything to do with most of those voices coming from television, where people are trained to sound excited about everything they do. I wonder what my life would be like if I never went back to my home, but instead headed to some warm white beaches along a coast of Australia somewhere.

The voices fall out of earshot. I return my gaze towards the wildflowers and the waterway they look down upon. I don’t know when I’ll be back here. At the rate I’m going I may not be able to make this trek without aid. Why is it that I only decided to return here when the sickness returned?


Now I kissed the wind and made the rain
Jealous and it'll fall for days
And I drink up with these flowers and trees
And I still love you
All is lush and green
Above you all is lush and green

*Lyrics and Title provided by Grandpaboy, or Winthrope Marion Purcival V, or Paul Westerberg, 1997


  1. My dear friend, this is brilliant.

  2. i love this one. it's such a universal truth that we, as humans, fail to be in the moment when we need to be - even if we know we might regret it later.

  3. I'm not even sure where to begin. That trail is such a phenomenal one - the views, the solitude, the shade and incredible vista at the end. For what it's worth, I am glad it means a lot to you and you are able to enjoy it.

    As for the guilt about your mom, I didn't know her very well at all, but I can speak from a mother's point of view. When she was sick and you were trying desperately to spread your wings at college, I truly believe she was thrilled for you. To have you interrupt your own life (one that she worked hard as a mother to get you to) to come be with her while she was sick would probably have dismayed her to no end. She wanted for you to have a full, rich life with friends and music and adventures. She knew you loved her and your constant presence wouldn't have made her illness better. She would probably only have been racked with guilt at your not living your own life.

    I used to spend a lot of time with guilt and over the years I've come to believe that each of the steps I've taken (mindful or not) have been the ones that led me to where I am now and that's not such a bad place. I hope that you know you have friends and family who love you for who you are and what you spend your days doing, not because they think you will one day be anything different than who you are. Go easy on yourself, Chris, and know that what you've done thus far with your life is exactly what you were supposed to have done.

    Take care.