As we drove up the mountain, watching the landscape change rapidly – from golden California brush, with a splash of green here and there, to greener and greener carpets of trees and meadows covering the dramatic rise of the Sierras – I became present to the changing landscape of my life.
In the back seat a fifteen months old baby, on the verge of falling asleep, crying the last few tears of a long stretch of tiredness and screaming, letting us know how unhappy he is. Also in the back, a five and a half year old girl doing her best to be patient, singing and telling stories. And lots of bags and crates and snacks and camping gear. There were plenty of (legit) reasons to make stops along the way from LA to the Sequoia National Forest. Pee breaks, and diaper changes, food requests, and breastfeeding needs, and just some plain old screaming from a baby who wants out of his car seat. And then the dog needing a walk. And our need for coffee, firewood, and more coffee. This four hour drive turned to seven.
Back in the day road trips were our thing.
We have been coming to these woods for years. The first time was before we were even engaged. Young. Free. Sexy. On a path of self exploration. In need for self reflection. On a journey of deepening our connection. We drove up this mountain road when I was pregnant with Kesem, who was now the five and a half year old fairy girl sitting in the back seat, watching the transformation of the land from her window. And the last time we were here was when she was nineteen months old or so.
The years have been flying by, leaving profound marks on the surfaces of our skin, in the inner chambers of our hearts, and within the crevices of the worlds within our minds.
We unloaded the car. Children and dog. Bags and crates and food and equipment. We pitched our tent. How we used to love getting this tent up. Then I would crawl in and organize and make the bed, crafting a little sanctuary for us inside, while he was putting the rain fly over the tent, and strengthening the stakes. Being outdoors together has always given us deeper roots to grow into the soil of one another. Our bond tightens and expands and broadens and rises to new heights as we build a temporary home in the wilderness together. When we bought this tent almost a decade ago, we had in mind a growing family. We fantasized about having children one day, and taking them camping with us. Now, as we clipped the garments of the tent onto the poles, a baby on my back in a carrier, and a kid running around collecting nature treasures, we glanced at each other with flirty eyes, longing to spend some time together just the two of us.
It’s not about us right now.
These are the days when the kids are still little, and they need our help and our presence and our attention and our protection.
Instead of sitting around the fire and talking about the vastness of the universe as we gaze at the star filled skies, we now found ourselves in our sleeping bags with the kiddos, exhausted and done for the night, shortly after dinner.
These are the days when the sweetness of their innocence and the softness of their vulnerability are all consuming, and demand every bit of our energy.
Instead of cuddling and warming each other up in the cold of night and the early morning chill, we now kept making sure that our babies were warm enough.
There was no sitting on a rock and meditating on the sound of the wind merging with the sound of my breath.
Instead, every moment was a living, breathing meditation on my life.
The soft whisper of nature moved through me as the wind moved through the trees. Elegant expressions made by fierce power. Newness and oldness dancing together – an extravagant show of life and death and the interconnectedness of existence. The forest will tell you that death is not non-existence… it is the ground on which new life grows.
I’ve been contemplating death a lot lately. Aging and changing and dissolving and creating a new. Being in the woods always reveals to me this primordial secret – Prana – the force of life – is inseparable from her shadow – death. They move together as one. One emerges out of the other. One disappears into the other. Together they form and unform, move into form, and slide right back into formlessness. Endless tapestry of endings and beginnings.
New trees and old. Baby trees and dead wood. Pine cones falling freshly from trees. Others already on the ground, slowly dissolving into the earth, offering the possibility of new life. Seeds meeting soil. Visions meeting soul. Sunlight and darkness of night enveloped in the story of pine needles on the forest floor, wrapped around each branch, present in each leaf.
As the wind rustled through the trees I felt as though this clean, clear air is blowing through me. My soul drenched in fresh breath. My journey through my inner terrain hasn’t been easy lately. Perhaps it never is. Perhaps that’s what makes life rich and tasty and compelling. The giant and grace filled rocks displayed by mama earth reflected back to me how layered and complex existence is. The elements show their power through our form. We are shaped by the events of our lives. By the winds and the rains and the light of the sun and the glow of the moon and the cycles of the earth, again and again and again… It isn’t a simple affair. Not a one night stand. Not a quick fix. Not a romantic love story with a happy ending. Rather, it is a continuous engagement in the presence of what is.
Life is always changing.
Sometimes in the challenge of the moment, it is hard not to long for what you once had, or day dream about what may come. In the midst of this phase of life, it is also hard not to grieve the ephemeral nature of your own youth, as you feel it being stripped away, way before you are ready to let it go. And within the fleeting moments of your children’s childhood, it is hard not to mourn how quickly it is all going by, knowing that so soon they will need less of you, and want less of you, and leave you to sleep in your tent without them yet again.
In some way, this tendency to drop out of the moment is a part of the moment itself, adding more layers to the rich texture of this very breath. We slip in and out of the present, past and future woven into it in so many different ways. What was, what is, and what will be, all tangled up. Like dead wood, and baby trees, and pine cones holding the possibilities of what’s next, and old trees, and pine needles, and other plants, and the animal kingdom that lives within this environment.
This moment in my life is everything. What I longed for, what I feared, what I wanted, what I made, what I didn’t know was possible. And what will come, lays down on the forest floor of my life, waiting patiently to be absorbed by the soil of my soul, as this moment slowly falls apart, fertilizing the womb of what is yet to come.