Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy.
Lost in a train of thought, trying to catch forty winks, I am jolted to the upright in apprehension of an approaching tunnel. Don’t fret, whispers the angel. You lose in worry. Walk a mile or two in my shoes; your story makes method.
I wasn’t so sure.
With distance in the hands of the gods, I do what many travellers do, go up on deck, find a quiet spot and let the mind drift. Searching for an answer out on the horizon, a solution begets a formula that begs another. Breakdown to breakthrough. A heart forgone endures nothing but anguish, while a change of heart releases a sway of thought, so beautifully composed a microdot splits an atom; a chain reaction that releases thermal propulsion of such unprecedented thrust, we will orbit faster and further than ever before. I’m pondering that equation, relaxing, with a handle on the fix, when terrifying divination hits into view, knocks the skittles for six, then shoots off like a roadrunner in two directions at once. Twirl it around any which-way. Who do you think you are? We stand before you, the officers of the mind. Take the sedative; you won’t escape this time. No! No sleight of hand, cap the pill Houdini, or we will constrict you the straightway!
And that, I tell myself, is the warning shot!
Left to their own, free to roam thoughts can get rough, mean, razor blade angry, spiralling out of control, sucking up the best of intentions — blink, and that circle of the mind morphs small, revolves wispy quick, balloons big, then whips-thin to width and trails off before you can catch the tail. Thoughts can seem feral, impulsive, but pull them together, rein them in the deliberation hits on a plan, a plan that remains dormant unless it manifests as structure. A structure that maps out legislation, for example. Thoughts reason, reason makes a law, laws define boundaries and principles. Principles lay claim to a sovereign. Sovereign lays claim to governance, governance to the kingdom. With allegiance and adoration from across a nation, the potentate basks in a realm of unparalleled riches. Fix the trestle, bring out the bunting, bake a cake, take the biscuit, raise a glass, three cheers on the green, watch out for the team, risk a chance, make a dance, ignore the riddle, play a fiddle — jubilation, creation, revelation, halation, cause enough for celebration.
A long way from the party, overwhelmed by grief, I searched for reason in tree-lined suburbs. Chasing the monkey up one way, down the next. A blur of comfortable joggers, washing lines, sparkling homes and crewcut lawns. I made it through to the outskirts, only to see my primate friend, on the other side of the road, disappear down a narrow path through some thicket and into the jungle. Catching breath, I rescue a slick stick from a mouldering pile of wood and blunder on. Slashing and kicking at the undergrowth, keeping pace, until stumbling sweat-drenched and browbeaten in a pool of light, flooding a narrow clearing, midst the dark, damp forest floor.
With the shriek of the monkey out of reach, unstuck, alone, in need of rest and a safer distance from any predators lurking in the unseen beyond. I panicked, grabbed a wooded tendril reaching down from the massive bough of a magnificent kapok tree, swung up to a low-lying arm, then clambered upwards toward the canopy. Halfway to the top, I could go no further. Tired to the bone, I collapse on a bed of leaves, complemented by tiny yellow and white flowers peaking through the new surface of mulch with a cracking twinkle. This simple sack, woven and grafted together through a century of weather, spanned a passel of thickset branches, fanning out to the widest point some six feet across. Partnering this solid layer was a broad shallow burr next to the trunk. This gnarled projection, layered with a thick cushioning of damp moss, proved the perfect pillow, easing a heated temple, cooling the troubled mind.
Shafts of light, making kaleidoscopic patterns across the underbelly of green, bring my attention to the endless variety of leaves, shrubs and hanging vines, the likes of which I’d never have imagined if I hadn’t seen them firsthand. The islands of ferns, orchids, cacti, bromeliads, mosses, and other such plantings, fire out spider-like tendrils to airborne humus and any slight surface, defying gravity, appeared to levitate, maximising the space between trees and branches. Frogs, cicadas, howls, shrieks, trills, the buzz of pollinators and triumphant birds brought the revelry of the parade to ear. Wasted on the pungent smells, caressed by a soft, warm breeze, a subtle kindness cooling the contours of my face — swaying to rhythms of the interior — heartfelt in paradise, my eyes closed, turning the cacophony to an incantation, within seconds, I was drifting in a sea of dreams.
The corporal, in exile, playing out on the Spanish Main, with other unlikely recruits, sometimes friend to Richard Hawkins, marauder, pirate and privateer, El Draque, the slave trader, naval officer and explorer. I’d run with the woodsman and those seadogs, staking our claims to the new world, outsmarting and kicking the Spanish conquistadors into retreat for our place in the Americas. There was a chief, Metacomet, aka King Philip, of the Wampanoag ancestry. It was always the same dream — sitting with the King — the far off sound of the pipes sweeps in on the wind, the king’s hooch fills with fear. Everyone skedaddles, but I. Surrounded. Pinned to the ground, the hangman restricts the prayer. His knee firmly in the small of my back, he ties my arms together and tightens the knot.
A howler leapt out of nowhere, screeching and shouting — you’re an imbecile, a buffoon, good for nothing, lazy and in the wrong place — the firecracker shock of a hard slap, so unexpected, I stood straight to attention, smacked the mosquito and fell out of my tree! Set up as the hero, slapped down and dragged off as traitor, then waking in panic, hauled to the yardarm with a noose around my neck.
Back in the world, dazed, shaken, confused, but not clueless. Fact, fiction, head cracked or not, nothing broken, except my pride. I drank in the air, breathing life into the body, until the heart and mind came together, placated in the same place, a place of awe and wonder. I wasn’t dead. The earth was alive, and so was I.
Humbled by the garden’s bearings, I bore witness to the ebb and flow of nature’s fluctuations, saw the ground beneath my feet to be dynamic, sank to my knees to salute the sun in gratitude for rain.
Vital as Zeus, spreading degrees of heat across arable lands, thirsting for the heart of Helios, writhing, curling, precipitating clouds, for the weights of rain, to encourage the seed. The spheres sound out a symphony — from high to low; all notes enrich the score. Wild, tame, hard, soft, green, doesn’t matter, like faithful allies, trees and their sibling give back more than their life’s worth.
The forest team, the ever-present, unseen workings of trees, shrubs, grasses, bush, eek out a life underground to feed the cytology above. Worms and other munchers, along with a vast army of eukaryotic organisms, microorganisms such as fungi, moulds, yeasts, break down the spoils of foliage and rotting wood, aerating the compost, helping the entanglement of roots on their way. A mass of entrails, pumping thousands of litres of water back to the above, coursing up through the trunks, along streams of branches, to the tips of leaves, replenishing buds for the bloom. A proportional baring, symbolising a teeming fertile life, eclipsed by the miraculous bearing of fruit.
Fruits of your labour: the synonym, derived from the garden’s flowering and fruits, represents the central affirmation of what it means to be human — a human doing takes precedence over the human being — man’s law changes with his understanding of man. Too high, and you hit an off-note. Too low, you may not get any note at all. Listen to Earth’s heart; the song plays deep, loud and clear. While the grass and woodlands lay claim to the seasons, the laws of nature remain steadfastly the same. Inseparable, intricate, and admirable as the aim may be, seeking the by-line of our own fruits represents a tiny fraction of what it means to be an earthling.
Water enters the atmosphere from invisible vapours carried in air currents as clouds. The watering cycle brings unseen atoms, particles and sand dust, nutrients to the Earth, her oceans, lakes, and rivers. Through a mind-bending process called photosynthesis, the sun’s energies absorbed through the leaves fuel the organism’s metabolic activities, bringing nourishment to the jungle kingdom, life-giving elements for all animals, including us. Plants and humans each produce essentials that the other needs to survive. People and other animals exhale unseen carbon dioxide; plants need carbon dioxide to stay alive. Ask any dendrologist. A mature tree absorbs upwards of 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year; in return, trees release corresponding amounts of oxygen. But let’s not get carried away. With or without humankind, trees are unique entities that support each other. Trees in communicates, they learn, they adapt, die and thrive together. These custodians of the Earth have been around far longer than us. They don’t need us to survive; but we absolutely need them.
Science reveals unending intelligence to the lengths nature will go in engineering the art of being human. If any part of that cyclical miracle machine gets sick, the chain gets broken, and everyone loses.
The Chief was right. I was back in the tiny seat, between heaven and hell, blown open wide, unravelled, to an unknown quantum. No matter who or what I conquered, I came back to the same place. Whatever the distance, by foul means or fair, however high I climbed, however low I fell, whatever bounty might prevail. Unless I lined up the crosshairs to the all-encompassing vastness, a mass of conflict followed wherever I laid my head.
Without the dynamism of earth, nay, the universe, there would be no fall. No fall, no gravity, no landing, no up, no down, no feet on the ground; streams, rivers, plantings, mountains, ice, trees, seas, railroads, plains, castles, and encampments — everything would fly off. As part of the earth song, the weight is intricate to the foreseeable time left to play, heavy note in sweet harmony.
The King says in my dream — you ok, but you no hear the broken man. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children. From the first day in the nursery, closing my heart to the world was that lesson I never really saw coming. Don’t get drawn by your angels and demons, alert, aware, observe, I heard him say — sucked into the wranglers of the mind, battling for dominion over the unfathomable realm, bad medicine. What is delicate as a flower to one, may be hard rock to another? The great stallion cares how you stand for the riches of Earth, walk lightly in days of summer and autumn; heed the spirit guide, so those who come in our shadow, tread fertile earth in the spring, then pause for celebration.
Crashing to the ground put my life into stark perspective. One person over the other, the white man’s realm, remained as ever, repetitious and unforgiving. The ship’s captain gave the order. Felled and felled again, in relentless succession, until I’d taken enough hits, enough to replicate and inflict the same tyranny of division from which I was running away.
A correlation of insight — bound to the heart, staking claim to this pillar of human life; from light to heavy, low to high, all notes of dramatic symmetry garner an unstoppable play of comic and tragic proportions. Some internal mappings can drive a person to distraction; other such plotting set a global stage.