Monday, May 16, 2011

From the Sixth Continent

There are five continents. This is a story from the sixth...

Outside my window, clouds cover a blue sky. I know the blue is there even though I can't see it. I hear the geese in the school soccer field across the way and my husband's chair squeaking in the room above as he leans back and forth while he writes. A bird I have never seen before--a bird the color of the sun before it realizes it is the sun--has come to be with me in the blackberry bramble I have refused to cut and that now pushes up against my window.

I've been thinking this morning about how I got to where I am. How do we all get to where we are?

I was thinking about Stephen Harrod Buhner, the herbalist, writer, provocateur, who spent a couple days in Portland recently speaking about herbalism. Mario and I went, Friday night and all day Saturday. I loved listening to him talk about the Invisibles. Enjoyed his stories about plants and people. Mario liked it, too. He said listening to Buhner was like listening to a male me. No wonder I enjoyed him!

Buhner held up a piece of sheet music and said, "Does anyone think this is the song? No. This is a map of the song." Botanical materia is not plant medicine, he said, it is only the map.

He said, "Science and medicine are impoverished. They've abandoned the invisible. They're dealing with the sheet music...without the song. We are meant to sing. To become a healer you must learn to sing."

Perhaps to be human we all must learn to sing.

Buhner told us that the most important thing about healing was what was invisible. We were all colonized long ago. We need to reclaim perception. We need to leave the map and follow the path of the heart. "Reclaim your body as your friend. It was made especially for you.

"There are holes in all of us that have nothing to do with parents or the culture or anything," he said, "and they are in the shape of plants, rocks, bears."

He spoke of the schism in our world, in our lives. We no longer listen to the Invisibles. It was only after science convinced us that the world was dead that they began their autopsy in earnest, he said.

Assume everything is intelligent.

Two hundred of us, more or less, sat listening in rapt attention to this poetic talk. He spoke to us about listening to plants and finding out what they had to say.

"It's not a technique," he said. "It's a communication."

How strange this talk would seem to most people.

For me, it felt like an affirmation.

I have been talking to plants since I was a girl. Talked to the rocks, too. The birds. The clouds. The wind.

For a long time, I forgot to listen. I just talked. Do you suppose after a while, the daisies would put their blossoms together as I neared to commiserate about the woman who just talked and talked and didn't let them get a word in edgewise?

Lately, I had given into my propensity to communicate with the inhuman.

The plants have many things to tell me.

Not that I share these experiences with many people. I don't relish watching their eyes glaze over as they think, "Oh, she's one of those. She doesn't understand science. She doesn't understand the facts of the world."

Oh but she does. She understands science. She understands facts. But life is not a technique; it's a communication.

Today I was wondering how I had gotten here. I had been one of those smart people. I was going to be someone, go places. Make my mark on the world.

Yet I couldn't follow the path set before me.

How does that happen? Why do some of us do exactly what was expected of us--for good or ill--and others don't?

Was I always an odd child?

Aren't we all?

I spent most of my childhood outside and barefoot, living in a world that included the woods surrounding my house and my imaginary world. The rest of the time I spent crying over some dead animal or some thing that had frightened me in the night. Sometimes the room spun at night. Once or twice I saw a strange white glowing woman walking around our house. Sometimes I awoke from nearly nightly nightmares paralyzed, unable to move or cry out when I saw the white lady. Once I heard a screech owl in the middle of the night and I was certain someone was being murdered. I ran into my father's room, jumped on him and said, "Someone's dying! You've got to get help!"

I had a name for the woods by my house near the marsh: The Lullaby Forest (because of the way the wind sounded coming through the trees). I had names for most of the trees, and each had their own personality.

Then I became a teenager and a couple things happened. I read the book You Never Promised Me a Rose Garden, about a schizophrenic girl who heard voices, and I was terrified that I had the same disease because I had an imaginary world and I talked to the people in it all the time. I went to my mother, sobbing, and begged her to tell me I wasn't insane.

Around the same time, my uncle sold the land next to our house, the land where my trees lived. I hadn't known the land didn't belong to us. My uncle offered to sell it to my father, but he couldn't afford it. (Back then Livingston County, where we lived, was the fastest growing county in the country, so a lot could go for $20,000.) The new owners came in and cut down most of the trees and dug out the marsh and made a pond.

It was so traumatic for me that I haven't a single memory of that time. There is before they cut the trees and then some time later.

I hated the new neighbors and my uncle for a long, long time.

I had planned on staying on that land--because much of it had been my grandparents' land--for my whole life.

Now I just wanted to get away.

I stopped talking to trees and to the people and beings who inhabited my imaginary world. I began high school, got a boyfriend, made plans for college.

Had a little breakdown the last year of high school. Spent the summer backpacking around Europe with a friend. Came back and started college. Quit within days. Ran away from home and was homeless for a while. (Never had to sleep in the streets, always found a couch with co-workers or friends.)

Where is this all going? My essay got hijacked by a trip down memory lane. Does any of this answer how did I get where I am?

And where am I?

I'm talking to plants.

I'm deciding once again, after a year of school, that what I want to do is write. I want to tell stories. I want to write about the bird who came to call on me today.

I want to write about my communication with that bird. Or that cloud. Or the wind in the willows...

It's not a technique; it's a communication.

Sometimes I don't want to write at all.

Often words get in the way.

I don't have words to articulate how I feel when my husband puts his arms around me.

Or when a hummingbird looks at me.

Or when I see a California poppy for the first time each spring. Or every time.

How can I describe the different greens pressing up against my window. The green of the blackberry vines. The shiny green of the rhodie bush. And then the green of that other plant, whose name I don't know. (I think I know her best of all...)

How do I describe the color of the red rhododendrons blooming across the street at the Methodist Church? It's a velvety red, like lush velvet. Not a bright red. Almost blood red. But that doesn't tell you much about this bush. How the most magnificent flowers are near the ground, and there's something decadent and wonderful about how close they are to the dirt. They remind me of ruby-lipped harlots leaning against the church, not so much interested in going inside but in luring the rhodie bush next to them to blossom just the same.

Ahhhh, ruby kisses.

Writing is not a technique; it's a communication.

When I started writing this, I thought I would tell you about my family and how they influenced me. How my parents didn't like me, but they loved me. How my mother seemed to believe I could save her. (I couldn't.) How illness had bitch-punched me off any and every path I had been on.

But now, none of that seems to matter.

Buhner talked about changing our perceptions. He mentioned how in times gone, Persian storytellers would begin a tale with: "Long ago there were stories but no people to hear them, and this is one of those stories." Or, "There are five continents; this story is from the sixth."

I love that. For whatever reason, long ago, I decided to live on that sixth continent. (Or seventh, let's not get bogged down in that argument.)

I didn't become a lawyer (or a psychologist, research biologist, or journalist--all careers I had contemplated). I didn't marry my high school sweetheart or any other man who worked 9-5. I didn't get a house in the suburbs and have 2.5 children.

For whatever reason--because I had holes in me that needed to be filled with plants, rocks, and bears--I wandered into the wilderness.

I could blame or thank my parents, the land I grew up on, the neighbor who cut down the trees, the illnesses that laid me low.

I wandered into the wilderness and found me a man who tinkers with words. I had a hole in me in the shape of his laugh.

I wandered into the wilderness and found stories in the shapes of other holes that would fill other people.

I wandered into the wilderness until I found the sixth continent. I wasn't sure it was home. I mean, almost everyone I loved was on another continent. I stayed a good long time.

I kept going back to the other continents. I wanted my loved ones to understand me. I wanted to find success. Safety. Security. I wanted to find that star that had been me.

I wondered if I had followed the wrong star home and missed my god? (To wrongly paraphrase Mr. Stafford.)

Look, life is a communication, not a technique.

A wind is shaking the green outside my window. I shiver.

In this moment, in this precious second, I realize I am finally home. On the sixth continent. Telling you this story.


And now, I'm going to step out into the green, and maybe I'll cross the street to see what those harlots by the church have to say.


Druid Lady said...

Thank you. This one brought tears to my eyes and touched a hole in my soul.

srgoddess said...

such beautiful writing...sigh.. thank you.

Kim Antieau said...

Thanks, both of you.

Anonymous said...

I like my friend Pat, found there were tears as I read. Tears, because you found me, and you told pieces of my story as you were communicating your own. I love that about you, Kim.

Beth said...

Loved this post. Eloquent, vivid imagery, words from your soul. Thank you for sharing your continent.dishoa

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.