The tramcar I travel in is a rounded pod with windows all around and is suspended by thick cables that extend from the mountain; it rotates so depending on where I look I see, either, the desert below, inhabited with little colonies of houses existing beside vast stretches of sand, or a close up of the mountain I currently ascend, a grey fortress that seems to trap the coolness of the day, as it does the waterfalls set into the rock.
Save for the operator, I am alone. My thick black leather boots squeak on the bumpy steel floor beneath me as I shift my feet. It is a suspended journey—a vessel taking me from the heat, from the blinding sun, from the bright, potential glass reflecting desert floor. I escape—stepping out into a world, shaded and green.
When I can’t sleep, this is where I try to take my mind. To the old growth. To the lungs of the world. The day is cool and blustery. I wander down a cement path leading me into a meadow filled with yellow-green grass nearly as tall as me, meandering around trees that two of me couldn’t fit my arms around. I wander—enjoying the way the brisk air makes my face cold and dewy, the way the needles sound cracking beneath my feet, the way the musty, crisp air makes my lungs feel like lungs. I wander looking for nothing. Being nothing. Nothing. Just here.
For a long time I’ve liked to imagine of myself as tree—I’ve done it since I was a little girl. I imagine myself as a California redwood—they don’t grow here, but I imagine myself as one nonetheless. I imagine myself growing from the inside out—a little seedling expanding and thriving—my spine, a thick core—each year wider and stronger and harder for someone to wrap their arms around. I imagine my roots extending deep and wide; strong, solid, grounded—my roots hugging the whole of the world—overlapping with another beside me, physically entwined with those around me—not needing but touching—kindred, so that even if they cut us down we remain connected, like a skeleton, an inescapable memory of the upright. I imagine myself only needing simple things, to soak in nutrients: water, carbon dioxide, sunlight, and nothing else. A quiet observer of human existence.
The world’s tallest tree is a California redwood. His name is Hyperion he’s 379.3 feet tall and between 700 and 800 years old. Hyperion is named after one of the twelve Titans—children of the earth and sky—mystical and mysterious—which makes sense because there aren’t actually a lot of people who know where he is. It’s something that’s not intended to be revealed. The people who find him and bask in his—not just beauty—but awesome nature are compelled by the altruistic, bound to protect him. It’s the ultimate solitude. Necessary, because if people knew where he lived they would carve into him, chop pieces off as souvenirs, climb, and destroy this gorgeous living being.
I get the irony—meditation on the corpse of a tree—our survival is dependent on us living in houses made up of dead matter, but sometimes I really think I hate people—the ones that climb and destroy. The first time I saw a flattened slice of a tree ring and felt the raised rings of hundreds of years, I cried my eyes out. I thought, what would people see if they cored me and examined my rings? Which years would measure fat and which be drought filled. Would they bask in the plentiful nature of my love and being loved? Would they weep upon feeling the fractures of my weak years: the physical pain, my broken bones? Would they see my anorexic youth or me laughing, my face stuffed with pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? Would they feel my stomach churning or the nervous butterflies of a first date? Would they hear my lung being punctured, me wheezing in pain, or exhaling out that musty forest air, needles cracking beneath my feet? I realize that we are all just a combination of good and bad, weak and strong, starving and fed. That thought rings through my life: it pierces my ears and haunts my reverie. So in the end, I always tell myself: do not worry, do not hate, do not judge. It’s just one little ring and there are so many more.
About the author...
Jennifer Kiehl is a Chicago-based, Japanese-American writer and performer from California. She is the founder, editor, and co-host of Scout & Birdie. Additionally, she is the Director of Development, Grants & Corporate Relations for A.C.H.E. (Abused Children Heard Everywhere), a non-profit agency dedicated to providing support and legal guidance to survivors of sexual violence. Jennifer is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where she received a BA in Acting. When not writing or performing, she spends her time giving cookies to dogs, eating baguettes, and hanging out with her plant, Plant, and her dog, Rhubarb. Keep up with her on Instagram @jenniferkiehl.
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