Growing out of the Ashes

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We left early in the morning for Sequoia National Park last Tuesday.  I woke up excited for an adventure—a new place, lots of rocks, big trees, and people I love to share life with. I showered, put on in-the-car clothes, double-checked my suitcase for hiking boots, warm socks, an iPhone charger, and sunscreen. We had booked the trip a couple of months prior—my uncle and I debated dates and national parks on the Facebook messenger app ( I’ve found it secretly amusing for years that Facebook is our primary form of communication). When he initially asked if I would be able to join him and my Aunt in Sequoia, an intoxicating joy shot through me— an appreciation for a healthy life that I can’t imagine will ever find its way to evaporation.

“I CAN. ”

After a couple of years of  “I cannot,” “No,” “sorry I have to cancel. I’m too sick,” few words feel more exhilarating to say than, “hell yes, I can. Count me in.” I can walk. I can plan ahead. I can manage the altitude. I can hike. I can do long car rides. I can sleep in a hotel. I can eat some “bad” foods. I can wake up early. I can push it. I can join. I am able.

And how grateful I am that I could be inside of such a marvel of a national park—a park where the largest tree on planet Earth stands both humble and impressive as fuck. I had a feeling a blog post would come out of the trip—I assumed I would end up shamelessly celebrating my ability to climb on top of big rocks in my “fashionably sensitive but too cool to care” hiking attire.

Exhibit A and B:

 

I couldn’t help myself.

But, truth be told, that’s not at all what this post is about. This post, as it turns out, was birthed as I walked through a touristy museum in the park appropriately named, “Giant Forest Museum.” A museum that I was— admittedly— dreading going to. I was hoping for a quick stop to satisfy my Aunt and Uncle. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care too much for foliage. I mean it looks nice and I love Mother Nature and the abundant gifts she offers that I too often take for granted. I love to pause and appreciate the majesty of it all, but that is different from walking through a fucking museum where I could just as well open up an “S” encyclopedia and sit in a corner and read about the Sequoia for an hour. The name, where the name is derived, where it grows, why it’s so special BLAH BLAH BLAH. Is there something for me to climb on? I’m missing the world outside. The sun is shinging and we are in here…looking at dioramas of trees.  I know, it’s a shameful, embarrassing admission for a crunchy liberal, but in keeping with my value of balls-out-honesty, there it is. You will NEVER catch me on a park ranger tour unless I’m promised to see adrenaline-inducing wildlife (this is why I have adrenal fatigue).

Whether it’s due to age or illness or ten years of attempting a solid meditation practice I don’t know, but I am changing. I felt similar at Disney World two years ago when I discovered that Epcot was awesome. Only a boring, sleepy,  non-child thinks Epcot is awesome. And only an adult laced with trauma would determine that “The Giant Forest Museum,” and the Sequoia species are wilder and more exciting and more exhilarating than any rock climbing, jumping out of plane, running down a hill so fast your legs might fall off experience.

Sequoias are magic. Yes, there’s the obvious things like their size and girth. Like the fact that the sequoia named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing on planet Earth today at 275 feet tall and a circumference of 102.6 feet at the base. Looking at the General Sherman is stupefying— standing near it made me feel both like a piece of sand, tiny and insignificant and like a divine entity just as much of a marvel as every other living thing. And while that should probably be enough to produce wild appreciation, respect and honor, it wasn’t what held my attention. What got me were the substantial wounds Sequoias have to endure and heal in order to thrive to such rich heights, reaching their full potential.

A Sequoia needs fire to grow. Flames burn down surrounding trees that are taking sunlight and water that the Sequoia desperately needs—cruel like we know life can be. The fire blazes and burns up the Sequoia, scorching the lower branches consequently  sending down pods full of seeds. The fire clears the brush of leaves and dried up pines atop the dirt, leaving a rich ash soil for Sequoia seeds to grow in. It’s this ash that makes the most hospitable womb for these sacred seeds. (Familiarly, the mother is scarred).

sequoia tree scars

Any mature Sequoia has visible burns on its bark. However, the trees are terrifically built to withstand fire. The bark of the Sequoia is made to be spongy, soft, and fire resistant. There is a protective layer just beneath the outer bark that heals fire wounds. Some trees have been able to live through upwards of 80 fires, healing the wounds every time, becoming all the more magical because of what they survive with such dignity and triumph (ahem: without. even. trying.)  The trees know they already have all they need.

Do you see where I’m going with this my wounded and healing friends?

I thought about my grandfather. He was the sole survivor of a deadly amusement park fire on August 13th, 1944. His scars made him all the more a hero in my eyes. The fire opened his heart the way I imagine seeds fall open from the trees.

More insignificantly, I thought about The Planet of the Apes.. when one ape says to another, “Don’t worry, blue eyes, scars make you strong.” I saw that movie when I was newly sick and held onto that quote. Because I have blue eyes. And because I have scars. And because I have everything I need to heal and transform the wounds. And, I guess because I find a way to make most things about me (like what I just did with the Sequoia).

I thought about #neverthelessshepersisted … because I love an opportunity to think about that. And because it’s powerful as fuck to persist in the face of obstacles.

I thought about illness, grief, heartbreak, joy, death, abuse, injury, and celebration and I thought about the endless ability we have to heal. I thought about how if you opened us up and put us on display (like scientists and medical professionals often do) and/or went to the museum on the South Street Seaport called “Bodies: The Exhibition” then you know that we are equally as magical and awe-inspiring as these magical trees. That we too survive fires— whether literally or figuratively. And all/many/some of us heal and thrive… and, in fact, if you’re like me (and the Sequoia species) then you need the fire to grow to your greatest potential.

Here is the most mature result of what rises up from the ashes:

mature sequoia tree

 

With fun and love and THRIVING BIG,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

 

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