Story Time | A Short Essay To Calm The Overwhelm

There is much to feel overwhelmed by at this time; heavy, looming things that feel outside of our individual control. From the recent UN Climate Report to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, the reality of current time can, at times, feel like too much.

So I invite you to temporarily take a break.

I wrote this short essay a couple years ago for the second edition of Hina Luna‘s Wax + Wane Zine, Keeper of the Tides: An Ode to the Moon, under an inconspicuous first initial and last name. I was inspired by a memorable moment spent in the woods with a dear friend; a moment when I felt consciously present with the simple pleasures I was experiencing; a moment when I thought to myself “ah, this is what it feels like to live with intention.”

So as a brief reprieve from the overwhelm of the world, I offer you this: a moment of pause to drop into an imaginary space of stripped down simplicity, of comforting quiet, and of safety in being a small creature living in loving connection with the great, wider world around you.

I have a sister who called herself after the darkest gemstone, the one that is the color of a new moon night. She brought me to the forest once, a winding road into the hills of traditional Kalapuyan lands. It was a field trip for the wild mushrooms that bloom that time of year.

“Big Rock Candy Mountain” played through the muffled speaker of her station wagon radio as we climbed, traversing through eight thousand years of history that was lived upon this land and in these waters by the ones who were here first and then were forced to leave. Yet signs of resilience exist here in the Chinook salmon that still swim in its river and the spotted own that flies between its trees.

We found a place in a nest of tall trees — a short trail from the river’s edge — and set out our simple belongings to make our home for the night.

Bellies filled and belly-laughs over a feast-fit-for-a-queen were set fireside as the dappled light on the forest floor faded, replaced by stars above; the treetops silhouetted in the silver glow of our moon. [Why does a meal always taste better when prepared over a hand-built fire?]

Treespeak and quiet laughter from the unseen were our only company while we warmed our bones around the flames till the late hours came. Then, tucked into a backseat den of down-filled wooly comfort that any bear would happily have spent their winter in, we shared stories and welcomed sleep.

Some short hours later, in what seemed like a blink of sleep, our eyes opened with the first light. The shallow yet contented rest that comes from a night spent feral had quieted us, slowed our pace, and retuned our sight. Without words, she climbed out from the warmth of our nest first, unfurling softly like a bloom emerging out of dormancy.

Bare feet planted on a tapestry she’d laid out, she stretched out her arms with the trunks of the trees, her limbs resembling their limbs, filling her lungs with the piney morning air; a reciprocal sharing of breath with the tall elders around her.

Returning, she opened the creaky door of the station wagon and dug out a canvas bag from the rubble of blankets. Reaching into the overstuffed bag, she revealed rumpled yet carefully chosen garments and a stone, pulled from a side pocket, which she strung around her neck. Still, an absence of words, only the songs of unfamiliar morning birds, crunching pine needles underfoot, the distant rush of the river, and the soft jingling of the beads and charms that hung from her locs.

We gathered our empty teacups from the night before and walked the narrow trail to the river. Tiny fungi stood with dewy mosses at the feet of giant tree mothers and delicate ferns bowed, bearing damp morning leaves. 

I squatted barefoot over a large stone, dipping my hands and scooping my metal mug into the rush of cool, late summer water. My mind was quiet amidst the soundtrack of the forest and in the company of a friend. I lifted my face to catch the sun, closed my eyes, and with a long exhale, I laid my heart down by the river’s side.

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