I wound back up Cougar Mountain, the A7, the seam air shaft to primrose mine—and there at the end was a pit, a deep hole in the ground with a large rock bearded in moss, dripping, making cave sounds. And a rustic bench built by a boy scout troop in honor of someone, I sat by it and wrote. I remembered what I could of the time I took Dan to the Sound Garden sculpture on the point in North Seattle, but couldn’t imagine what it looked like, could only remember the haunting, deep sound it made, “sonorous,” making whatever music it could from the wind it collected, for anyone passing by. Are we all instruments like that?
A few weeks now since I’ve been up the mountain, now it’s all leafed out and green, and with the recent rains it feels jungle-lush, even the birdsong seems thick…how the songs thread the branches to make a circle of sound up above.
I sat by the mineshaft hole but didn’t look down and thought about Dan, my old friend from Pittsburgh who transitioned from male to female after that visit and maybe planned to tell me he would but didn’t for some reason: and instead sent an email he copied and pasted that read like a form letter explaining why he was doing it, the plan, perhaps we’d still be friends—but that wasn’t half as important as everything else he had to consider.
I left the mineshaft and the trail bent east to Clay Pit Road where it opens up and you can see the Cascades—and I hoped my mood would change with the light but it didn’t, and when I dropped back into the forest it darkened, the trail was like a tunnel and snapped me back to a dream where I saw myself lowered into a river and knew the water would be cold, and imagined that moment of transition between the immediate pain and sensation on the other side, once you’ve gotten used to it and it feels good…and I moved like I was in a luge on my back with my arms on my chest, and at the end rose up, felt myself standing, and sensed someone beside me there on the shore.
They cordoned off the Sound Garden sculpture after 9/11 because it’s by the NOAA facilities and maybe a security risk—poetic, we couldn’t get to see the art for fear of violence or war—but there were quotes from Moby Dick inscribed in the nearby steps, the kind of writing that makes you feel uplifted and small at the same time, that teases out the truth of the human condition, how small we can feel at times.
And I thought more about identity, what I learned in theater about method acting: how you were given a role but maybe you couldn’t identify with it so you had to find some analogous experience and use that in its place: you had to imagine you were putting yourself back to some specific moment in your past, relive that. I think when I hear Chris Cornell sing he was doing that. Maybe you allow yourself to inhabit some imagined space, and vice versa, that space inhabits you. And there’s power and danger to that, a black hole.
In the dream of my life there’s a lot I can’t remember and I probably assume more meaning than I should, though it’s better to assume and expect more. Others will expect less.
Along the side of the trail the Devil’s Club is just sprouting, leaves opened like palms gathering fuel to feed the thorns, and thicken the stalks for winter.
Coming down I stopped for the first time to look around and heard a nearby waterfall, a steady, soft stream and imagined the same, soothing sound a mother would make over a crib, the way Dawn did when the kids were really small and scared, and she’d just bob them and hush in their ears, and let them know it was OK, and they could fall asleep to that.
And Loren told me about a dream he had that was more like a visit from an old girlfriend, from grade school, there was some healing in that dream for him and her: she was gone now but he imagined her older too—and how complex and unusual the human mind and heart, that puzzle of potential only we can solve for ourselves.
I got tired of it, and decided it was time to split the wood. We had a tree taken out by the front door and there it was in a stack in the driveway, looked so much smaller reduced to a dozen rounds.
Every time I looked at that stack the idea of splitting it got further and further away—but I was grouchy for no good reason, it was starting to get hot, so I dragged the sledgehammer and the wedge out and set the first one, and the wedge went right through on the first strike, it cracked like an egg, and I moved onto the next, and faster, and soon I had a messy pile of logs going—but forgot to take off my rings and got blood blisters, and the first one opened and I started to get sap stains stuck to the handle with the blood—and I took off my shirt and my hair was getting long in my face and before I swung the hammer I imagined a crazed look like Hulk Hogan right before he goes in for the kill—and the sound the metal wedge made, the iron hitting the concrete, the wood cracking, and me, grunting—it was time to let all this mourning go.
I went inside to wash up, regarded my look in the mirror, swollen and pink from the heat: the dog licked the blood off my knee and smiled, and there was no amount of old in me.
Photo credit Loren Chasse, Portland, OR.