A few months ago, I started getting rid of all my journals, about 40 in total. I’m less than halfway through the stack, but the momentum is encouraging. “Getting rid” means reading each page, reliving a lot of the past, then thinking up a creative way to return their contents to the earth without sending them to the landfill.
Making space, shedding old stories, and revisiting the grand lesson of impermanence, are some of the motivations behind transmuting the journals. I realize now that physically breaking down each book is an important part of letting go and making something new. Using my hands to work with each page is a ceremony that honors and frees the words and ideas of the past to go where they are needed most – like out in the conscious creative universe!
I’ve recycled the journals in different ways, including composting, planting with native plants, cutting thin strips for nest builders, and stringing prayer flags. For the most recent journal (2007-08), I reduced it to pulp and then reshaped it into a bowl, which I then seeded and buried in the earth under the pine tree.
Looking back on one’s life by way of old writings, reveals certain patterns and motifs. What seemed to persist through the years was the desire to make sense of my world even though it often felt chaotic and uncertain. I believed, and maybe still do to some extent, that the translation of experiences into story, could help me understand the mystery of what it means to be human.
A less esoteric thread that I noticed was the presence of Nature. In hindsight, I can see that she enters many of the poems and essays as a sort of vibratory presence. Like stars in the sky, whether it's cloudy or not, we know they are there and with that knowing, a reassurance that we have our bearings.
It’s pretty clear that Nature has helped me keep my bearings. I’m thinking of a particular essay about an ancient gnarled apple tree on the hill outside our apartment in Annecy le Vieux, France, where we lived from 2002 to 2004. The tree was one of the few remaining of an old orchard long since neglected by the family who owned the chalet on the far corner of the property.
The final essay I wrote before we returned to the United States began, What have I done in two years? … Nothing but watch the ancient apple tree who stands strong on the hill of my daily view…Is there a story in this tree, in her waning energy, gnarled branches, decaying trunk, and strangled roots? Is she a future path? A new way?
The apple tree was a daily reminder of how to be persistent, but she was also an elder to all the plants and animals around her, a witness and guardian for our kids while they played in the high grass, and a beacon of hope for me while I navigated the loneliness I felt while living abroad.
A photograph of her, taken at her base and looking up toward the sky through her branches, has been on my bookshelf since we moved back from Europe 18 years ago. In some respects, she’s never left my side and I guess she’s been waiting all this time for me to reread the journal from 2004 with those prophetic words, “Is she a future path? A new way”.
Of course she was showing me the way! She taught me the importance of balance and how remaining rooted in the ground while simultaneously reaching toward the sky, during all the seasons and storms of life, is the best chance we have at survival. And similarly, or identically, she taught me that there is no greater purpose for me in this lifetime, than recovering my connection with the natural world. I remember her craggy bark and her moss covered limbs. I remember the few leaves she’d sprout every spring as her way of saying, I’m still here. Come sit beside me and I will tell you about the mysteries of what it means to be human.
On the back of the photograph is this poem that I’d written to her in 2004, and only just rediscovered today.
Old Apple Tree
Still in love
Soft words elude me
Up close now
Skin against bark
Light instead of dark.