To Look Up in a Forest of Giants
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I look up in a forest of giants, and then I look back down. How small I am.

How tall, these redwoods – so high they blot out the sky, turn the sunlight to dappled, shifting kaleidoscope colours, black and gold and greenish teal like the surface of the sea. The sea, as viewed when swimming upside down, cheeks puffed out like a blowfish and with a nose pinched tight to keep the bubbles inside your chest. And through wavy, blurry eyes, looking up: seeing the bleeding fragments of a distant sky. That is how these trees looked.

I am walking the path. My feet make no sound against the spongey moss, and the world is so dark: shaded, somber, filtered shadows against the day. I walk, and as I go, I find that the forest is no forest at all, but a series of unlit hallways and narrow corridors, a cathedral of twisting mirrors – the kind you find in the circus – with the lights off and naught but tent-cloaked fireflies to light the way. In such a hall, in a such a circus tent, I would normally be disoriented, stumbling, shaking and nauseated. But despite the dark and the wobbly mirrory air, my feet know the way. They know the way like how the hand of an artist knows how to draw the ideal oval, or how the fingers of an archer know the movements to nock an arrow without needing the eyes to see. It is with this way of feeling – the path is in my chest, a word in that space between the tip of my tongue and the closure of my wet, flaking lips – that I continue forward, not stumbling or straying from my course.

I do not – cannot – consider the source of my unbidden knowledge of the woods, and I keep walking.

- - ∴ - -

I look up in the forest of giants. I look down. I keep walking.

I have wandered a long way, deep into the woods. It is like a dream, I realise, and all at once my mind is drifting, my thoughts scattered, thrown astray and floating away like helium balloons on a hot summer day. It is so hard to focus, in these woods – the trees dazzle me, the thick, rough trunks blaze like eucalyptus lanterns keeping away the moths – and I almost fail to keep the thought in mind, but somehow I manage, grasp and hold tight one of those free-floating streamers I call realizations and tie it to my wrist so I can study it.

I do not know how I got here.

The forest. The thoughts drift away, and for a brief jarring, disorienting moment, I wobble in my step and almost lose my footing on a moss-damp root, for I do not know whether those twirling streamers of my mind are real.

How did I get here? The thought is absurd, alien, something inconsequential yet staggering, a behemoth overshadowing that flickering candle I call consciousness. And, the answer is something unnerving, something that strikes a gentle, resonating nerve in my chest: I do not know.

It is a dream. Right? I am walking, stumbling through rough swordferns turned pastel grey and blue in the understory, and I am in a dream. In a dream, you do not remember how you got somewhere. I was renowned for my ability to lucid dream as a child, and I have an incredible memory besides, so I know: in a dream, if you think very hard, you can come up with some backstory for yourself. That you walked there from the city, that you flew there from your home. But like reading, speaking, and walking, in a dream, they are intangible, like boiled cotton candy, and you can never connect your story to yourself quite as you would in life: though the pieces make sense individually, they do not cohere into meaning when taken as a whole. And that is how I felt now, in these woods.

But though I cannot stop walking, I, too, cannot make myself fly, turn the trees to mist, or burn the ground to magma where I step. I am not dreaming. But somehow, I cannot connect my life with myself.

So, like any good person stuck in a dream and unable to wake up – and unsure if I want to wake up at all – I keep walking.

- - ∴ - -

I have been walking for a long time. There is something that has cropped up, though, shorn into my perpetual existence in these woods like a knife of sunlight through the painted canvas of the night sky. It is a noise, a smell, an experience.

That experience is that of the sea. The sea, roaring and breaking, slamming gargantuan boulders and ships the size of houses against a cliff somewhere beyond the trees. The wind roars, pushes at my back with saltwater-needledteeth and sinks in, and brings with it the roar of a distant thunder, deafening. I hate the sound. I love the sound. The sound of the sea is the sound of change, of solitude, of a heart beating fast in a wet kiss, of the eloquence and beautiful suffering of a flower stomped in an oilfield.

But as I walk, the sounds of a starving sea fade. Fade away. Fade like the tweeting, crying calls of gulls and the low groaning moan of the highway: sounds that left me so many months ago and of which I had not noticed the loss.

But though the sound leaves in the wind, the feeling of the sea does not. It is a sensation, a memory, that lingers in my eyes, my ears, pouring from my mouth as tongue-curling salt and algae on rocks. I walk, my feet ache, and tears, salty and sweet, stain my cheeks, breaking and blocking the pores of my skin as tide pools, pulsing there in a tandem heartbeat with the savoury red ache in my chest. I am drifting there, in the forest, with the spirit of the sea in my mouth and the ache of the forest in my feet and back, walking amidst the blackness of the towering redwoods, and I…

I stumble, come to a halt, legs still working, pistoning because they have been walking for hours and no longer fully obey my commands. But as I trip on a root and fall and graze my palms and knees on the ground, my legs eventually slow and stop, like the rest of me. My body aches, muscles twisting knots under my skin. I hurt, I hurt so terribly. And on the forest floor, I find the capacity in my frail, aching body to look up.

The oilslick of the sky is more visible now, the ending of night drawing long and leaving moonset streaks in the sky, trailing rainbow like the slime-trails of a giant slug. The sky is beautiful, through the trees, and I stand, roughly push myself up against one of those great redwoods - so thick and strong that I cannot circle my arms around it - and stare. The sky is so beautiful.

No. Not the sky. The world, in its whole, is beautiful. And I am not. How mediocre I am, with my great lumbering feet and head of voluminous hair. I push myself from the tree, stagger drunkenly, but then my feet settle into the path that only they know and continue the walk, and I am pulled along. Looking around, in the trees, my spirit rests heavy in the bottom of my heart, for I am taller, now: some saplings are not so high now, and I know in some distant part of my head and chest that no, the saplings have not changed size, it is me.

- - ∴ - -

I cease to look up in a forest of giants. I could not see the stars while lying down, nor while at my former stature, but with my newfound height, I know I would be able to see the stars, if I looked to the heavens. I would be able to see not just the oilslick sky, but the pinpricks and oscillations of the universe, a great thrumming, strumming surge like tidal waves upon the core of my body, burning out from a thousand miles away against the pinprick white of starlight. Miracles in the void above. I can feel the sky, the stars and the songs. It is right there, tickling the back of my neck and giggling, coaxing me to behold its majesty, and it would be so beautiful, all smeared blue and orange and purple on the velvet abyss that hangs above the treeline.

But I do not look up. To look up would be a disservice to the sure sparkling beauty of the stars, and wouldn’t those above me – those towering redwoods, so sure in their height, their beauty, their sheer magnitude – feel disgusted at the twiddling, squeaking, farting actions of such a mouse as me? I, after all, am pitiful, and any action taken by a floundering tree such as me would be an injustice to the actions of those greater.

My short tallness is my only certainty, and it is with that certainty that I keep the energy to further my walk. Thinking back, the new tallness, that within me that has grown in recent hours and months and years, is not a surprise. I scrape my head along low-hanging branches and do not bow, for they do not hurt. My tallness is a misery, one long in coming and slow, if ever, in going. It is a seeping, staunching thing, an inevitable grey spot in my heart that lingers as a heavy presence in my mind like the blue-white afterghosts burned into the eyes after lightning, or the quietude and ringing of a gong left over in one's ears when the church-bells ring too loud for modern sensitivities to bear. And so it is that my tallness, mighty and majestic as it is, is but sorrowful evidence of how much further I have yet to grow.

The trees tower. I plod along, and where I step the soil breaks off in clumps of clay, grass-choked lumpy moss, and iron-crusted rocks. My steps drag and my shoes have worn through, had worn through long ago, and their sorrowful remnants fall away under my hardening, spiky-soled feet as I continue my walk. I have grown roots, I realise. The knowledge is not scary and not sudden. The knowledge is gradual, a slow-burning thing like the heat before combustion of a stove, and my feet, with all their new tendrils where my toes and heel once were, anchor me to the world with every step. It takes effort, now, more effort than ever before, to raise my legs for each new step, like I am wading through molasses. My skin is knobbly, deeply veined and craggy, like the skin of an old fir, and I sense that if I stop walking, if I stop progressing and trying my best to grow and go further, to become the best I can possibly be, I will stop in place and never progress entirely.

This knowledge is not based in fact, but I feel it deep in my heart. It is illogical, nonsensical, but I believe it. I am a tree – that is what I am now, a walking tree – and the self-fulfilled belief that settling is the same thing as dying rests in my heart. I continue the walk, coasting on a shoreline, now, full of thick roots plunging deep into hard, dense sand, and enjoy the respite from the soil, curl my rooted toes into the water that pools in my footsteps, drinking it in.

I believe that the stopping of movement is an inevitable and sure thing, like the minute warming of a room while a thermos of tea cools to the temperature of the room, and the cooling of that tea-warmed room as the world outside soaks in its heat. My belief is that slowness is an inevitable and sure thing, like the slow-dying state of someone poisoned by a lethal dose of radiation – a walking ghost phase, they call it, where the person’s cells have stopped and it is not cancer that kills them but the stillness of their body, where all of their functions have stopped maintaining, stopped repairing, stopped regenerating and dividing, and where it is only a matter of time until their mind, too, becomes still and quiet as the face of the corpse they are. I know all of this, and as I take my feet from the wet, knobbly sand and progress back from the black shoreline with no waves and return to the forest, I know that if I stop walking, stand still and become a slow-growing redwood, I will never become more than myself.

I am a tree, not a person, now. My root-feet and rough-barked skin prove it. But I am no redwood. Not yet. Though I am not a person, I am limber and moving, and I continue my walk through the forest understory with a heart no less than human.

The swordferns and oregon grape leaves scratch feebly at my skin, try and fail to stop my walk. The trees are no less dense here, but they feel less wide, less tall. I look down, briefly, see how high, see those that I am not short anymore, not even middling, and continue my walk. I do not know how long it will take for me to become equal to the great heights of the redwoods. They are all so tall, and I am so short, a bitty thing, a sapling in a city of manmade skyscrapers. It is – should be – impossible for me to become like them.

But I am no stranger to overcoming impossibility. I walk, and I, a pitiful sapling, bend with the wind, find myself a scraggly alpine thing next to the plush-needled branches of my brothers and sisters, and walk, roots scraping and scrabbling at the ground with every step. My mind is my own, but my body is not. It begs me to stop, pleads for me to put down my towering body among my taller peers, to grow strong and stay in place for once in my ever-moving restless life. My skin, my roots, my very hair begs me to rest, put down roots, and to continue at my craft in one place until I am a redwood.

I deny it. I have not yet found where I wish to be. The beach, the clay, the swordfern-and-oregon-grape jungle – none of it is who I am. If I am to be a redwood, I will do so in my own time, at my own pace, as I walk. To stay still and then become great in that stillness, like becoming sharp by being born a knife, is not my style. And it is with this thought that I look up, in a forest of giants, and look down, back at the invisible, spongey, boggy ground in which I stand knee-deep and still high like I am walking on stilts. My heart pounds in my wooden chest, a war-drum’s rhythmic beating against the gentle arch of my ribs. Blood, an impossible, viscous mixture of sap and red liquid, beats through my wooden-flesh veins, and as I step to dry land with a head that almost touches the treeline, I am faced with a knowledge that I am soon to become the redwoods which I so envy.

I feel it. I know it. It is inevitable. So why am I fighting that forest which loves me so? Why do I continue to walk a path that has no meaning? Why do I force myself to break and reform, bully myself into submission with every heartbeat of my life?

Why must I make my life a competition against myself?

I am not ready.

- - ∴ - -

I look to the horizon in a forest of giants. How tall we are, each with different height and fortitude but still scraping the sky, touching the stars from the shortest ash to the tallest sequoia. My base is wide, my roots are deep. Not as deep as some, I know, but by far not the shallowest (or maybe they are, and I am all the shallower for my lack of insight). No matter our truth, the world is as it is, and this night the stars are at their peak, glimmering, streaking, swirling and twirling, tickling the clouds in showers of sparks white as road flares – the stars this night are hidden by meteors, lumps of metal and rock turned to their distant plasma brethren, and they sacrifice themselves for short stellar glory before burning up as charred carbon and ferrous iron.

But I am no meteor; I am no firework. None of us in this forest are. Our burn is slow, an endless reaching for something grander, beyond ourselves. My glory days will be long, stretched out over the course of seasons, and will return year after year like a lazy cat coming back to a sunning-spot. Some days it may go, but it will always return. I feel this as a fact, as a tactile thing, and it warms the sap of my blood, and I stir softly in the breeze.

A soft cicada buzzes in the night air, and we are a forest of giants. Above us, streaks of brilliant souls above burn themselves away for short beauty. This night, I know for certain: my brethren of the forest feel the same as I. We are not meteors, and we should not aspire to be.

I turn my gaze back to the horizon, to the mountains, invisible but still there, and see the faintest glimmer of rosy red silhouetting the distant peaks. I see this, clear my tree-heavy mind, and relax my limbs, turn my focus to my roots. There is a subterranean creek, one upon which I had feasted, glutted myself decades ago and further filled my belly. Perhaps that was the sand which I had walked upon on that walk, the one I had taken so many years ago. Before, the flow from the river had been interrupted, irregular, like the erratic pulse of a faltering heartbeat. Now, though, I am still, and I draw from it fully: I stay in place and so does the river, running deep through the fibers of my roots in a cool, clear wash.

The river burbles, and I reach high to the sky. With the coming of the sun I draw strength, stretch my needles towards the heavens in a great slow movement with all of my siblings-in-green as one great upwards movement, a testimony to our ever-growing strength and spirit of growing higher. And together, in the forest of giants, we wait, arms outstretched, for the coming of dawn.

Miko eats pineapple. She throws pineapple. Miko devours pineapple whole whilst throwing the sharp bits at her enemies. Miko is very strong and cannot be conquered.

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