Growing up white in mid-century, upper middle class southern California was very much like a popularity contest. If one were thin, preferably blond and fairly liberal with one’s affiliations, life moved along much as well oiled cogs in a gear. My own hair when I didn’t iron it out flat was wiry, reddish, and slung down below shoulders resting on large latissimus dorsi, doubtless Creation’s way of urging me back to the evolutionary waters from which we all emerged. Perhaps these muscles alone were a sign for me to dive deep, to never settle for what was found on the surface of things. As an avid swimmer, I discovered the deeper I dove, the clearer the waters became.
With wide hips and an uncertain manner, I felt oddly dissembled in that fashion-conscious environment. This isn’t to to say I didn’t try and fit in; lord knows I gave it my best effort. But it was not in the cards I was dealt to continue along that trajectory. A little seed in the form of an embolism was blooming in my left lung, product of the chock-full-of-hormones birth control pills dispensed like Pez candies at the free clinic. Following a near death experience, a month in hospital and nineteen years of residing above a smog-enshrouded city, I fled as far from where I stood to the utterly unknown Maine woods where I was to spend the next 32 years of my life.
It took nearly three decades to dislodge what was no longer useful from my upbringing. In its place, I cultivated a lifetime bond with nature and her sentient beings. I learned to sit in silence, trembling at first from the sheer chaos of a mind in overdrive. Hours spent on loamy earth and giant granite boulders grounded me firmly to my body, perhaps for the first time. I observed as eagles and osprey, great blue herons and loons arrived and departed with the seasons. Tiny details in discernment taught me the difference between raven and crow, sedges and grass, hemlock and fir; shifts in the air portending clear skies or storm. All manner of wild furred creatures crossed my path as well, from red fox and bear to moose and mother fisher cat with babies in tow.
I learned how to survive by sifting meaning from the detritus of existence. Living on the edge of an ever-impending winter while discovering pleasure in simplicity, I ultimately left the trappings of artifice behind and began growing roots deep enough to anchor well into this world. I failed to care what current fashion swept the country. My trendsetting days were behind me. It no longer made a difference who my friends were, save one good human being to whom I could truly relate, aside from my life partner. And though I have been scarred from some tough lessons, those marks, invisible to the naked eye, forever remind me never to take for granted what it took to get here, to this place in time. What I carry with me to the end will be of inner value, nothing less will matter.