A cedar grove is a wonderful place to awaken from a dream. The details of this particular dream remain a little fuzzy, but I remember lying there on the deck, gazing at a Milky Way streaked sky, hearing the wind chimes tingle in the warm evening breeze, and feeling very much at peace.
The night before I had taken a final walk up the gulch past the cedars and Jennifer’s home in the woods. In 2003, the Blue Mountain Fire roared up this drainage. The wooden “treehouse” that sprouted from a retired blue bus as its foundation should have burned down then, but volunteer firefighters risked their lives to save this home and its surrounding stand of Western red cedar sentinels.
Walking up that gulch with Erik, we started noticing other things in this desolate, yet slowly regenerating forest. We checked out several large stumps, scattered unevenly in shadows cast by remaining dead snags, some revealing nearly 200 annual growth rings. Probably these Montana giants reached 100 feet high, comparable to those still standing and protecting Jennifer’s summer refuge. Probably they once housed families of red squirrels, or concealed pine martens intent on making a meal out of one.
We noted grand fir and Douglas fir and Western red cedar seedlings inching up between stumps, and Oregon grape, disintegrating fireweed, and purple thistle rioting in every direction. It seemed so chaotic out here, but there was a natural order to it, too. A different environment was emerging, as were different lives. Jennifer was moving to town at the end of September, with new stewards soon arriving to watch over the treehouse home and its forest guardians.
At another friend’s house back in Missoula the following day, upon returning from “The Last Best Big Blue Bus Blast,” I sat in a different place in her newly renovated home, on a white sofa, now facing east, almost immediately startled by a painting I hadn’t noticed before. A picture of a mountain path leading through a regenerating patch of woods catapulted me back to the dream, and to the ghostly gulch beyond the cedar grove.
Both in the dream and in the painting, the early summer image looked so lush and soft as opposed to the stark landscape through which we had walked the evening before. Sunlight filtered toward the forest floor; new growth rose toward the heavens.
What struck me most about the picture, though, was a spirit-like depiction of a person walking down that peaceful path. You could see a faint, halo-like outline of his otherwise transparent body, with no other demarcation between where his life ended, and where that of the forest began.
The forest, perhaps like the transparent man, had been challenged by fire, disease, decay, and other events. Their intertwining lives were regenerating in spite of it all, perhaps both following archetypal patterns of growth and succession and adaptation to change. Maybe, if it all worked out, both would become towering and fully sentient, inspiring wisdom for those just getting started, and yielding sustenance for those who would follow. I wasn’t dreaming after all.