What Did You Dream Last Night?
The rain was coming. I was soon to marry a man. However, an attractive woman appeared in the crowd at the coffee shop, and I thought, hm, I’ll marry her! Both the man and the woman were shining creatures, like small bright airplanes ready to take off, or scarves flying loose and high in the wind.
The window of the coffee shop took up an entire wall. Outside was a narrow street and buildings of old gray stone. There was a view to a woodland. The first drops of rain fell upon the street and in the woods. In my own body I felt the delicious holding-in before the release. I could feel the trees out on the wood’s verge also holding very still in the last moment of anticipation before opening to drink the rain.
The door of the coffee shop rang its bell and I turned to see a bewildered individual enter and make his way inside. He wore a coat softened with wear and the beginnings of the rain. His thin straight hair hadn’t been combed. It took me a moment to realize that he was presenting himself to me: his soft coat and his eyes, and something else: He held out his hands to me, both of them, palms downward. At first I didn’t understand.
The shop was crowded with people talking and waiting for their coffee drinks, faces and bodies expectantly turned towards the espresso machine. He’d threaded his way through the people and stood looking sideways between two energetic types. He looked up at me, being slightly shorter than my own six feet.
Something about this fellow, and all my thoughts of marriage—which seemed like a fun dash through life—fell out of my head. I knew without asking that he’d found me through a kind of physical intuition, like following the furtherest tendril of a plant back along to its root, and here, he had come to that vigorous source—me—as though we were kin.
He smiled, and waited for me to look at his hands.
The thing that shifted me, that took me from the world of the air to the ground around me, were his eyes. They showed me his inward world, and what I saw gave me a frisson of fear—here was a weary angel sad for the need for a coat in a town of stone and damp, and also a human creature given eyes to see who had used those eyes for all they were worth and found them wanting. He was on the knife edge of something momentous, and he had come to show me. He had an air of shock about him, but also relief. And he seemed to offer kindness, if I wanted to take it.
I looked closely at his hands, out-held, palm down, and by that reflex we have to mirror another’s gestures, I held out my own hands and looked at them. I gasped! Out of the ends of my left middle and index fingers something protruded. Tough little stems growing right out of my finger ends. Without a word he gave a little gesture, a “me too” of emphasis with his hands, and I saw that the both of us were sending out green shoots.
I was horrified. What was happening to me? With an instinct for the worst, before I knew it I’d taken off my shoes. My feet, normally pale with their unsunned days, had gone red—the veins, bright and swirling, showed clearly through the skin. My feet looked like pot-bound plants, when the gardener has at last struck off the pots to find them a larger home to root.
I know I panicked at first. I don’t even remember leaving the coffee shop, or the hours afterwards. While I could still walk and get about, before I was completely transformed into a tree—for surely that was what was happening—I had to find the place I wanted to root, to remain. Losing the ability to move my body, I still wanted to move my eyes—I actually believed it mattered what I would look out and see. In short, I wanted to have a view. I didn’t remember seeing in the face of my kindly friend that he knew, and was trying to show me, that soon the eyes wouldn’t matter either.
I stood still on the street at the edge of town. The rain had paused, but the cool wet of it went deeply and refreshingly into me as I breathed. I thought of a beautiful country I’d seen in dreams: large old spreading trees tucked in a narrow valley, where a river poured itself over huge stones. Then immediately I was drawn to the mountains of another dream-place, where the pines stood and sighed out of the old sand of risen seabeds. I was searching my mind madly for the right place, when the still small voice said, no, none of those—you must go to—Colorado! I was an aspen, don’t you know. Colorado has miles of them.
My rational mind didn’t want to go to somewhere as “commonplace” as Colorado if I could go anywhere of my own imagining. But the wise voice knew better. I saw a little ridge that fell down at its end into a canyon. Across the way the wall of the mountain rose to a great height. The air was full of unrained rain, the clouds as yet not letting down their water, but as full as they could be before letting all of it go.
I am sorry to say that I was unkind to my tree-kin man. Caring only about my own fear, I ran off and left him. It makes sense to me now that he didn’t speak—perhaps he’d already lost the ability to do so, or if he hadn’t, what words could possibly express this change! I had been terrified when faced with no choice in the matter. But as the dream ended the scrambling terrified energy of my mind began to lift up and off me as I settled down onto the mountain ridge, and the rain began to fall gently upon me. I woke and began to retell the tale to myself, as one does with dreams, bringing it from the depths of the magic land, like a rough gem unearthed which points to the mystery of the whole treasure. And I began to wonder: the tree man had been excited to see me, and kind, and I’d missed that in my panic. I realized he knew enough to surrender, and to invite me into the mystery, a real zen koan of a place. An enigma . . .
. . . out of sorts, but curious, I got out of bed, opened my computer, and looked up a place I’d once travelled to, in Colorado, a place called Crested Butte. I’d hiked near there—all this in the waking world mind you—on the top of the world one late spring. I’d walked through meadows of blue lupine, and stopped to drink water near a patch of white albino lupine that tumbled over both sides of the path. Tired out after miles of walking, and needing to get to my next destination to sleep, that long evening I’d driven through an aspen grove that lasted miles upon miles, and remembered what I’d read in the guide-book: That such large stands of western aspens are a single individual grown from one seedling. One such forest in neighboring Utah is estimated to be 80,000 years old and among the oldest known living organisms on earth, and is the heaviest living organism at 13 million pounds. The roots send up shoots that live up to a hundred and thirty years, when they die and are absorbed in the forest soil to nourish the roots, and other shoots are sent up. Fires may destroy the surface trees, but the roots send up new growth and the forest lives both under the ground and in the living air once again.
We are individual raindrops in a storm of melted air that is eventually taken to the sea, where we are both the drops and the whole. We are, too, the trees upon the mountain in a fling of color and trembling and white bodies full of birds, and we are the one root that holds them all, and we are the mystery out of which all this beauty comes. So, it is good to drink coffee, to marry and to fall apart if that’s what helps us learn, to desire and wonder, and walk where our feet take us and talk madly and quietly and angrily and kindly and sometimes not at all and to use our limbs and hands to live this incredible thing that is life. And in the end to fall back into the earth after the wild beautiful riot of the body is finished.
We are the rain and the rained on. The body and the source. And so, I think, I was visited with an angel in my dream, with wild shoots growing out of his finger ends, kindly pointing the way.
Photos by Kathleen Dunbar
For a song about becoming a tree, try this one from my CD Finally Home. It’s called “Sweet Rain” and you can find it on Bandcamp or kathleendunbarmusic.com