Awakening Persephone

No one notified me that the tall, slender, young tulip poplar trees outside my balcony were going to be cut down and turned into mulch right in front of my eyes.20170328_165312

I left for work agitated that the apartment complex hired a company to dismantle the tiny woodlands on my hillside in order to widen the mountain views for the tenants on the upper floors.  I did not realize the devastation left behind until later that night.  I walked my dog behind those very apartments where I like to catch glimpses of the moon and the few lights on top of the mountains, but mostly because I feel protected by and connected to these elegant, tall trees.

 

They were cut down in their youth, right as they were taking root and finding their place on this hillside.  Tenderness and sadness swam in the depths of my heart.  A soft whimper escaped my lips and tears fell from my eyes.

In that moment, I felt a shift.  A transformation snaking its way up through my spine into my heart.  A calling to go deeper into the reasons I felt called to these mountains.  My pain was directly connected to this landscape in front of my eyes.

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For the past few weeks, I have been dancing between flirtations and fun at work, sensual movements in yoga practices and classes I teach, and joy and lightness at my easy work and life schedule. I have been ignoring the whisperings of past hurt, resentment, and regrets I thought I had left behind.  I pushed away the worries of money and not having a definitive career.  I threw myself into hikes and flowed with the directionless winds of my life.  Yet, I also sensed that I would have to face the darkness and shadows I had carried with me to these grandmotherly mountains.

Then, a series of uncomfortable events happened in a few short days that came out of nowhere like the razing of the trees.  I felt vulnerable.  Naked.  Exposed.  There was no way I couldn’t look down the hill and see the dark soil, ripped up roots, mulched trees and their stumps, and the litter and waste left by careless tenants.  There was no way I couldn’t see my own pain and sadness.  Nowhere left to look but down.

And so down into the depths I travel.

Before me stands my 22 year old self.  She is beautiful with soft, olive-complected skin, long brown hair.  Her mouth is thin, but when she smiles, her straight white teeth highlight her lips’ natural red glow.  Staring out from under her jet black eyebrows are dark, liquid, brown eyes that look out at the world with wide eyed innocence.

She has graduated college and walked straight into her career as a teacher.  No break.  No gap year.  No time to explore and discover herself.  She is on a mission to share her natural gifts with other young, innocent children not more than 4 years younger than her.

As she is coming into her womanhood, she is fending off advances from 18 year old men that she finds attractive.  She is confused, so she builds up a wall around her sexiness, her sensuality, and steps up her authority figure identity.

The following year, a 35 year old male colleague begins paying attention to her.  He is attractive.  He seems concerned for her well-being and is interested in her life and what brought her to the big city of St. Louis.  He then begins showing up at her classroom in between passing periods, flirts with her in the hallway, and sits too closely to her at faculty meetings.  She begins to get uncomfortable because he is married, his wife recently giving birth to twin sons.  She is confused because she likes the attention, yet scared because she worries he will one day cross the line.  And he does.  He tricks and manipulates her by inviting her to a happy hour with other colleagues.

In the end, he was the only one there with her.  He takes off his wedding ring and says provocative things to her.  She is angry, both at him and herself.  She feels dirty and ashamed, and ashamed at the fact that she thinks she used her power to make him attracted to her.  He threatens that if she doesn’t invite him back to her apartment, he will follow her and show up unannounced one day.

After he walks into her apartment, he grabs her and kisses her.  She kisses him with anger.  He is more attracted to her because he thinks its a sign she wants him.  She regains her senses and asks him to leave.  He has a moment of guilt and stops groping her.  He then begs her for sex.  She refuses with a whimper.  He asks her to give him a blow job.  She refuses with logical reasoning.  He realizes she is not going to give anything to him, and instead of taking her by force, he lashes out his violence with words and calls her a slut and a whore and a cock tease.  He begs one last time for a little kiss.  She closes the door on him.  And she locks down her heart, and closes the door on her body, her sexiness, her sensuality.

And the years go on in that way.  She placates the women in her teaching circle by going out with their sons or sons of their acquaintances, yet she locks her passion and humor and sensuality and sexiness down at any hint of rejection or criticism from these young men.  She fends off single male colleague’s advances because of her past experiences.  She listens to her students when they come to her privately with their concerns of boyfriends wanting to have sex with them or offers advice to or gets help for young girls struggling with weight issues or cutting themselves or attempting suicide due to emotional or physical abuse by their fathers, step-fathers, or boyfriends.  She holds a space for the transgender teen who is mid transition and so confused and in need of love and acceptance.  She turns in a colleague for her inappropriate bulletin boards that have overt sexual references on them.  She fends off single fathers’ advances to take the parent-teacher conference out of the classroom and to dinner at a fancy restaurant and maybe a little dessert back at their places.

All the while, she continues to offer her teachings and protection as she sacrifices a little bit more of her youth and locks down her sexiness, her sensuality, her passion, her creativity and gives her whole heart and mind to her students, their youth, their education, their advancement.

I fall to my knees and bow down in front of this beautiful, young, warrior woman.

And I owe it to her to stand up and walk into my sexiness, my sensuality, my passion, my creativity.  For it is all holy and she has protected all of it for this ripe, tender time when it can come from the depths of the damp, dark, mysterious earth and meet the light.  And blossom.  And grow like the cherry blossoms and forsythia that line the ragged hillside, acting like monuments to the fallen tulip poplars.   And twist and turn like the vines and twisted limbs of the laurel trees on the mountainside.  And flow like the streams.  And shimmer like the glistening dew on the tips of the clustered ferns.  And take up space in crevices of boulders and on top of the rich humus like the lush green moss.  All of this is her home.  And I have returned it back to her by coming here.

The warrior is now a goddess.  And she will walk this earth and give of her sexiness, her sensuality, her passion, her playfulness, her creativity, her love.  Because she is holy.

 

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Wild.

These are ancient mountains.  There is a divinity here among the ferns, the plants, the old trees, the stones.  Fecundity in all things green.

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The wilderness outside is reflective of the wilderness inside.  So much yet to explore.  So much mystery abounds in the moist earth that sprouts white and red mushrooms and dwells inside the crevices that look like medieval grottos at the base of trees.  So much mystery inside my restless heart and creative mind.

***

My skin crawls with red bumps all up and down my legs, and tiny, oily pimples spring up across my face every waking moment.   I am disoriented at times, and sad, and irritated, then mesmerized, and finally humbled into submission by something I can’t fully explain.

***

My dog sprouted swollen bumps on both sides of her jaw after a restless night of becoming irritated by some tiny creature that lurks within the cracks on the walls or the floor.  She recovers her wellness and her joy at the first scent of the mountain air and the kindness and practicality of the local veterinarian.  He recommends I go on a hike with her as soon as she has recovered.  Here, the prescription is to get out in nature.  To commune with the land as a way to heal.

***

At every twist and turn of the mountain roads and challenges in my daily life, I try to remember to lean into it all and let it be what it is.  No need for perfection.  No need for justification.  No need for analysis.  Just lean into it.  Tap the break at the right moment.  Pause and release.  Then coast and lean into the next moment and curve.  Continue like this: up, down, around, and over the mountain until there is a small space to pull over or a scenic overlook to enjoy.  In either instance:  breathe.

***

There is a space where I may have found my tribe.  In a dance studio downtown Asheville where the live drumming of the West African rhythms can be heard from the street.  Where the instructor, a beautiful, powerful, kind, and joyous woman from the Cote d’Ivoire, counts to you in French and commands the drummers to slow down or speed up by just a simple gesture of her hand.  Here, the drums pound inside of my stomach.  Inside of my pelvis.  At the soles of my feet and the base of my spine. And my shoulders shake and my heart is in control of my joy.

***

My dog and I approach the blue blaze right off mile marker 375 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We are headed up to Rattlesnake Lodge – a deserted vacation getaway in the 1920s and 30s.  Only stone foundations of cabins, fireplaces, and other buildings exist.  It is a popular spot of locals.  Before us is a wet slab of exposed mountain with a cascade of water splashing over eroded stones that are now round and smooth.  I say a small prayer for our well-being but also as a greeting to the ancient ones that inhabit every rock, plant, stream, and tree in this place.  I am entering their world, and I must respect their ways.  We begin our ascent and cross over a small part of the stream before stepping onto the worn path with exposed roots and small, loose stones.  I inhale the damp smell and settle into my body.  Many times I am overcome with tenderness and so much love.  Tears fill my eyes.  “Bring us your tears,” the ferns, stones, and stream whisper to me.  So, I cry in the middle of the forest on a worn path where oak trees act as citadels and twisted laurel branches arc over me and guide me to the white blaze called “Mountain to Sea” trail.  My dog leads.  She seems at home.  Her tail wags and her tongue hangs out.  She is smiling.

***

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A young, green, perfectly shaped acorn drops at my feet.  It is a gift from my friends the oaks.  I pick it up and put it in my pocket.  I swipe away sweat from my forehead and strip off my self-conscious thoughts.  I am becoming wild, and I am no longer ashamed to reclaim that part of me that we have all lost somewhere along the way.  At another stop, I find a stone in the shape of a tulip tree leaf.  It has flecks of mica in it.  I am prompted by some inner guidance to pick it up.  It is not for me to keep, but I do not know what I will do with it.  I place it inside my pocket next to my acorn.  My dog and I continue to ascend until the ground levels out and I see before me a pillar of stones that looks like a sacred altar.  It is one of the remnants of the old lodge, possibly a fireplace for I see the center has been charred.  Here I know that the stone is a symbol of my day of initiation.  I hold it to my chest, say a prayer of gratitude to this ancient land, and then place my stone on the charred altar.  The mica sparkles.  Three large daddy-long-legs creep out from the stones and walk towards me.  The biggest one is right in front of my face and he crawls over the edge of the stone and begins to bob up and down softly.  Maybe I have threatened their home and existence, but my heart knows why they are here:  they’re ambassadors for the ancient ones of this land.   I smile and blow them a kiss.  And a little one walks out from the shadows and joins in the dance.

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Walking southward, I spot a large fallen tree.  There is enough space to walk underneath it.  I see this as my opportunity to shed my old skin, my old patterns and habits, and step into my wild self.  I take a breath, duck my head, and pass underneath.  My dog follows me.  We behold in front of us a pool of stones and part of a stone wall covered in moss.  It is damp and cool in this space and smells earthy.  There looks to be a well where the water is coming from.  I take it all in.  I breathe deeply.  Once more tenderness overcomes me and I shed more tears.  “I am wild,” I say quietly.  Then I say it again.  Louder.  And louder after that.  I turn and face the entrance and I look at my dog and smile.  “We are wild!”  I yell, and I run underneath the fallen tree and out into the clearing, spinning around like the child I once was.

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***

On the descent down the third blaze, I am silent.  I stop and give my dog some water and drink a big gulp of it too.  My boots clump the trodden path and I fall into a rhythm.  A mantra begins forming in my head with each step:  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  I smile and my breath gets deeper.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  My pace quickens.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  The next thing I know, I am saying this out loud and moving quickly, as my dog enjoys the sudden burst of energy.  “I am wild!  I am wild!  I am wild!”  Finally, I see the creek bed at the entrance to the trails.  There is a ledge where the water streams over the black slab.  People have piled stones on top one another at the edge.  Another nature based altar, framed by laurels and rhododendrons.  My pack is heavy and my shorts are riding up my thighs.  Sweat has seeped into the folds of my tshirt.   I don’t look much different than when I started.  Yet, I am transformed.  I have come back to the beginning.  Back to where I belong.

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