Where the Heart Lives

My heart lives in many different places, in many different times. The place of my heart is often outside myself, tucked in the forest…really it could be any forest, but I love the quiet beauty of places most people don’t see as beautiful. I love swamps and bogs and old rotting trees where  pileated woodpeckers hide and my son calls out to mourning doves in such a perfect tone that they answer him, they converse for what seems like days.

My heart lives in the peat comprised of so much dead matter building on itself, creating a space no person can enter, it will swallow you. There is something eerie and beautiful about swamps and bogs, the myriad of life, the morning dew resting in the cup of a pitcher plant.

Several times a year I find myself sitting on a bridge in East Callais, Vermont, feet on the edge of a fen (a particular type of bog.) It is silent aside from birds singing and crackling of twigs as animals roam through the forest. I wonder how deep the bog is. I think of how my body would be preserved if I were to throw myself in and surrender to the thick layer of peat and moss where cattails would become my arms and my hair would be a ragged mess slime molds and fungus. I find my feet dangling off the edge, the sun beating down on my face and I read the landscape like I read a book. The familiar words like the worn path. There is no sign leading to this bog, it is secret to most and when I first visited it felt like home, like I had known the landscape for a long time. I can sense the animals watching me, I want them to watch me. I don’t need to see them, but they know I am there.

I watch the birch trees on the other side of the bog, standing strong like soldiers protecting this ancient tomb. My heart longs to be part of this, part of the decomposition and the death that brings life to the surface, part of the mystery beneath the peat. I step quietly on my way there, passing old stone walls that were used as pasture, I see evidence of strong storms from hundreds of years ago where trees were knocked down, the ground pillows and cradles beneath their roots, I count the whorls on the pine trees and remember how long this land has been untouched, unaltered.

I climb over fallen trees and dark shadows to emerge in a bed of ferns, the oldest living vascular plant that lies in front of me like a bed. Just like the bed of ferns I used to nap in when I was a child, where I played with faeries and used moss as a pillow for my weary head. I notice the spores and what a brilliant strategy it is to disperse yourself like that, the let the wind carry you as it carries my hair, as it carries the red tailed hawk above me. I sit in the ferns and remember that feeling of innocence I had as a child. The ferns are the gateway to the bog, a darker and more mysterious side of myself dwells there.

My heart beats with the sound of spring peepers and crickets and again I am brought back to a silent place where I think, this is where I shall return, when I become ash, when I become peat, when I become truly silent and I can disappear here, where no one can see me buried beneath, where I become part of the hundred year process. There is something magic to me about the idea of letting yourself go, to decompose, to rot and become a bigger part of a living organism containing hundreds of other organisms. This is my peace and like the waves of the ocean, it beckons me in. I stick a toe in, just to see and the peat feels warm on my feet, like thick mud. It sucks my toe in.

This is as far as I will dive for now, but someday I will return and feed this ecosystem, or one like it. This will be the resting place for my heart, my bones. Untouched, no box, no skin. I am free in this bog. I lay down on the bridge that truly leads to nowhere and I let the sun touch my face, soaking it all in until I force myself to leave, wandering back into the shadows of the forest, back to the ferns with patches of light that shine though. Back down the beaten path where my feet pad along the pine needles. I keep that bog with me.

I am also ugly and deep like the bog, in my shadows, in my heart. There is beauty in accepting the ugly, in walking among the shadows. I can taste the air, damp, moist and soil like. I leave this place knowing I will come back, to wonder again, to bask in the sun, to watch the predatory plants, to walk in the footprints of deer. I leave a piece of my heart here each time so I know where to find it when I need it. The bog knows when to call me. My heart lies in many places, but the forest is the blood within me. My heart is a fragile ecosystem in a state of metamorphosis.

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