by Sara Aranda
Having slightly fallen off the personal blog band-wagon, I wanted to create more of an intimate space with the content I’ve scribbled over the years. From the Journal will be a series of excerpts from my journal writings. The following entry is quite the metaphysical one. It also utilizes parts of an essay that were edited out and thusly transformed into the current piece.
Last night we walked down to the gate at the end of the long, dirt driveway. Donned in our puffiest clothes and snow boots, we pressed our way into the dim forest, broke ice as we went. We let our elder housemate in, closed and locked the gate behind her, then sauntered back up the hill, watched her brake lights disappear behind a depth of trees. It was such a beautiful night for a walk.
“Look, it’s Mr. Kite,” Patrick said, pointing up. Mr. Kite is what he named the Pleiades constellation when he was a kid. “Over there, above the treeline.”
I reveled again in the fact that I, too, as a child had chosen this constellation as a favorite. Maybe because it was small, unassuming, yet powerfully close to earth and easily found. When I visited Patrick’s childhood home in Illinois last year, where his dad still resides, we slept in his old bed. Glow-in-the-dark stars were stuck to the ceiling. They instilled such a sense of peace in me that I hadn’t felt in quite some time, feeling so a part of the Universe, visually, there. I noticed a distinct cluster.
“Is that the Pleiades?” I asked him.
“Yeah. Mr. Kite,” he said, “My friend and I used to lay out on the trampoline at night. We’d stare for hours at the sky, enveloped. We’d always notice the constellation and of course, when you’re little, I feel like you have this curiosity for and fascination with small things.” He had adored it so, that as an 11-year-old, he made sure his bedroom sky housed it, too. “I think that’s why,” he had added, “I used to build little cages or mansions out of toothpicks for crickets and lizards.”
Last night, thousands of miles away, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, we walked, boots barely sinking into the crust, trees slowly rattling the way our atmosphere bends the light of the stars.
“It was my papa that pointed it out to me as a kid,” I said, “and for some reason I held on to it.”
“Isn’t it cool, then, that this similarity between us was potentially generations in the making?”
“Hm. I’ve never thought about it like that.” The moon was bright enough to not need headlamps. The upward push back up the hill was beginning to make my heart beat faster.
“If your grandfather consciously asked why he had such a fascination with astronomy, I wonder if the Universe would have answered something like: this isn’t for you, it’s for your granddaughter.”
“Honestly, I do find it amazing to think about it in that way,” I began, “That every single one of our consciousnesses is a result, or a gathering, of history. But it’s also dangerously easy to think that our very consciousness, right now, here, is at some pinnacle; that it is at the top of the pyramid and greater than any consciousness that came before, or any consciousness that currently exists around us. Because of time and history and what we think we know? How vain and narrow to be up there, isn’t it?”
“Definitely,” Patrick said, “It’s difficult to come to terms with the notion that everyone else’s consciousness is the same degree of consciousness you experience.”
“Though, I admit, that it’s a tempting place to be. Ego would love for it to be so. To feel like my consciousness is the end of that path. The final fruition. That when I die, none of it, and life, will matter anymore, because it was all for me, or my family.”
Patrick shook his head in silence. He doesn’t like it when I talk about dying.
This morning, I looked up Pleiades online, read that the constellation is responsible for allowing astronomers to measure “the age and future evolution of the universe …” being that it is so close to earth (and relatively easy to measure). It’s essentially the first rung to their “cosmic distance ladder.” As I read on, of course, there is much controversy and no one can decide exactly how far away the cluster is.
As a lay person, I don’t seem to care why the measurement matters so much. But that is also probably why I am not a scientist. Too, I’m not very math-oriented. But I find it fascinating that this constellation is a foundational rubric. I find it poetic that it represents the past (age) and future (evolution), just as how my grandfather bestowed his astronomical interests upon me; that constellations have always been a starting point in storytelling and in science and philosophy. I tend to look for the ways in which scale and wonderment here on earth echo in a cyclical fashion.
Like the spiders among the talus boulders I saw in the Wind River Range last summer. Their white webs were large and what I remember the most about them was how, when I’d draw near to find a place to pee, they’d quake their soft bodies, violently, as if my own weighted coming brought alarm. A warning. A silent rattle (how effective nature is, even without sound). I withstood to watch one, the large body flexing and releasing in oscillation—like how we all flex on the faces of mountains or along backcountry trails. In the cities. Along a sidewalk. In the pasture. Beneath a cottonwood. In dark rooms. In our own heads.
We quake in defiance of peripheral death. How we all engage in some form of spastic fervor to never be forgotten. Me saying that most climbers choose their mountains for a reason, could also be me saying that most people choose (however subconscious) what is to be perceived as an obstacle in their own lives.
To find and know God? Measure the human condition in relation to the cosmos? Many, I’m sure, see it that way. We draw lines across the mountainous reach, pass our bodies over them, draw near the sun but never touch it. It might as well be something so divine, bright and ever-closer to becoming something comprehensive.
I no longer search for the finite in these ways. And when things shrink before my eyes, like the memory of my own life, it is not an end to a story, nor is it an answer. It is both a reverent focus and a letting go. It is both grace and fractured grit. It is both rain and its braking from the cloud. And what I sometimes find is only more proof of an unsure self and my varied existence; that the world reacts to me; me to it; that it does, unapologetically so, reflect my awareness in all of its imperfections.
Change is rarely perfect. More often than not, it is quite unrefined. It is blind reaching into dark and abysmal cracks. Sometimes I do find a well of confidence from which to drag my body. Sometimes I find resentment for carrying spiders with me, this grief despite acceptance. It can be hate, a reprimand that I fear at all.
I only ever have words that are already known. But they are words that craft, slowly navigate the life that I lead; the stubbled mirror of a life I face; the way I tell stories of a poet slowly going mad. Borne of words of a tainted kind; words of a past and a speculative future.
I wrote in my journal there, deep in the Wind River backcountry, about the deep applause that seemed to rise from the underworld of me, clapping the mockery of life into the meadow. I had just descended from Wolf’s Head with Eliza. We were falling asleep in the tent, but I had to write things down. The water from the streams were loud, too loud. The sounds hollowed me. The hollowing water echoed off the boulders, off the embankments and the grasses and the wildflowers, into my hollowed ears. If the solar eclipse had a sound it would have been hollowed water and if the sound of hollow water had a specter it would be a black moon in the sky.
Yet do orbiting bodies create sound? In the vacuum of space, I imagine they would not, in any sense that we comprehend. Still, with or without sound, I suppose it is like how us humans and many other species live out our lives; how, with or without purpose, our lives are still here. Without sound, without reason, I still believe in orbiting bodies like I still believe in life, how they exist even if there is no god inherent in them.
My constant craving for water could be a metaphor of my affinity for change. I want to redefine how many see the mountains (and nature at large) as not merely being these tilting seeds of death, or of an insulting savageness.
While this death-ness is part of the truth, it is not quite wholesome. There is something that happens when you forge a momentary unknown into something benign. When you take that anxious leap only to find that there was little to fear at all. My mind imagines a leap into the sky by way of moisture, transfigured as a smattering of light and cloud. Maybe it is best that your mind imagines something drawn from your own life. If you could be anything that leaps and becomes a perceivably neutral thing, what would it be?
Did anyone imagine death? Probably not. Maybe it would be healthier for me to not visit such a topic so often.
While sitting in a café in Yosemite Valley once, a fellow employee told me how much of a gift it is to “Enjoy the deadness between those times you can’t breathe.” It resonated with me; that this notion of being able to hold still, be still, is a gift. But I think he meant it more literally. He was talking about how his favorite hike is up to Cloud’s Rest. How he literally enjoys the silence (deadness) between those times he cannot breathe (the cardio of hiking up and down). No matter. It’s brilliant advice as well. I’m inclined to take it a step further. That these times we cannot breathe are also before birth and after death. The deadness that is life, while potentially depressing and torturous, is still something we learn to celebrate.
So this is a celebration, truly. Of stars and their echoes. That somewhere in this body there are roots. That we continue to find an ocean beneath the trees; find that we have always pondered there.