Do you believe some hurdles are insurmountable?
Sometimes I honestly relate to snails attempting to get from one end of a hot, dry side-walk to the other, while their leg-less body oozes out a trail of limited moisture reserves. (Despite the fact that snails unwittingly compete with me for my own garden vegetables, I am sympathetic to their plight under these impossible circumstances).
Well, dear snails, I’d like to thank you for inspiring me to believe in greater possibilities this week.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute recently published evidence that snails have long been migrating across massive stretches of land an ocean (let alone a 3-foot stretch of pavement). They accomplish this task—it turns out—by hitchhiking on the legs and bellies of shore birds. Brilliant.
This publication made me think. What kind of resources have I not been paying attention to?
This summer I had the road-trip of a lifetime with my now adult brothers who were little mysterious 10 and 12 year-olds when I moved out of the house, way-back-when. We also brought along my cousin who hadn’t been out of a big city for two years (he just returned home from an LDS mission in Korea).
In four days we saw Zion National Park, Coral Reef Sand Dunes, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Calf Creek in Escalante, Capitol Reef, and Arches. (yeah, it was a little fast, but I’m glad my brothers could experience a little more of this amazing landscape before heading back to Wisconsin).
Thanks for the adventures Aaron, Jordan, and Craig!
1. A reflection of the red rocks in the upper emerald pools, Zion.
2. An amazing sun-speckled spot to eat lunch… and feed a few mosquitos, Zion.
3. Coral Reef Sand Dunes, near Orderville.
4. Breathtaking sunrise, all to ourselves, at Imperial Point, Grand Canyon, AZ.
5. Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park
6. Calf Creek, Escalante National Monument
7. Camping in Escalante, with my new car Artemis (more on her to come)…
8. Four elephants, Arches National Park
9. Delicate Arch (featured on Utah license plates), Arches.
10. And a striking full moon to guide us all the way back home!
I mean that in the way a botanist talks about genetics.
The same species of tree can look very different, depending on its environment. For example, in sunny, hot, dry, windy region with depleted soils, a tree might grow to have small leaves that are very thick and waxy: built just right to withstand the sun’s intensity. Its trunk and branches will twist and turn in their relentless fight against the wind. And the roots—like a third-world dog—will have searched in countless directions for any promising bit of nutrient.
Compare that tree to the same species growing in the plush understory of a taller canopy, or in a pampered urban yard. Its leaves would be considerably thinner and broader, to maximize sun-catching potential. Its trunk and branches—that have been protected from the harsher elements—might look closer to a textbook’s idea of perfection. And the roots, which have always been surrounded by plentiful water and fertilizer, would likely remain close to the trunk. This tree would radiate plumpness and moisture.
Are people’s souls just as plastic as trees’ genetics?
A tree’s environment can’t really change the tree’s essence, but it can considerably alter the tree’s course of existence, its potential for growth, its ability to thrive. How much of me do I owe to my environment? And, how has my impact on my environment altered the growth of others?
This thought came to me after waking up in cold sweat last week. I dreamt that a shy, outcast boy in my highschool class was a serial killer. I knew it. But nobody else did. Now awake, I turned on a light to push away the creepy morning darkness. It was just a dream.
But, if it was true? What could have happened in his life to inspire such hideous actions? Or would he have chosen to be a serial killer no matter what else anyone did? Is it possible that, given another environment, he never would have dreamed of treating people that way?
A significant handful of people have influenced the shape of my core. What if I’d never met them? Would my core be a different shape?
Three days after my last blog post, one of my dearest friends was killed in a car accident. Any words I write feel insufficient. Briana and I talked on the phone that afternoon while she and her brother were driving home for Easter. Within the hour of our conversation, she was gone. Her broken body left on the side of the highway.
I met Briana on a beautiful April day in 2008. Tess, my favorite botany study-buddy, insisted I meet her sister—a young single woman my same age—who had just become a midwife. We decided to celebrate the end of the semester by lounging in the grass, soaking up the warm sunshine. When Briana arrived, she sat tall in a cross-legged stance. She looked me in the eyes and listened as I told her about my interest in birth. After a few questions, she tore a page from her notebook and began writing: the best doula course to take, the essential books to read, the websites to reference. On our second visit she gifted me a copy of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery. It was my first birth book. Months later Bri invited me to witness my first homebirth, to inspect my first placenta, to perform my first newborn exam.
Saturday, April 16, 2011. Briana had an apron tied around her waist and a phone cradled between her ear and shoulder when she came to the door. Her counter tops were crowded with scrumptiousness she’d spent days creating, in preparation for the “Momma Party”. I helped put together a blood orange salad and placed the shortbread batter into the oven. The house was flooding with women and babies who Briana had, or was, serving. I loved looking at them all, and hearing them talk of their birth experiences. Bri asked us all to introduce ourselves; she expressed that when she looked at each of us, she saw powerful women. She encouraged us to share with one another our thoughts on true power and womanhood.
The hours of good conversation and delicious food passed quickly. As people left, Bri took photos with the women and children and sent the families home with platefuls of baked goods. In preparation for moving, she was pairing down her belongings and had items for the taking: books, a child’s easel, plastic dishes, napkins…
By mid afternoon, Bri and I were the only ones in the house. It was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny April day, and so we decided to soak it up by lounging in her back yard. She grabbed John’s childhood blanket—the one she always chose—and we spread it across the grass. Bri sighed a deep, relaxing sigh, and said how happy she was with how the party had turned out, but said it was hard to have everyone all together only because she wished she could have spent more individual time with each momma and baby.
Our conversations that afternoon bounced from topic to topic, as we drifted in and out of lazy summer sleep. We laughed at the love-struck quail that lived in her bushes. We talked about her family and her excitement at spending the upcoming Easter holiday with them. We talked about relationships. We talked about the value of change. I asked her to describe her ideal birth experience, and she explained how it had transformed over the course of her midwifery experience. She used to want the midwife with the most knowledge and skills. Now, she figured, she just wanted to be accompanied by those who had the most compassion.
I remember watching her as she lay there, eyes closed, grinning up at the warm sunshine. She was bathed in light. I remember her saying, “It has been such a perfect day. I just feel so full.” She repeated it with a soft smile. “I feel so full.”
Saturday, April 23, 2011. I played phone tag with Briana that morning. She called while I was at yoga. I called while she was busy with pre-travel plans. When she called back, she asked if I could do her a favor. She wanted to pay her tithing before our church boundaries changed. She explained that she didn’t have a tithing slip, but had left two checks in her house, and asked if I wouldn’t mind filling out some slips for her and delivering them to the Bishop. She was only going to be gone a week, so I thought it was a little odd, but of course it wasn’t a problem. I asked for Candice’s number so I could call and make sure someone was home when I went over. The phone conversation was brief.
A few hours later, when I called Candice to ask if it was a good time to pick up Bri’s tithing, I learned the heart-wrenching news. Briana was dead.
That Easter Sunday I handed the Bishop the most meaningful tithing slip I think I will ever touch in my life.
I know I am not alone in missing Bri. I only knew her for three years, but she absolutely changed my life. Two weeks after her death, I started school to become a midwife. Briana wrote one of the letters of recommendation for me, and it was because of her that I had sufficient birth-related experience to enter the program. But more than that, she was a kindred soul. Few days go by without me wishing I could just call her, to hear her voice, to ask her advice, or to share a story that would make her laugh.
Looking back, I am struck by the similarities between the first day I met Bri, and the last day I spent with her. They were both gorgeous April days, full of sunshine. They were both spent lounging in the bright green springtime. They were both days that felt full of goodness. That is how I will always remember her.
Shortly after her death, I saw Briana in a dream. She was beautiful. I was struck by how radiant she looked, fully cloaked in light. She didn’t say anything, but just looked at me with soft compassion. As if she recognized my pain, but wanted me to know that she is ok. Her face was full of peace.
A few weeks later, in another dream, she knocked on my door. “Briana!” I gasped. I pulled her into a tight squeeze and whispered, “I have so many things I’ve wanted to ask you!” In my dream I asked, “Have you seen God?” She looked at me with smiling eyes and laughed as she responded, “Of course I have.”
Briana still exists. This has become a familiar mantra to me. I look forward with hope to the day when I can again embrace her in my arms and share stories that make us both weep and laugh. Until then, I am trying to be a better doula, midwife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend, and woman because of her.
This is a photo I copied from Briana’s website: http://www.fernmidwifery.com