Friday, 8th of January, 2016
It was decided that we would go for a family walk in the woods at the top of our street. It is a short walk up a hill and when you get to the top of our street you can see Manhattan in the distance. When we reach this spot we all stop and look at the view and say, “There’s the city!” Some days we do forget to stop and put ourselves in context, but when we do remember to take in that famous skyline it is very liberating. On those days when things are crystal clear, and the city is glowing you can just feel the energy coming of the buildings, it hovers in the air, and sparkles. Sometimes as the sun is setting or rising for that matter, the sky will be pink, and the light bounces off the glass of the buildings making the city look warm and illuminated. The white lights twinkle and one can not help but feel drawn to it, it is an amazing city, truly, the most amazing city in the world, it has it all, but what makes it the best, is really the people.
A lot of the people who live on our street are New Yorkers. See, New York is so big and special, that even if you don’t live in the city anymore and move to Montclair like we did, you still think you are a New Yorker. New Yorkers would disagree with this, because well, we all know there are varying degrees of everything, including what it is to be a real New Yorker, but many of the people in our street spend most of their life in New York City working and then they come home via the train at the end of our street, to sleep soundly at night by the trees.
The trees are the reason we live where we do. Cam was one of those New Yorker workers, but we could not live in the city any more because I need to be near the trees, as you all should know I am a tree hugger. I need a trees around me. There are lots of reasons for this, but mostly so that I can breathe. Walking in the woods helps every part of my being, it reminds me to take big deep breaths and then I feel deeply alive. A lot of people in the city like to come and visit me so that they can walk in the woods too, and by the time we charge up to the top of the hill, they are usually panting by my side. I like to walk quickly up the hill because it gets my heart beating, and it is not a big hill, or particularly steep, but it is a good indicator of health. It is very important that our family stay healthy, so we all like to walk up the hill and into the woods together.
Sometimes though, someone does not want to go. And on this day. It was Elle. It can take us a long while to get out the door some days, because we all are so busy doing the things we like to do. One of us usually feels the need for exercise and then that person looks for the most likely source of company, whoever it is that will say an easy yes, and then together they go and find the next recruit by saying, “WE are going to the woods, do you want to come?” and then after that, if that person says no, we try to convince them by saying “Let’s go on a FAMILY walk!” because family is the most important thing to everyone. Sometimes though, as I said, someone will say no and then we have to go along with that scene.
“I don’t want to go for a walk in the woods.” Elle said in a sort of complaining whinging voice. It was not an affirmative no, like she would say if she was busy, it was something else, an I don’t feel like it sort of voice. For this tone, I usually try to coax her into a walk, because if she was not doing anything better, then a family walk is always a good idea. “Oh please do feel like coming because we love your company, and I want to hold your hand.” Elle generally likes it when she feels loved like this, but you see on this day, even love was not going to work, and in fact it made her a little annoyed. Sitting there on my bed, with some stubbornness she said, “No, I am not going because I am scared of the woods.” and then she threw herself face down. I could not tell exactly what this was about, or how deep the and true the fear was so I had to turn her body over with my hands to see her face. I had not ever heard her say she was scared of anything really before, and this was all new and a little perplexing because we walk in the woods a lot, and the woods has not ever been a scary place for us, and in fact is quite the opposite. A mother must investigate the root of fears, so of course in a no-nonsense tone I asked her, “Why are you scared of the woods? We go to the woods a lot and I have never known you to be scared.” By this time, I was holding her in my arms so that her head could be buried into my chest. I was a little concerned, but not too concerned, mostly just curious about what was going on inside of her? In a muffled voice, because her face was squished into my jumper, she said “I am scared of the woods now, since I had a scary dream.”
Now most days begin in our home with me cuddling the girls and asking them if they remembered their dreams. I say a few varieties of morning greetings, but often it will be, “Goodmornign my love, how did you sleep? Did you have a dream last night?” and because of this I feel privy to anything that may come up in the subconscious. I like this opening to talk about things that might surface each day, but this sudden sharing of a scary dream, well this felt like something else, this felt like a little person exploring her power under the guise of fear. Fear is a very, very, powerful thing. It can control whole lives, it can control whole families. I took a moment to try to explain to Elle that there is a line between sleeping life and waking life, and that we must know this line and therefore we can feel safe on the other side of dreams. Elle needed more than this though, so I decided to tell her a story.
Holding her in my arms, we sat up propped with pillows and cover by a blanket. I like to be comfortable and cozy when I am telling stories.
When I was a girl, I liked to wander around the farm by myself. Sometimes I had somewhere I needed to go for some reason, like to do a chore, or other times I would just feel an urge to explore because there was something waiting for me out there to discover and I would have to go out side to see what was going to happen. On this day, I am not sure why I was going where I was going, but I needed to go down to the dam. It could have been because I was wanting to collect some goose feathers for art, or that I wanted to slosh in warm mud. Either way, I was heading in a definite direction. I walked down the garage side path and opened the little wooden gate that lead to the dog shed and chicken coop. I could have chosen a different path to get down to the dam but I wanted the shortest most direct path, which I most often took. Now what makes this story different to any other story of walking down to the dam, is because of the timing. Farms have a rhythm and when you grow up on a farm, you know that certain things happen at certain times of year. During late summer on the farm, Grandpa would separate all of the young bulls calves from the rest of the cow herd and put them in their own paddock. Grandpa spent a lot of time with his cows, he would check them daily and knew the activities of the cows, their personalities and where each cow was in it’s life cycle. At some point in the male calf life cycle he starts to get frisky and he will butt heads with the other male calves and he will start jumping up on his sisters and mother, even if they are bigger than him. When this happens, it is time for him to go into another paddock. If the timing is exactly right, no-one misses him at all because the cows only want the one BIG bull around and they don’t want to be pestered by a son of the herd doing that. Grandpa would watch out for these young bull antics, and then he would corral them into another paddock, and move the rest of the herd far far away to the back of the farm so that the cows were out of sight, and out of mind from these young calf bulls. If it was a good year, we would have about a dozen bull calves. There would usually be equal females calves born too, and they would be corralled also, but that is another story.
So at this time of year on the farm, that I am recalling, there would be a paddock of bull calves, and it would be a paddock close to the house, because some time soon the bull calves would get picked up by a truck and taken to the sale yards. Now bulls get bought and sold by weight. What the fate of the bull is, depends on who is buying it, but either way, the weight and health of a bull will equate how much you get paid for it. Grandpa kept his cows very healthy and robust, but did not want to manage full grown bulls related to the herd so he would keep the bull calves for a while and then when they were “teenagers” he would sell them. They are not too intimidating at this stage, because they are not huge, and some of their calf cuteness still remains, but they can be pesky.
So on this day, I was out and about wandering and I had to go to the dam for some reason, and I had gone out the back gate, past the dog shed and the chicken coop to where the footpath stops and where the cow trails start. To get to the damn I had to walk through three large paddocks, starting first with the largest paddock that had a dilapidated pigsty, a useful tractor shed, and some of the grandest old fig trees that you can imagine. As I stood there on the edge of the chicken coop path, I could see that off in the far distance were all the bull calves. They were so far away, dappled under the trees, doing what ever it is that teenager bull calves do. The paddock was long, and as I described, very large and if I wanted to get to the damn, I would have to either walk through this paddock or around the outer fence via another series of paddocks which would take twice as long. Now being the little light beam that I was, I decided that I would just go for it and that instead of taking the long way around, I would just dash through the bull paddock. I mean, why not, those bulls were all way over there under the trees, and that was a long way off and I was a very fast runner. Not the fastest at Tregeagle Public School, but when I ran, I always ran my hardest. So with all the courage and bravery in the world, one, two, three, I ran.
Now you think I would have known better, because Ferdinand the bull was my favorite childhood story, and I had read Ferdinand a million times. I knew those boy calves like to run and play, and the moment they saw me dashing across the paddock with my little legs carrying me as fast as I could go. Bare feet striding though the knee-high grass, and long blond hair trailing down my back, they were after me. It was like I was like a scent on the breeze, one bull calf caught a whiff of the action, and then just like that they were all after me. So there I was racing across this paddock with all of my might with a trial of bull calves heading my direction. Now, obviously it was not my destiny to be trampled by the bulls because I am here to tell the tale, so please have no fear. But in that moment, with that intuitive knowing one gets when fear is supposed to be there, I knew I had to skedaddle. I ran faster than I had ever run before and then just as the bulls got very very very close, I reached the other side of the paddock. There was no time to open the gate and with a great dive I rolled right under the gate. Thank goodness, the gate had been hung high, and the cow path had worn the soil low. I thought to myself as I rolled to the other side of the fence to safety. “I did it!” I panted. “I got to the other side!”
The bulls all skidded to a halt, looking at me with cheerful faces for participation in a marvelous game. With some indignation I picked myself up and carried on my way down to the dam. With my heart still beating I pined an invisible badge of bravery to my shirt, but here is the interesting thing, and where the lesson lays, because deep down I had a sense if I did not keep the whole incident to myself, my invisible bravery badge might have been replaced with pins that said foolish. I could see my family sitting around the table, and the expressions of my Grandfather should I have told him my story of running with the bulls. I shook the imagined stern faces away. See, those face can pop up in your mind, just like it is a dream and they can inform you, and at that moment, despite also feeling very brave, I was recovering from a good dose of fear and I knew that foolishness had been a part of it.
Fear and foolishness can go had in hand in more than one way, and it seems on that day I need the lesson that, “Doing foolish things can give you a fright”. One can be foolish, get a fright and be seared with fear or perhaps equally dangerous is that one can think foolish thoughts like, “The woods is scary”, and end up being too fearful to go. Either way, the important thing is to know that sometimes when facing a fear, one must work out if you were foolish to be fearful, or that you did something that was foolish and it filled you with fear. Once you have learn’t this, you will know that smart choices and courage make much better companions.
Thank you for reading Magnesium Blue
Illustration by Robert lawson, Words by Kirsten Rickert, All rights reserved.