Be present. Show up. Stay focused. These are the watchwords for living in modern times. But, I’m bucking the advice and attempting to disappear into the Coast Miwok landscape at Point Reyes. Here two of my favorite entities meet: forest and ocean. Together they create an ever-changing topography of contrasts: light and dark, marine and sylvan, deposition and erosion.
I’m letting my body soak in this scenery of opposites. Lying on top of a hill I sink into the yellowed grass until my membranes adapt to its prickliness. I watch the gulls glide and glide over the ultramarine waves until my eyes absorb all that swirling blue. I amble the woods until my nostrils can pick out the smell of heat even where there is no sunlight. I’m also allowing my mind to wander through itself…sloughing off life pieces from the past…trying on different identities. Now I’m an explorer newly landed on shore. Now I’m a nomad living with the seasons. Now I’m the wind racing through the cypress trees, now the cricket hopping from stalk to stalk.
Over the years I’ve ascertained that as much as I try to vanish, I can never escape from myself. As I put on and discard each of these snakeskin selves, I discover I’m more human than I’d like to believe. I can’t be otherwise. There’s no way for me to dissolve into the tides or dematerialize into the redwoods while I breathe. I dwell in this frame and must continue within its limitations.
As ever, nature offers counsel in unexpected methods, revealing portals where walls once stood, providing opportunity in the face of uncertainty. I come upon a whale bone bleached and rotting on the beach, evidence of natural balance. Algae settles firmly upon exposed rock, a haven of symbiosis. And a sign warns humans to keep away with the promise of baby seals in the future if we heed the notice.
I think of the Coast Miwok who tread lightly upon this terrain, learning to gather and release with the changing climates, and to set their testimonies alongside the nettle, the bear, the oak, the elk, the abalone, and the hawks they lived amongst.
A lot is made these days about being authentic on social media, about presenting one’s true and messy self online. Which, perhaps, goes some distance towards accepting our frailties as a species. But there’s something to be said about limiting the accounts about ourselves too. For decentralizing our narratives as hero, as savior, as protagonist.
So much of our detritus is preserved exhaustively, there’s very little space for nonhuman tales outside of children’s entertainment. Yet, there’s a reason we persist in returning to these chronicles for the next generation. They acknowledge our need for our fellow animate and inanimate creatures, they admit our identity as alien in a universe filled with beings other than us.
I’d like to begin that pilgrimage towards storytelling transformation. I’d like to make my anatomy a map of connections. I’d like to be a citizen of Earth even while citizenry itself is fraught with dissension.
So I straddle the outdoor and the virtual worlds precariously, in discomfort of both, struggling to memorialize that which is not me. I walk in reality pursued by the dream life, hoping its alternate perspective will present strategies which allow me to accommodate my humanity to a wider coexistence. Like the gulls above me, I circle several turns around an ancient, gnarled pine in a desire to be imbued with its sacredness.
Nothing is wasted in nature. Build-up and destruction, birth and death, it’s a succession of cycles. Can the same be true about my idleness?
The day drowns along the coast, but I continue to lie awhile above the cliffs fantasizing what sort of guidance I’d receive from the Miwok spirits as they prepare their evening meal. The lowering sun gathers up all my shed memories, the deluded identities I’m leaving behind here, and performs a vanishing act with them where the sea meets the copses. Another me remains to proclaim a new chapter.
Rising sea levels are threatening Miwok burial sites and archaeologic locales along the Point Reyes National Seashore. To learn more about their culture, take an escorted ranger walk to Kule Loklo and visit the Miwok Archeological Preserve of Marin.
What are some of your favorite stories centered around nonhumans? I’d love to hear about songs, books, poems, and films which focus on protagonists other than us in the comments below.