Michelle Tea: "I Love You, Tree"

In my original plan, if I wasn’t with child by my 41st birthday I’d call it quits and split for Paris.

May 28, 2012 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

image

I made sure to pack a bunch of ovulation tests on my Birthday Getaway, even though my calculations are a bit of a bummer -- it seems I will be ovulating this weekend, while I’m up in Arcata, land of stoner dudes with dogs on ropes, and while Quentin is back in San Francisco, belatedly celebrating his birthday by transforming a giant art gallery into a roller skating rink. We are each missing the other’s festivities.

A few days before we left town, I was at home wondering what, in fact, will we do with ourselves once we land in Arcata. I Googled Things To Do In Arcata, and came upon a Redwood Zipline adventure.

I’ve never done a zipline. I’m sort of attracted to it -- I like going fast, I like the thought of being up in the trees. I’m also sort of scared of it – I don’t like heights and I’m not athletic.

I posted it on Dashiell’s Facebook, almost as a joke. Like, Ha, Ha, we could always do THIS, Ha, Ha, as if! But Dashiell is PSYCHED. She responds immediately -- Yeah, Oh My God, I Love Ziplines, I Always Wanted To Do This! 

 And so it goes that we have reservations to zip amongst the Redwood Trees early on the morning of my 41st birthday.

image

Back before I met Dashiell, when I had decided to knock myself up, I needed it to happen while I was 40. A best case scenario would still probably have me giving birth past 40; I wanted to make absolutely sure that I was preggers by February 18th -- a great birthday, by the way. Shared with Yoko Ono, Matt Dillon, Snoop Dog, Alice Walker, Vince Neil and Vanna White.

In my original plan, if I wasn’t with child by my 41st birthday I’d call it quits and split for Paris. Getting pregnant at 41 could  have me scheduling my astrologically-planned cesarean when I’m 42! That seems really old!

I know women have kids at 43, even at 45. Some crazy Italian lady just popped one out at 50! But I am not a wildly fertile 50-year-old Italian woman, lolling on the countryside and squishing grapes between my toes. I am a high-strung, 41-year-old American woman who gotten most of her adult hydration from coffee and spends most days with her head stuck in a computer.

image

I’m glad we got out of town and into the trees on this day. In the trees, anything seems possible. Life seems likely. Look at how shit just grows right up out of the ground, unplanned, unstoppable. Look at the Redwood Trees, which grow in families, little rings of giant, ancient life.

Life seems like our world’s default setting. I guess the moldy watermelon in my refrigerator at home could teach me this lesson too, but it feels much more inspiring in this lush, green place where everything grows and grows BIG. I can’t call the pregnancy plan off, not now, not with Dashiell involved, not with Quentin so dedicated and not with my understanding that it can take a long, long time for a person to get pregnant.

Our zipline guy is exactly who you want your zipline guy to be. Super mellow young man with hippie tendencies. He’s cute and blonde and has a fluffy Alaskan sled dog named Stella, who wanders around the grove and hunkers down in a bed of old needles and leaves. He has the vibe of a competent stoner, a stoner who knows not to get stoned before taking a pair of city kids 70 feet up the side of a Redwood, but will likely be hitting the bong at some point this afternoon.

Oh yeah -- we, the city kids will be ascending 70 feet up the side of a Redwood, to reach the platform we zip from. How will we get all the way up there? I hadn’t thought about it. At all. But it appears we will be climbing.

Climbing up the side of a Redwood with the help of some rather small, U-shaped steel pegs that have been hammered into the tree in a rather unhelpful pattern. Like, they aren’t nailed straight up, ladder-style. One peg is here, the other way over there, the next is sort of wildly up there.

At some point in your climb, you encounter a lower platform and zipline cables and you are to climb AROUND those, heading up another five feet to the top platform. I feel my body almost fill with dread, but am distracted by having to put on 50 pounds of equipment -- including a harness that sits on me like a giant diaper.

There are things clamped to me and a huge pair of leather gloves on my hands. Our Hippie explains to us how to clamp on and clamp off, and we run through a practice zip on the ground. This all takes about 40 minutes, and by the end I have psyched myself up for the climb: I’m doing it for OUR BABY!

image

I’m doing this for our baby, too!

Parents make all sorts of sacrifices for their children. I’d like to point out that I’ve scaled my coffee back to one single cup per day, so I KNOW what it’s like to make a sacrifice. But I’m ready to take it to the next level, 70 feet above the ground. If I’m going to have a baby and be a Mom, I can’t be scared.

Just the physical facts of pregnancy and the terrible possibility of a VAGINAL BIRTH is enough to make me whimper if I think about it too much -- I’ve got to toughen up! What if I’m called to lift a car off my child, like all those adrenalin-powered moms you’re always reading about? 

 And, what about being an awesome role model to our kids -- especially a girl-kid? To know that their parents were so tough and fearless would inspire them to be tough and fearless, too. Plus, having some Moms who scaled the side of a giant tree would make them feel really safe and protected, wouldn’t it? Like their parents are actually SUPERHEROES. 

Dashiell goes first. Incidentally, Dashiell will not go by Mom in our family -- she’s more of a Pap/Papa/Pappy sort of guy. She looks really cute with her butt hanging out of her harness and her yellow safety helmet on her head. She scales the tree like a monkey. Our Hippie, already at the top platform commends her on the great speed she makes up the side of the tree.

But what I see brings back my dread. In this one spot she struggles a bit, stretched to her long, lanky max. She works it out but I’m worried. I’m shorter and stumpier than my supermodel-sized boyfriend. How am I going to shrimp it up that tree?

Once Dashiell is situated on the top platform, I begin my own scramble. I start out good enough, sticking my hiking boots onto the pegs, climbing and hefting myself upwards. I’m pleased that my hiking boots, thrifted purely for fashion purposes, are seeing some real action. But I’m a little concerned about my jeans. They’re tight. Really tight.

They LOOKED correct this morning, when I put them on: my townie-style Boston hoodie, these jeans, and my hiking boots. What a great outfit! It looked so legitimate, like I was going to shoot an Urban Outfitters catalog posing as a tree-climber!

But now, about a quarter of the way up the tree, I find that these jeans, which looked so right, are seriously restricting my mobility. I learned the hard way not to wear tight jeans to meditate at the Zen Center; now it seems another denim lesson was in store, here in the wilds of Arcata.

image

“You’re doing great!” Our Hippie hollers down from the platform, and Dashiell echoes, “Great job, Baby!” But I can’t pay attention to them. I’m breathing pretty hard. My focus is entirely on the tree before me.

I’m relying on Buddhism right now, mindfulness. I’m relying on my 12-step practice -- Just do the next right thing. I can feel muscles I don’t use suddenly called into action. I’m doing an okay good job staying one peg ahead of my mounting panic, but then I get to this part of the trunk where one peg is right HERE and the next peg is UP THERE, and I can’t lift my leg high enough to put my boot on it. I stall out, hovering.

“You want to rest?” Our Hippie asks. Resting means he holds your rope and you can sort of dangle alongside the tree. Dashiell did it on his way up, it’s no big deal. But I’m actually having a bit of a panic attack now. And I don’t think stopping is the best idea. I’ve got to plow through this. I can’t tell them I’m having a panic attack, either; it would just give it space to grow. FOCUS,  FOCUS. I’m staring straight into the rough, fissured bark of this giant living thing. 

“I love you, tree,” I tell the tree. I don’t want to waste my breath, but when I almost drowned that time in Mexico, talking out loud cut through my panic a little. And I do love the tree.

Making a connection with the tree I’m struggling up can only be helpful. I try to lift my leg higher but can’t. 

I can always go back down the tree. But this cost eighty bucks! That’s OK. Consider it a donation to the benevolent lifestyle of Our Hippie. You can do whatever you want, I tell myself. And it’s true. But would Dashiell be disappointed in me?

I think about it. She’s too understanding to be disappointed. It’s not that. It’s that I wouldn’t get to feel how PROUD she’d be of me if I kept going. And what about our BABY? Did I want our child to think her Mom was a wimp, a person who doesn’t push herself, doesn’t try, succumbs to panic? 

I clutch a peg with one hand, and with the other I grab and LIFT my leg up the side of the tree onto the peg. It takes almost everything out of me, but I have to keep moving or the shaky weakness will set in and spread. I pull myself up the tree with my arms, and climb onto the next peg.

I’m doing it. I don’t feel triumphant, though. I’m still in a state, not sure if I’m going to reach the top. When I hit the bottom platform I pull myself onto it with my belly and just lay there.

 You can take a break, it’s totally all right,” Our Hippie says cheerfully.

 “I’m having a panic attack.” It now seems safe to tell them.

“Totally understandable,” Says Our Hippie, still in his chipper-casual voice. “It’s not natural to be so far off the ground. I’m used to it, but when I first started, it was different.”

He goes on to tell me about how he went surfing a few days ago and let himself go out further than he should have and had a panic attack of his own. It occurs to me that maybe you don’t want to climb a Redwood tree with a thrill-seeker who doesn’t know his limits, but I resist the thought. I really do feel in good hands with Our Hippie.

I lean back against the trunk and try to steady my breathing. I close my eyes, but the view is too beautiful. Blue sky and golden sunshine coming through the cracks of the deep green canopy. I look around, look down. The height doesn’t bother me, it was the struggle, my body’s feeling of being trapped and incompetent.

Our Hippie is jabbering about the Redwoods, which annoys me until I realize he’s trying to distract me from my panic and keep me in the present. Even though my breathing is weird and trembling, I decide to follow his lead, and tell him that I worked as a phone fundraiser for Forests Forever for years, back when I was in my early 20s and pretty unhireble, showing up to my interview in a torn polka dot dress that looked like a circus leftover.

But it didn’t matter what I looked like cause no one saw me. It only mattered that I could talk passionately about trees and not take No for an answer, two things I excelled at. We worked to protect the Redwaters Forest, an ancient stand of trees not too far from where we were now.

“Thank you for your service,” Our Hippie says sincerely, and then I really love him. And his talking-plan worked -- I feel better. I hate -- HATE -- that I still have to scale another five feet, but Dashiell is up there, and I want to see her face so bad, want to hug her and kiss her so powerfully that it fuels the last, complicated stretch, and I’m there.

70 feet above the ground, the Redwood I professed my love to rising to an unfathomable height above us. I get my hug and my kiss and feel Dashiell’s pride and I’m so glad I didn’t punk out back there when things got hard. 

image

“This is just like in The Bachelor, when they walked the Bay Bridge together,” Dashiell whispers in my ear. It’s true! We’re already closer, Dashiell and I. It’s our first moment of adversity bonding!

My former relationships were nothing BUT adversity bonding, the adversity being the relationship itself, but we haven’t really had any problems except her PMS that once and now this tree.

The zipping is fast and fun and over in like five minutes. It seems ridiculous that you spend so much time prepping and training and climbing the goddamn tree, for just a few minutes of zipping.

image

“You guys want to go around a few more times?” Our Hippie asks. “This might be a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

“Oh, it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” I assure him. To zip again means I’d half to climb that five feet between platforms again, and guess what? I never want to do that ever afuckinggain. 

 “I think I’m cool,” I say casually.

“Me too,” Dashiell agrees. 

Later we soak in some sort of giant Scandanavian hot tub that looks like the soup pot Elmer Fudd tricks Bugs Bunny into. I look for giant carrots floating around us. In bed that night at the Hotel Arcata, the activity in my womb keeps me awake -- it feels hot and alive, jumpy. I’m totally ovulating.

I’ve been studying my body like a subject, and I get it. I’m glad I got inseminated yesterday, but wish I was able to do it RIGHT NOW, or at least tomorrow. But tomorrow is Quentin’s Roller Skating Birthday, and we’re going to miss it anyway, the drive back is so long.

I fall asleep thinking about a sperm climbing up through my body, up, up, up, til it reaches the top.