Breathing

30

DECEMBER 2018

Coastal mountains stretch along the western edge of North America like an undulating salamander, green and moist and cool. Perch somewhere along her spine. Make yourself small and unnoticeable. Become dark and still on a winter evening when night seeps in like cold spring water. You can feel the rise and fall of her breathing, slow and intermittent, barely perceptible, as though breathing were optional and she could inhale the universe through the skin of conifers covering the rippling ridges of her ribs and vertebrae.

After you become tiny and alone, let your eyes close in the easy darkness. You begin to notice that each subtle breath of these mountains is really a summation of many small breaths: inhalations of moss, sword fern, salal, becoming larger: vine maple, yew, cascara, becoming larger: western hemlock, Douglas-fir, red cedar. There are exhalations of elk, bear, deer, becoming smaller: mountain beaver, rough-skinned newt, Pacific Wren, becoming smaller: centipede, millipede, longhorn beetle, becoming even smaller: protozoa and bacteria more numerous than stars in the universe stretching infinitely away above black ridges.

You are very small. Does your inconsequential existence leave you discomfited? You might pretend to be large. This is of no real help. The vastness of these heaving mountains, the sheer weight of their being and all the beings that reside within them is overwhelming. You might try to disappear. This is of no help either. Cold air on your cheeks, the smell of winter leaf rot, twitter of a Screech Owl from the valley bottom, even that dull seep of pain from your arthritic shoulder are reminders of your one-and-only existence.

There is only one remedy for your insignificance. Recognize that you squirm for a reason. It is the illusion of your separateness. Take a breath. Inhale the swirl of oxygen gifted by the slow breathing of conifers, feel each molecule cling to the iron redness of your blood. Let your steamy exhalation join the vapor emanating from the moist nostrils of the pregnant doe bedded at the base of a rotting stump. This collective outward rush forms a vast pool of carbon dioxide, a reciprocal offering to the trees. You will expand to the measure of your awareness.

Then do one more thing. Open your skin to the universe.

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