When I was a kid, fishermen spread their nets to dry in the field across the street. My brother and I learned to ride bikes in this field; on crabgrass, hay, rocks and these fishing nets which caught our tires in outsized, barnacly spider webs and sent us flying. We knew this terrain and not much else, so we flew. And fell, flew and fell. Didn’t bother us, so we didn’t ask questions. The dog looked bothered, had questions, when her collar was caught and she came home dragging heavy old fish parts, but we didn’t know there were ways to fly without tripping on salty knots. Which maybe there aren’t. And it was pretty funny, the dog and her gross, fishy veil. We weren’t sleepwalking, we were dreaming.
Years later, I painstakingly brought a dead lawn back to life, then mowed it in the moonlight with an ancient, rusty push mower. In my nightgown, feet wet with pre-dew, while my son watched from his bedroom window. When I paused to calm our alarmed kitten, he called down, “It’s gonna be okay, Mom.” Which made me think it wasn’t, but it was sweet of him.
In the morning, I studied the grass with my neighbor, a perpetually stoned stoner. “I don’t think this is grass,” he said. And he was right. It turned out to be a sort of crabby, hay mixture that grows best in rocky New England soil and was only missing old fishnets. I stared down. Huh. I’d never seen this guy not completely baked and his brain still worked better than mine. “As long as you like it,” he said. “Don’t let the lawn contingent get you down.”
“Yeah. It’s still kinda pointy, though.”
He knelt, touching a thick, rough blade. “I don’t know how you mowed this stuff. It’s not really lawn as much as, like, terrain.”
I lived in the high desert above Joshua Tree, stumbling over boulders and rattlesnakes; in Portland, OR, where I slid through mud on hyper-green hills in Forest Park and stepped over sidewalk junkies; in heavy New Orleans, pushing through swamp air and tripping over Mardi Gras debris, etc. In other words, I move a lot and there’s always some reason to fall.
Where I live now, in California, there’s a cliff over the ocean. If you look down to where we swim most mornings, you can see circling leopard sharks. On the opposite coast is another cliff overlooking another ocean. If you look down there you can see the ghosts of my friends perched on mussels and barnacles, laughing over cheap beer. The grass in my California yard is AstroTurf; around my east coast friends and their ghosts and the barnacles still grows that hearty, pointy, crabby stuff.
Some of these people tripped and fell and just stayed down, no sharks needed. Dead or alive, they sleepwalk.
And some learned to walk awake, albeit idiosyncratically. They keep walking, on surreal terrain because to them, reality is a question and therefore worth study. My stoner neighbor: “It’s all fuckin’ surreal!” If you can’t stop dreaming, you test your footing, make shit up to keep yourself from repeating others’ mistakes, make new rules and break old ones. The opposite of standing on the shoulders of giants, I guess, because you don’t avoid mistakes, just don’t suffer for them. These mistakes were designed by you, for you: colors you need.
I watched my four sons learn to walk…painstakingly, lots of falling. Years and years of falling. My children are my best friends, my heroes. Salty, knotted souls fly hard and fall harder; so wicked cool to watch glee and desperation blend. Stumbling cut feet, and so much laughing. They dream.