Fighting Fear with a Fork
Fierce winds ripped huge branches off the thousand-year-old redwood, sending them crashing to the ground two hundred feet below. The upper platform, where I lived, rested in branches about one hundred eighty feet in the air, twenty feet below the very top of the tree, and it was completely exposed to the storm. There was no ridge to shelter it, no trees to protect it. There was nothing.
As the tree branches whipped around, they shredded the tarp that served as my shelter. Sleet and hail sliced through the tattered pieces of what used to be my roof and walls. Every new gust flipped the platform up into the air, threatening to hurl me over the edge.
I was scared. I take that back. I was terrified. As a child, I experienced a tornado. That time I was scared. But that was a walk in the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon compared to this. The awesome power of Mother Nature had reduced me to a groveling half-wit fighting fear with a paper fork.
Rigid with terror, I couldn't imagine how clinging to a tiny wooden platform for dear life could possibly be part of the answer to the prayer I had sent to Creation that day on the Lost Coast. I had asked for guidance on what to do with my life. I had asked for purpose. I had asked to be of service. But I certainly never figured that the revelation I sought would involve taking up residence in a tree that was being torn apart by nature's fury.
Strangely enough, though, that's how it turned out. As I write this at the age of twenty-five, I've been living for more than two years in a two-hundred-foot-tall ancient redwood located on Pacific Lumber property. I have survived storms, harassment, loneliness, and doubt. I have seen the magnificence and the devastation of a forest older than almost any on Earth. I live in a tree called Luna. I am trying to save her life.
Believe me, this is not what I intended to do with my own.
I suppose if I look back (or down, as the case may be), my being here isn't all that accidental. I can see now that the way I was raised and what I was raised to believe probably prepared me for where I am now, high in this tree, with few possessions and plenty of convictions. I couldn't be here without some deep faith that we all are called to do something with our lives--a belief I know comes from directly from my parents, Dale and Kathy--even if that path leads us in a different direction from others.
Even when I was a child, we hardly lived what people would call a normal life. Many of my early memories are full of religion. My father was an itinerant preacher who traveled the country's heartland preaching from town to town and church to church. My parents, my two brothers, Michael and Daniel, and I called a camping trailer home (excellent preparation for living on a tiny platform), and we went wherever my father preached. My parents really lived what they believed; for them, lives of true joy came from putting Jesus first, others second, and your own concerns last.
Not surprisingly, we were very poor, and my parents taught us how to save money and be thrifty. Growing up this way also taught us to appreciate the simple things in life. We paid our own way as much as possible; I got my first job when I was about five years old, helping my brothers with lawn work. We'd make only a buck or so, but to us that was a lot. I had my share of fun, but I definitely grew up knowing what responsible meant. My folks taught me that it was not just taking care of myself but helping others, too. At times, like right now, I have lived hand to mouth. But I knew that sometimes the work of conveying the power of the spirit, the truth as I understood it, was as important as making money. I've always felt that as long as I was able, I was supposed to give all I've got to ensure a healthy and loving legacy for those still to come, and especially for those with no voice. That is what I've done in this tree.
By the time I was in high school in Arkansas, life settled down for us, and I lived the life of an average teenager, working hard and playing hard. I knew how to have fun, and I enjoyed myself and the time I spent with my friends. I was a bit aimless, volunteering for a teen hot line here, modeling a bit there, saving money to move out on my own. I suppose I had the regular dreams of a regular person.
All that changed forever, though, that night in August 1996 when the Honda hatchback I was driving was rear-ended by a Ford Bronco. The impact folded the little car like an accordion, shoving the back end of the car almost into the back of my seat. The force was so great that the stereo burst out of its console and bent the stick shift. Though I was wearing a seat belt, which prevented me from being thrown through the windshield, my head snapped back into the seat, then slammed forward onto the steering wheel, jamming my right eye into my skull. The next morning when I woke up, everything hurt. "I feel like I've been hit by a truck," I said out loud, and then I started to laugh. "Wait a minute, I was hit by a truck! "
Although the symptoms didn't surface immediately, it turned out that I had suffered some brain damage. It took almost a. . .(Continues...)