Dreaming of Fire in the Woods

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In a therapeutic process a couple of years back, I was given a set of guiding principles that I knew to be a form of bedrock for me. Like dream images, or prayer, I sometimes have trouble keeping them in mind and have to be re-minded. The first one is to listen to my spiritual guidance. At the risk of trivializing what was a methodical and drawn-out process, I was led to quit my job two weeks ago. The events that brought me to that choice, including getting hit, metaphorically, by a truck that struck someone else in real life, are topics for another day.

Stepping away from a clock-in clock-out schedule has taken me even further from the life I once knew, and deeper into the mystic. Leaving the building after cleaning out my office (which still held a few items I had carried in 28 years prior), I was just in time for Dream Talk, a discussion group being held in the mansion where I had been staying. Listening to philosophy about dreams, hearing men and women talk about recurring themes, prophetic dreams, and lucid dreams, I knew I had fallen into the well, a profoundly replenishing place. I was overcome with the memories of dreams I had experienced decades prior, and had carried with me as storybooks written in my cells.

For the next week or so, I sat and waited for direction. Coming from a military background, I joked I was waiting for my orders. Finally I remembered, when a friend asked about my guiding principles, that I had an assignment. And I realized something simple – when given spiritual direction, sometimes I am so excited to have received the communication that I enthusiastically report it to others, and fail to act on it. Turns out just reporting it isn’t enough, and in my case, more is generally not revealed until I have acted on the guidance that has already been dispensed.

The assignment was to write a scroll of dreams. I had been given the materials (four years of hand-written dream journals in which I attempted to record every dream I could recall during that time period) and a beautiful, three-foot-wide roll of red rosin paper. Cheap, meant to be underfoot during construction projects, it was the humble and sturdy paper I needed.

I began in the center of the building I had lived in across from the zoo, where my tiny storage unit opens into a windowless, locked room. The space is not much more than a plywood hallway, just barely wider than the roll of paper. I swept the floor, rolled it out, and began to work. Using a black Sharpie, and aiming to stay true to the original documentation, I began transcribing the dream journals.

When I had first been given the intuition that I was to write a scroll of dreams, I imagined it would be work. I had not anticipated that I would immediately fall into a state that rivals a dream state, a trance of reliving these stories that had never actually happened, the sights and sounds and shadowy figures returning as worn and mysterious friends. I was in no time addicted. Hours passed as I kneeled over the paper, deciphering the sleepy handwriting from my hypnogogic state of four years prior, reentering the fragmented narrative of my unconscious mind. Many had asked me where I would go first when I quit my job. Backwards in time, and below, it turns out.

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Soon I had to leave the plywood hallway and head for the Loess Hills in western Iowa, where I had been given permission to participate in a controlled burn on 850 acres, an effort to support native prairie restoration among other objectives. A few of my own acres of hill ground would be included. The farm is near the middle of Monona County, and the nearly 100-year-old house has no visible neighbors. One of the rooms had been gutted due to water damage, and is the only room with new drywall and pristine white walls. It hosts a large window facing north with a view of the road and the pond. The red scroll of dreams was draped over a Formica-top table my parents purchased in California about fifty years ago, the roll itself resting on a chair underneath. As I waited for weather conditions to be right for burning, I transcribed.

For days I leaned over this table, black Sharpie replaced by black Sharpie as the tips wore down, and at times light poured in the window and at other times the overhead light in the room was required. The wood floor in that room is painted around the edges, forming a bare-wood rectangle in the center where my oldest neighbor tells me the rug would have been – they would not have wanted to waste paint. I had one song on repeat, and it played day and night as I wrote. Snow fell, and I cooked and ate and returned to the scroll.

Finally, conditions were right. The coordinator of the burn called, and I met the fire crew the next morning in the closest town, and stood with them as we were briefed. The perimeter of the fire would be eight and a half miles, and the two crews, east and west, would stay in contact through walkie-talkies. Maps of the site were distributed, a system to pull water from my pond was set up, someone loaned me a pair of leather gloves, and we set off. The fire would be started at the edge of my property. I was handed a drip torch, and set the ditch on fire.

Soon many acres were burning, and smoke filled the valley. The crews moved on to the next area, and the next, sending someone back regularly to check areas already burned. My duties ended, and I sat with a friend behind the garage in the sun,  feeling the effects of my efforts, gazing at the blackscape of hills, and watching the smoke plume over the timber. At times we could hear the crackling.

And this is my life these days. I am writing a scroll of dreams in a forest fire. It has required me to situate myself in the center of the building. It is a joyous task, and the text on the paper is now about eight feet deep. The profound wisdom of the unconscious is revealing itself to me in a way I was blind to at the time the dreams occurred. I’ll be at this awhile.

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