Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Story.

My blog thus far has been a collection of stories about my life. Stories of my experiences, my thoughts, and, early on, the inevitable "top ten" type lists of a new blogger. This is my 100th post on this blog and I'm taking this opportunity to talk about story; and it's going to be a long one.

"We are all storytellers."

Whitestone Motion Pictures, one of my favorite groups of filmmakers, reminds us of this on their website. Story is of course an integral part of film-making; The saying goes that the three most important parts of a film are story, story, and story.

One of the most prolific ways to tell a story these days is with moving images. In the past music, words, paintings, dance, and even cave drawings were the most common way to tell a story. Our methods for telling stories has changed and evolved over time but the stories remain, and the way they start is always the same, birth.

I believe that stories are the basis of humanity. More than that, I believe stories are humanity. In our daily lives storytelling rivals all other activities put together. Even in our sleep we do nothing but immerse ourselves in the stories of our dreams. The truest form of human expression is storytelling. Every art form is portraying a story; Music, painting, literature, acting, and sculpture are ALL filled with the stories being told by their creators and heard by others.

Some stories are better than others, some stories aren't true. Some stories are true but we don't believe them. There are even some stories that might be better left untold.

When we are young we create, we invent, we build the world around us because there is no world yet inside of us. We pretend the trees are castles and the dogs are dragons and the ground is lava. Nothing is defined, nothing is everything. There is no limit.

As we grow up we discover that there is a story that we haven't entirely imagined. The story of us. We've told stories about the world around us but now we start to tell the story inside us. We start to tell the story that becomes us.

Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always, All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This story we make of ourselves doesn't include everything we do. It isn't absolute truth, it is the way we perceive ourselves. It is a similar relationship to that between the author of a book and the reader of a book. The author may have intended or may believe that his/her book will be and should be interpreted in a specific way but they have no actual control over what a reader may glean from that book once it is written, nor should they.

Put simply it becomes laughably obvious; People don't see themselves the way other people see them.

Because we do see the stories in the lives of those we meet, we incorporate what we like from their stories into our own. In this way everyone has a hand in the stories of the world.

I cannot better describe the nature of stories without now stopping and telling you a story.

Over the summer I went on my annual family vacation to Swan's Island. Swan's Island is the setting for a large majority of my childhood stories about the world and it has in large part shaped the story I tell of myself. This summer was one of the best weeks I've ever spent there, despite it being shorter than most.

I landed on the island this year with a renewed sense of adventure and discovery thanks in part to a newcomer to the island, my friend Josh. Because everything was new to him and he has a propensity to explore we discovered locations on the island which none of us had ever seen. One such location was Noah's Ballast, a geographical anomaly on top of Goose Pond Mtn.

In past years we had tried but never succeeded in finding Goose Pond (at the base of the mountain) because of its location deep within the woods. This year we were determined and, no longer armed with a rudimentary map of the island but instead a GPS-connected cell phone we drove off down a narrow dirt road which would ostensibly lead us to the elusive Goose Pond. The rough dirt road (see map) occasionally changed to include sharp, head-sized chunks of gravel which looked mean enough to pop a tire. Still we pressed on, the familiar sight of coastal forest pressing in around us. After several watery stretches of road and some more sharp rocks we spotted an expanse of water through the trees. We had finally discovered Goose Pond. It was a beautiful sight, the tranquil water lying nearly level with the shoreline around it. We explored around the pond for a while and Josh even went for a swim (before we were informed the local leech-infested-waters story was a hoax) but after a while a desire to continue our trek surfaced. The next hurdle was the mountain (only 214' but remember this is on an island).

We set off on a gentle, winding path through the trees next to the pond and in a relatively short period of time we reached the top. 214 feet may not be much but when you are looking into the infinite ocean you don't need much height to be impressed. The view was not what we were here for though. Before we left on our trip we had been shown a map of the island with Goose Pond and many other interesting sites labeled. Some places even had a small picture drawn next to them including the lighthouse, ferry, and noah's ballast.

So according to the picture we were looking for two or three abnormally large rocks resting somewhere near the peak. We figured it shouldn't be hard to find.

Indeed we were soon greeted with the sight of a pile of dozens of boulders tumbled together in a strip about forty feet across and twenty feet wide. It was an impressive sight and did indeed look like the ballast of some great ship from long ago. We were surprised at the number of rocks, we had been expecting maybe six or seven at most, not two dozen.

We clambered over the rocks and walked around a small stand of trees.

A stretch 215' long and 85' wide opened before us. Hundreds upon hundreds of white and grey granite boulders ranging from the size of a desk to a small car were piled up several deep over the entire expanse.

All of us stood stunned for a brief moment before letting out various exclamations of surprise and awe.


The area stood out in stark contrast to the green of the forest around. The trees had obviously lost the battle in this area. I could see small, Charlie Brown sized trees here and there amid the rocks, as dry and dead as if they'd tried growing in the Sahara. Looking closely at the edge of the expanse I could see that the boulders continued off into the woods on all sides, hardly visible as they were covered in rich thick moss under the protective shade of the branches.

Brazenly moving forward into the field of boulders we all lightly stepped over holes between the jumbled mass. Looking down I could not see the ground the boulders rested upon, I still don't know how deep the pile goes.

Looking up from my careful footfalls I saw that the tall tree I had assumed was just jutting in from the edge of the forest was in fact set apart from the rest of the forest, it had somehow managed to survive in the harsh, dry, tumble of stone.

This tree captivated me. Not only was it surviving amid the harsh rocks, it was thriving. A juniper-like plant sprawled out from beneath the tree a couple feet in all directions, obscuring the rocks beneath and preventing safe passage to the base of the tree. The branches of the tree were sloped down and spread, obscuring the trunk almost entirely.

By this time my mind had filled with imagined stories of this place. It felt so powerful, so important and unique a place that it needed equally powerful stories. Obviously those who had named the place felt the same way. I pictured what they had, a ship of unparalleled size dropping a load of ballast as the waters grew calm and receded.

Then my mind filled with the fantasies of youth.
I imagined the bravery, power, and kindness of the lone central tree and how it protected the few plants around it with its shade. I imagined the small birch tree, the only other tree to break from the solid edge of the forest, as a supplicant to the great tree, just as brave but not as strong. I imagined druids and magics being performed around the great tree, shattering the earth into chunks. I imagined a system of tunnels, formed from the spaces between the rocks, leading downward into the earth.

My mind filled with the stories of our natural world.
I imagined the battle between the forest and the stone as an epic struggle between raw forces of nature. I imagined the sheer weight and power of the glacier that had deposited the stones here in some distant past. The slow, halting, grinding movement of a million tons of ice. I imagined the distance the rocks had travelled. The island is made primarily of pink granite, the boulders are of a granite not found on the island at all. I imagined the billions of atoms forming the world around me and how amazing that is.

As I circled the tree and clambered amongst the stones I spotted a small opening in the branches at the base of the tree. I struggled for a moment, trying to
find the means, against all instinct, to honor mystery.
-Wayland Drew "The Erthring Cycle"
I did not find those means, but I found a way in.

I nearly slipped into a crevice when I stepped on a loose stone the juniper obscured from view but I managed to grab a nearby branch and work my way to the base of the trunk.

It is fitting that I thought of the quote from The Erthring Cycle as I entered the tree because much of the novel takes place on the island of Yggdrasil, named for the tree of life. From the inside the branches were amazingly complex. Starting only an inch or two from the bottom of the trunk they snaked along the ground and curved up and down in fantastic combinations. As I sat there quietly my fellow travelers noticed my absence and called out to me, wondering where I had gone. I remained silent for a moment, wrapped in the stories and the branches, sheltered by thoughts and boughs alike.

I broke my silence "I'm in the tree!"

My sister responded "Is it like a Wayward Pine?"

She was referring to a special tree where one could take shelter from the rain and the world which appears in one of my favorite book series' "The Sword of Truth." And, while not altogether what I envisioned a Wayward Pine to be, I could picture taking shelter under the branches for a night and staring upward through the needles at the night sky while wisps darted between the stones. I could imagine being part of a narrative as complex as this tree. This tree which defied all odds by growing and thriving in the middle of the chaos of the stones. A narrative stretching to the sky with a strong central trunk and each branch a pathway snaking out and spreading into the light, forking and twisting, splitting into smaller and smaller paths, ending in countless twigs and needles. I watched the needles shifting in the light breeze, each one tracing its story back through a twig, across a branch, down the trunk, and into the Earth.

I left the tree, I left Noah's Ballast, I left Swan's Island. I'm still telling my story.

The story of humanity continues to fork and grow. Seven billion souls shifting in the breeze on a small blue marble.
The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
"The Speed of Darkness" by Muriel Rukeyser‬