It’s not a glamorous place to become a healer/poet. It’s neither east, nor west in the lower peninsula. Even to say peninsula gives you the idea of water nearby, but Eaton County, Michigan isn’t the place to find much of that. It’s undulating country sides– ‘hilly’ may be too extreme a description. To the settlers of mid-lower-Michigan, it must have been an amazing oasis. Because the land is so green! And there’s a lot of it. I grew up on a part of it that had an oak tree to look at across a field. And a young patch of trees on our side. On a patch my grandparents divided off from their holdings and sold to my folks when they had kids. If you walked the length and stood at opposite ends of their properties, you’d have about eight miles between them. You could see each other through a spy glass. I was a child of this land. My first good poem was written standing on the crust of snow barefoot—it took my eight year old weight. The three pine trees near the road stood with me at midnight and looked up reverently at the full moon. “It’s daytime now, in brisk of night…” As the crow flies, my great-great grandparents are buried six miles to the northwest and I always want to go to the graves. No one is left named Shotwell, so I find it fascinating to go to the tiny roadside patch. I think mom’s granddad mows the grass there, otherwise it would swallow the twelve headstones entirely.
Michigan is a place where things grow. Farmers, saplings, soy beans. I would lie on my back in the grass and stare up. A lot. I was bored but when I scratched the surface, the land would take me over, and—as I believe land should do-tell me why I was here, and what life is about. My philosophy of life was formed under the clouds and branches.
“Everybody knows everything all the time,” (they just choose different levels of forgetting or denial). And the big one, once I’d learned the law of thermo-dynamics at school…If matter is neither created nor destroyed, then we must be reincarnated, and our soul particles recombine to make each other. So we are one. And I’ve been everybody, and the plants and animals as well. This is how I know what everything feels like.
Because it turns out I’m empathic. I do know what it feels like to be someone else—I can feel them in my body. I can feel their power or weakness, their emotions and their pensive thinking. I can feel their stiff body or their burning throat. It’s like you stand in a flatbed truck and every bump of the road jars your bones.
Slightly, like a shadow, but I know…and I thought then that everyone must know, as I did. See the first philosophy. But even I could…It doesn’t do much good to be empathic when you can’t escape the people you’re resonating with.
There’s empathy, when you can feel another’s sensation or feelings, then sympathy, when you can imagine your own perspective on someone’s experience. With my husband, I was feeling everything he felt. We actually resonated together from each of our own sources. We were much alike. Restless, happy to break up routines, even supportive ones like keeping a job. Moving. We loved to travel. We roamed. I didn’t know now how much adaptation I did to his energy. It seemed equal then, but now it seems that I had jumped on his flatbed truck and was traveling entirely in his direction. The dangers of being an empath.
My sensitivity had steered me to going all the way toward someone else, so I even faced a different direction. It’s not that I chose to be like them—it’s that I was already being like them, and they have no say in it. They didn’t need to direct it.
Back to the land. Soil is brown. Where I come from. Grass is green, soil is brown. snow is white. One of the rudest discoveries later was that soil could be red or yellow in Atlanta or grass could be not green but brown year-long in Los Angeles for example, or there could be none in Arizona. The snow in Chicago was black gray and yellow. Wrong, wrong.
You can dig in the earth. In the Midwest, the earth is RIGHT THERE> It is half the scene. The sky is the other. The earth there, the sky, the rest. There aren’t mountains, obscuring the way, bends on a mysterious road…the roads were carved out of the squares and the trees mostly cleared long ago so the land below lays totally exposed to the sky above.
One thing that frustrated my dad is that I didn’t have an organized mind. Kids don’t. But me in particular. If I were born 20 years later, I might have been diagnosed with something.
I was a mole, a badger, a field mouse. I had the whiskers to know how tight a hole was, and the squishy joints to squeeze myself through. I liked to gather soft bits of leaves and fur around me to rest—my blankets heavy, if thin. I decorated my bedroom in green and redecorated it in pink flower trellis paper. Woodsy, yes very much. Michigan farms encourage a wet woodsiness. And a fondness for Wind in the Willows. It was common for me to wander away and get lost. But I always knew which direction I was facing where I had come from and could wind my way back. I had a really great sniffer on me. Like a mole, I can pick out a scent, tell you if something has the hint of lime versus lemon, or if a perfume has tuberose. Once I’d smelled tuberose, that is. Mammal for sure. Sensitive paws on the ground, 10 pink toes stuffing themselves into the topsoil. Heaven was a pile of sand, ready to be mixed into the concrete Dad poured in front of the barn. Pile of pea gravel, luscious up to my ankles. No caution, such a child in abandonment and forgetfulness.