“The hair on my arms stood straight up and that’s when I knew.”
I asked you to meet me at the plum tree, so it could help explain how I came to live in Cape Breton, but I have something to share before we are ready for that class. The plum will present it’s lesson tomorrow, although it will make it’s appearance before the end of today’s post, if all goes well. Today, we read the pre-amble. Written by your substitute teacher.
First we have to talk about the goosebumps.
As a child, I associated “the goosebumps” with a getting a full-on case of the creeps. Apparently, this physiological response is part of our body’s “alert system” – a flashing light on our master console letting us know that pressure is building and we may need to do something – like perhaps put on a coat, change our phone number or swing a large stick.
I think we associate goosebumps with things that are “creepy” because they often accompany the unknown, and there is sometimes an element of suspense mixed in. Humans aren’t big fans of the unknown, so there is often a bit of discomfort. It’s connected to our survival instincts.
Picture a dog, cozy in her bed, suddenly hearing a loud noise outside the door. Imagine the cocking of her head, gaze locked on the door handle; the little hairs on her neck bristling ever so slightly. It is as if someone has whispered “on your mark” into her ear- and she is waiting for the “get set…go!”
Those hairs that bristled also make her look bigger (Pippa’s don’t do much, being a dog with little fur, but she, too, bristles) which will be helpful if the noise turns out to be much larger than she, is frothing at the mouth, breathes fire or upon entry into her domain, eyes her liver treats with ill intent.
But for now, she is simply on alert. After all, it could be the case of squeaky squirrels she ordered last week on eBay. She is salivating and bristling…. at the same time.
Before that door opens, all scenarios are equally possible. She knows that.
But, if she is a creature who has experienced a disproportionate number of dragons to deliver men, subsequent loud noises might cause her to expect that what will happen next will possibly torch her Kingdom.
We aren’t so different from animals, really. Like that dog, a loud noise or the unknown will put me on full alert. If I have the goosebumps, you can pry an unopened Toblerone from my clenched fist and I won’t even notice. Having met a couple dragons over the years, I know the benefits of being fully focused. But I also know the downsides. The pre-occupation. The slow leaching of joy from my joy-pond. The aching muscles and lack of sleep.
So, I practice being equally prepared for the case of squirrels, and that has made all the difference. It also makes the time before knowing what’s behind the door much more pleasant. I mean, before I open the door, it could be anything. Gram always told me, when I worried about what would happen next, “Don’t suffer before you have to.” I try to remember this.
I have come to experience the goosebumps quite pleasantly. I can allow myself to be bigger, not because I’m expecting the need to protect myself, but because I am preparing to receive something, and that something could be valuable information, the delivery of a gift, a realization, or the arrival of an important person into my life. It might even be a package I specifically ordered last week, but forgot all about. With practice, it seems my instinct now picks up more subtle information. Not just the frothy-mouthed stuff.
I have come to think of the hair on my arms, or the back of my neck, as rising to meet important occasions.
I recently shared my musings about goosebumps with a friend and she lit up like a Christmas tree, happy to meet someone in her tribe. She said her goosebumps tell her when “Spirit” is in the room. “Spirit” being who she calls the caring, guiding force in her life. Some people call this “God” or “Higher Power” or an Angel. When we think of it in relation to animals, we might call it instinct. Regardless, it is mostly invisible, and easily missed. I added her musings to mine, and enjoyed the mingling.
Anyway, on the occasion of meeting the plum tree I am finally about to introduce, I am standing at the edge of a meadow, close to a river, in a place that I don’t yet know the name of, but will soon call Hillsborough. I’m looking for my forever home.
There is heavy spring rain pooling in my eyes, a burr stuck to my sweater and frigid river-water in my boot. I have been walking for a couple hours through thick brush and forest, following old trails with a local man who I suspect is assessing my suitability for life in his neighbourhood, and, I imagine, my capacity to appreciate the special nature of the land on which we stand.
He takes a break from this important task, and turns his assessment skills to a naked tree. It’s very early spring, and because I haven’t yet met the trees, it has no distinguishing characteristics to my eyes aside from simply being a tree. No leaves yet; no fruit. No cones, notable bark, or name.
I watch his hands measure it’s girth and I observe his internal measuring tape as it reaches the top branches. After a long moment he says. “This must be it. This is it. I ate plums from this tree as a boy; best plums I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
He knows this tree. Among all the others, that to my eyes seem all the same, this one is special.
And that’s when it happened; an all-system alert. Both arms, fully bristled. I’m sure hair on my arms isn’t just standing up, it’s growing.
I stand at attention, wipe the rain out of my eyes and flick off the burr. Another tree -with the same seemingly nebulous characteristics – is growing about twenty feet away. They grow toward one another, their branches curving until they touch one another above our heads. They are clearly a couple, and I am in their arms.
I gaze out to where I know the road to be, and feel, with absolute certainty, that I will live between these two plum trees. I will see the next chapter of my life unfold through this archway; out this plum-window. Embraced in a plum-hug.
I turn to my guide, this stranger who will soon become a dear friend, and pass my hand over my arm, all goose-y and bumpy, and a little shiver runs through my body.
Yes, this must be it. This is it.