If you had a choice, how would you prefer to come back in your next life? Ever since I decided to make friends with death, as the saying goes, it has been inevitable that my friend Adrienne and I would have an extended discussion on the topic.
How would you care to be reborn? She asked the other day. I did not require much time to dream up an answer. I would like to spend a life among the redwoods.
My friend pondered this a moment. She suggested I might go a step further—to actually become a redwood. This did capture my imagination. Admittedly, my first response was tinged by my chagrin that in this life I will almost certainly never spend a season—a few weeks would be enough, an entire quarter would be heavenly—among the towering giants of Northern California. So when it comes to rebirth, why not an entire lifetime? And not such a crimped and truncated life—no more than a virtual shudder—as is allotted to even the longest-lived humans. Imagine! A life so long, measured in hundreds, even thousands of years—a span so huge it would wash away my limited notions of longevity.
I went away with a curious notion logged in my mind—that somehow if you volunteer for certain roles in the next life, there’s an entity out there that evaluates your worthiness. Kind of like applying for an exclusive graduate seminar.
But wait! I am getting carried away. Who’s to guarantee we will not experience another paroxysm of harvesting the redwoods. Ah, the redwoods would be shattered, whether or not they understood—the period of human solicitude was no more than s hideous belch. Then again, it’s all too easy to imagine severe climate change bringing a drought so severe that these remarkable giants lose their ability to bring up water from their roots. Not even their needles could absorb the mist before it boiled away. Or suppose a natural enemy—an as-yet unknown life form—appeared, leaving the sequoias unprotected. Virtually wiped out in a human lifespan.
I went away with a curious notion logged in my mind—that somehow if you volunteer for certain roles in the next life, there’s an entity out there that evaluates your worthiness. Kind of like applying for an exclusive graduate seminar. Suppose I started out somewhere short of being a redwood itself. Maybe I could be a kind of intern, cycling through shorter training sessions as one of the species of creatures that live only in redwood crowns. I imagined there must be a documentary about these beings but haven’t found it online. So, rather than pretending to be a naturalist exploring my future entity, please let me entertain you with images of two heroic figures in the battle to save the redwoods: The marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl. Their range is greater than the redwoods,’ but certainly fighting to save them helps preserve the big trees. *
Now, nearing the end of this epistle, I fear that I have misrepresented its chronology, as if Adrienne’s purpose in life is only to help me find a way through mine. But please be assured that I asked at the very outset what she would like to return as in her next life. Her answer came swiftly. I would like to be a dog in my next life, with an owner like me.
Over the 25 years I have known Adrienne, I have had the opportunity of make the acquaintance of two of her dogs. Both have been magnificent, devoted to Adrienne in ways that suited her life’s circumstances. And these dogs have been among my teachers. When I first met Adrienne I was still struggling to overcome a lifetime fear of dogs. As for her current dog, our second meeting had a profound impact on me. When I arrived at Adrienne’s studio, she and the dog were out tending a sidewalk espalier. The dog, spotting me when I was nearly a block off, lifted a howl of welcome. Clearly, I was already one of her people. Maybe the divine arbiters would write another steppingstone into my path to the redwoods—allowing me a short life as a dog under the care of an owner like Adrienne.
Another of my confidantes balks at this conclusion. She says the ending is too abrupt. There should be a second epistle on this subject. Well, of course I agree, but I don’t know what it will say. We are a bunch of naïfs, tantalized by the specter of future lives. We’re wishful, but we don’t believe. It could be that we will never reach that state—at least not in this life.
*_In all, 151 species of insects and 37 arachnids are known to be associated with the giant sequoia in that they use it to complete some part of their life cycle Disease: At least nine fungi have been found associated with decayed giant sequoia wood. How far will my apprenticeship keep my soul tied up? May I speed dial through all those fungi?