(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser: April 2010)
Yesterday a tree fell on our car. Fortunately no one was in the car when the wind snapped the top third off the pine tree and a thousand pounds of soon-to-be firewood fell twenty feet though the crystalline springtime air and smashed the roof, the windshield, and the hood of our dearly beloved cello-toting 1996 Toyota Corolla wagon.
We had just gone for a brief spin in our old pickup truck, eschewing the wagon because she was low on gas, and I had just said to Marcia regarding the formidable westerly winds, “This is a trees-falling-on-power-lines kind of day if I’ve ever seen one.” Upon our return from the spin, there was Zephyr (so named in a fit of poesy when I bought her five years ago) half-buried under the glossy needles and sappy timber of the former upper reaches of a quasi-stunted pine doing his best to survive in that nutrient-stingy soil known hereabouts as Pygmy. The bottom two-thirds of the still-living tree loomed over the wreckage; the scene only lacking a raven perched on the stub cawing, “Nevermore.”
We were in shock. When we got married two plus years ago we not only exchanged rings, we exchanged cars. I needed a pickup for pruning jobs and toting manure, Marcia needed a zippy little car for the aforementioned cello toting and friend toting in all sorts of weather. Now Zephyr was totaled. Marcia immediately called AAA and within the hour we were on our way to Fort Bragg to pick up her rental car so the cello toting could continue unabated. Say what you will about the decline and fall of the American Empire, if one has comprehensive auto insurance, the system will seamlessly keep you rolling along. Now if only health insurance would work so seamlessly when trees, as it were, fall on your health.
What does it mean when a tree falls on your car? Well, the most mundane interpretation is that a tree falling on your car means that a tree has fallen on your car. But why did that particular tree fall on that particular car at that particular moment in our lives? Is this a sign? An omen? A message? Was this an act of divine intervention or an attack by the forces of evil? We will almost certainly never know. However, when things like this happen to me, I like to interpret them as I would interpret a dream. What for? Fun, of course.
I’ve read numerous books about dreams and dreaming, countless articles both scientific and fanciful, and I’ve even taken a dream interpretation class, which is the only class of any sort I’ve taken since dropping out of college forty-some years ago. My father was a Freudian psychoanalyst and cursorily introduced me to dream interpretation when I was twelve by giving me a copy of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a tome I found to be largely useless for my adolescent purposes. But what really got me interested in dreams and dream research was/were beagles.
I was a freshman Anthropology major at the University of California Santa Cruz in 1967, the campus just beginning to spread its concrete tentacles over the former cattle ranch and throughout the third and fourth-growth redwood groves. One of my favorite extracurricular activities was to head off into the largely unexplored woods and hope to get lost, so that in trying to find my way home I would have an adventure. This was a free and fairly safe way to experience the thrill of being lost, because going downhill from anywhere on the campus eventually brought me to a road; and I knew all the roads in that watershed.
So one sunny day I got lost in the forest, had a splendiferous daydream by a sun-dappled pool in a grotto of ferns, and at day’s end I headed downhill. I emerged from the forest in a place unknown to me and espied a cluster of a one-story buildings and a cyclone-fenced enclosure containing several dozen beagles. Curious about this remote installation, I made my way thither. The dogs saw me and charged en masse to the cyclone fence to bark at me. But their barking made no sound. I could see they were barking, but no noise was emanating from their mouths. So, yes, I thought I had gone deaf if not mad.
Totally freaked out (to use a popular expression of that era), I continued my approach and when I was within twenty feet of the pen, several of the hysterical dogs hurled themselves against the cyclone fencing, and I heard the noises their bodies made striking the fence, though nary a sound emerged from their furiously barking mouths. At which moment, a man emerged from one of the buildings, deduced I was the cause of the commotion, and said to me, “Looking for something?”
“I’m lost,” I said. “What is this place?”
“Dream research,” he explained. “We’re using the dogs to map sleep patterns, REM sleep and…”
“What’s REM sleep?”
“Rapid eye movement. Indicates dreaming.”
“What’s wrong with the dogs? Why can’t they bark?”
“We snip their vocal cords,” he said, inadvertently touching his throat. “Impossible to work with the constant din of their barking.”
“Oh,” I said, aghast at his nonchalance about taking away the dogs’ voices. “Why not use humans?”
“We’re laying the groundwork for that,” he said, somewhat condescendingly. “Establishing baselines. Things you probably wouldn’t understand.”
My reports of this canine gulag failed to incite my classmates to storm the lab and rescue the dogs, but something about that encounter and the dreamlike experience of coming upon a pack of silently barking hounds got me reading about sleep and dreams, which took me to Jung and back to Freud and eventually back to Jung, with my simultaneous readings in anthropology leading me to the Dreamtime of the Australian Aboriginals and the Bushmen of the Kalahari who believed there is a dream dreaming us.
Meanwhile, my pal Rico was en route to becoming a psychotherapist, and he, too, was fascinated with dreams and dream interpretation. It was Rico who taught me to recount my dreams out loud in the present tense, which technique invariably improved my recall of important and otherwise overlooked details of the dreams.
Eons later, I would enroll in a ten-week dream interpretation class taught by a brilliant man who was not keen on interpretations that deviated from his, so we butted heads, though I learned many things from him and appreciated the consistency and clarity of his system. And what I especially loved about his class was that we got to act out our dreams, with my fellow students and I taking parts of people and things in each other’s dreams, which enactments often exposed hidden emotions underpinning the dreams.
Then some years ago I caught the end of a radio program featuring a wonderfully articulate woman taking callers’ questions about dreams. A man called to say he wished he had a dream for her to interpret, but that he had never in his life remembered even the tiniest fragment of a dream. And the articulate woman said, “Then tell me what happened to you today and I will interpret that as a dream.”
I don’t remember much else about their interaction, but I have ever since interpreted puzzling and momentous events in my life as I would interpret dreams, from which many groovy insights have emerged. Thus I recommend the practice to you.
Here is the dream version of the tree falling on our car.
Marcia and I emerge from the house we rent and walk toward the Corolla (definition of corolla: the inner envelope of floral leaves of a flower).
“Oh,” says Marcia, “can we take the truck? The wagon’s low on gas.”
“Sure,” I say, noting the Corolla is parked in a place where we almost never park it.
So we take the truck and wend our way along a winding road through the forest, the spring day gorgeous and sunny. The next thing I know we are parking the truck on the side of the road and walking down a wooded driveway to a beautiful house set in a lovely park of old trees and verdant meadows. We pass the house and come to a vast barn-like structure, a fabulous studio on the shores of a lovely lake. In other words, paradise.
“If only this were ours,” we say and think and feel.
We get back in the truck and drive home, each of us lost in fantasies of such a paradise belonging to us. And as we arrive home, we find that a tree has crushed our car.
In short (and drawing from a variety of interpretive schemata): the car (low on gas) represents the means by which the ego navigates the outside world. The tree represents the intelligence and power of Nature. To acquire a house (self) so much larger and more magnificent than our current house (self) and to own (control our destiny) rather than rent (accede control to others) such a grand home (self) would require an entirely different way of conveying our egos in the outside world.
So the question is: do we get another wagon or a sedan? Another Toyota or a Honda? We’re thinking something around three grand.
Todd’s web site is UndertheTableBooks.com.