The Birch Groves

Lately I’ve had my mind on a place that I don’t know if it ever existed. Actually it’s been with me for a while, and when I fell hard for a Russophile last year it came more to the fore. I must have mentioned it on this blog before though.

It’s a place somewhere in central Asia, perhaps Russia and perhaps elsewhere. It’s a particular biome of wide, flat grasslands between mountains and crisscrossed by narrow, slow-moving streams that are incised into the land with very little in the way of a bank. Along these streams, burned into my thoughts in vivid detail, are groves of birch trees that harbor all manner of plant and animal life.

The plant where I work has a landscape not unlike that… or it would have, if it hadn’t been paved, landscaped, and developed to hell. Now only a single creek with a few birch trees remains and they’ve cut down a good many of the birches recently. But generally all around the area west of Beaverton there are many ponds and creeks where birch trees cluster and it tugs at my heart to see the creeping spread of murdered nature.

It brings to mind images of living in such a place perhaps 11,000 years ago or more, seeing the desert gradually devouring the grass, drying the streams, and killing the plants. Everything dying within the course of a few months. A drought so catastrophic to the hunter-gatherer inhabitants that they’re forever traumatized. It carries with it an archetype almost like that of Adam and Eve driven from Eden. Perhaps that’s exactly what the story was, a half-remembered recollection of a gentle land beyond the Caucasus that was swallowed up by desert, retold by the children of migrants who fled into the Fertile Crescent until that collective memory became the very fall of humanity.

I don’t know if this is a past life or not. I’m inclined to think it’s not simply because I’ve tried not to trouble myself with the notion of past lives lately. But the other night I stood in the doorway of my guard shack, gazing at the waning moon while listening to Borodin’s “In The Steppes of Central Asia” and shedding a tear as I thought of those birch groves, as I thought of the murdered nature all around me now buried under asphalt and gravel. I long for those birch groves, if they ever existed elsewhere but my own romantic notions. I long for that subarctic eden in a faraway land. And if I can’t have it there, I hope one day I find some place in North America that looks halfway similar where I can learn to live in harmony with the land. I’m getting so weary of city life.

Where Is She Now?

Just checking in to say I’m alive and well and, for the first time in a very long while, working again.

I’m doing a security contract on graveyard shift for a rather well-known company based in the Portland area. It’s a cushy post and the pay is enough to live on (for now). I’m in training now and begin my post on Friday.

Best of all, the job will (in all likelihood) give me a chance to catch up on years worth of reading I promised myself and to work on my writing. I will be alone in a booth, all night, and not allowed to use electronic devices so a pen, paper, and books will be my constant companions.

I also want to say that I’ve sensed the Archangel Michael active in my life. A few weeks ago, in desperation, I prayed to St. Michael after a long time of not praying.

I found out after I got my job that St. Michael is the patron of security guards (among other related professions). My prayer, it would seem, was answered.

My lost years seem increasingly remote as my fortunes improve. And who knows, maybe by next year I’ll have saved enough to finally go to Houplines and pay my respects to Jack.

An Epilogue?

I’m turning 35 in a few days. It won’t be many long seasons until I’m 38, which was all the time Jack Harris had on earth. I’m starting to think about my future more, trying to focus more on projects that will advance me in the world. My I Ching readings have been auspicious and so far the oracle has been trustworthy.

A short story based in small part on what I thought to be Jack’s memories of the Armentieres sector in the summer of 1915 (a few weeks prior to his death) has been published.

I earned no money from this, and I have made no claims promoting the work as anything but a work of fiction. But a fraction of those memories will live on in print now, even if few copies of the anthology it’s in are likely to be sold.

It’s also a spinoff of a very ambitious novel I’m still waiting to hear about months later. I confirmed with the publisher that it’s still in the slush pile awaiting review. That novel has elements of Count William’s story in it as well, and of my experiences in 2012-2013. Again, it’s being treated as a work of fiction with no outrageous claims made about its origins.

I’ve been doing well on some medication I was given initially for pain. It’s called gabapentin, a naturally-occurring brain chemical that I seem to have lacked. It’s made me much calmer and more stable without ruining my ability to write, so I’ve been going back through a backlog of old short stories and rewriting them. I may try to publish a single author anthology next year, we’ll see. Most of these stories have never actually seen a print edition and I feel my work will be incomplete without a polished, published edition of these stories to form the definitive version.

I still have some trauma to deal with, but it’s all stuff from the last 35 years thankfully. I’m going to begin intensive outpatient therapy for that soon to hopefully get back into the workforce. I have a good lead on a security job and two good references with the company I’m applying to. I’ve had to quit weed and may quit for good but that’s not a bad thing. If I can get and keep a good job there is a chance my father might co-sign for me to get a trailer. It’s a far cry from the charming Georgian cottage of my dreams but at least it will be mine, and I won’t have to worry about landlords any more.

I’m starting to feel a bit of tender feeling creeping back in as I get less scared and more prepared to handle life. Maybe I’ll go back into the church. We’ll see. Right now I’m still dealing with awkward feelings about Christianity and religion in general. When I see people I care about complaining about how Christians treat them it’s not really helpful to butt in with a “not all Christians” take even if I find the theology that hurt them abhorrent and contrary to the spirit of the law. It’s really impossible to defend something so dominated by hateful, hurtful people and I feel apologetics fall flat in light of what people’s lived experiences have been.

I’m also tangling with Marxist dialectics now, trying the idea, testing it, and it seems diametrically opposed to the metaphysics of things I once believed yet at the same time, the logic of dialectical materialism is hard to dismiss. Most of the critiques I’ve seen have been superficial at best. Admittedly I’m grappling with some rather extreme views of my own and I wonder if I’m not a Marxist-Leninist deep down. I do wonder if I would feel different about Marxism-Leninism if I lived in a liberal social democracy rather than a laissez-faire dystopia but it’s impossible to say. What I can say is I will not call myself a Christian if I embrace Marxism-Leninism as they are mutually exclusive. It’s a bit stressful, grappling over my personal beliefs like this, but no matter which way I look it’s clear that the world as it stands can’t be sustained. Something has to give.

Maybe this is simply a turn of seasons. The Word does say that there’s a time to every purpose under Heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps I’m focused on the material because it’s the season to tend to material needs. I hope I will find some shred of prosperity, from whatever’s left for working class stiffs like me. If I can do even half as well as my parents did at my age I will be satisfied. If I survive to age 40, even moreso.


The trouble with experiencing something that is beyond the power of language to describe is once you lose the emotional impression of that experience, it’s gone. You can’t record it in any way that you can relive it.

Once I thought I had seen the traces of something ineffable. You can call it God if you want. It doesn’t matter though. It slipped away and I am left only with the memory of the most superficial aspects of my epiphany, recorded in my fiction, this blog, and my private notes.

I feel the absence of something bigger than just religion. I always saw religion as an imperfect but moderately effective way to reconnect with that wholeness in a symbolic language. But without that intuitive connection to Pleroma it means nothing to me.

I have felt so lost and desolate for months and I can’t for the life of me tell you what I miss.

And I am buried in life’s troubles now without that light. The worldly pain is stronger. The worldly loneliness gnawing. The worldly needs more consuming. The world I took for illusions now tightens its grasp on me and I can’t weep for paradise because I don’t remember it.

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני.


I think as for getting through surgery itself, I’m mostly just proud.

When it comes to the slow process of healing, add in frustration.

When it comes to the future beyond healing, add a touch of dread.

When it comes to the seismic shift in beliefs and priorities, I feel lost.

Strange as it sounds I feel like I’ve become agnostic again and I don’t understand why. It wasn’t just disabusing myself of some of my weirder beliefs, it’s more than that and I can’t put a finger on what exactly it is.

Maybe I just want to break with the last 7 or 8 years completely. Or maybe the mystical side of me was driven by dysphoria that just isn’t there any more. I really wish I could go somewhere and meditate on this.

It seems like if I think about anything these days, it’s getting a good job and securing a material existence. But it’s weird because it feels like I’ve entered a world of beige after living in a world of endless color.

Maybe beige was all there ever was.


I may be interested in publishing a book about my experiences on the understanding that I would no longer make any claim that my so-called memories of past lives were anything more than a maladaptive fantasy.


I am growing stronger. In 14 or 15 hours I expect to be home or well on my way.

Feeling just a little heroic. I’ve taken a big risk and a punishing body hit but my dysphoria has been completely gone for the last several days. That’s a specter I won’t miss and I’m glad I took the chance.

This whole month will be a victory lap for me. I’m alive and I made it through a process that nearly destroyed my soul, shattered my identity, and gave me a stark wake-up call about how toxic some of my habits, attitudes, and alleged friends were. I went slightly mad, saw the world turned upside down, and learned to use my writing as therapy.

I don’t know if I will ever fully account for the experiences recounted in this blog. Jack’s life feels less real to me now. I can’t really identify with any aspect of Phil’s life at all. I still feel something of James’ seafaring life and truth be told, his memories were some of the few to filter in via dreams. And of Count William I feel residual affection for the look and feel of his era and astonishment at the weird coincidences between his life and Jack’s, but I can’t say I am fully invested in having been him. I’m still inclined to disbelieve in reincarnation at this time and I think this was probably a dissociative artifact of my dysphoria.

Anyway, it doesn’t make sense right now to think of the past as something I can derive much from any more; I have done what everyone who left me to die in 2012 thought I couldn’t and built a new life full of joy, hope, and vast possibility. I took agency after bumbling through the first 27 years of my life and reinvented myself from a college dropout with a drinking problem and a self-destructive outlook into a beloved member of a community and a role model for others.

I’m so happy right now. I want to cherish this feeling and nurture it until it becomes something I can share and spread like seeds on the wind. If I have lived before, I consider my regrets from the last century fully expiated. If I didn’t live before, then I am certainly living now!