Surrounded by Life

I was watching a documentary about a forest in Japan that has become a hauntingly popular destination for suicides. The filmmakers followed a geologist who, because of his work monitoring the volcanic rumblings of nearby Mt. Fuji, wound up a kind of forest suicide ranger, both uncovering the bodies of those who succeeded in killing themselves, and counseling those strangers camped far off the trails who remained uncertain which path they would follow, so to speak. The geologist explained that most people who come to the forest hang themselves, making the tall, old growth trees unwitting accomplices in the final act. To accentuate this point, the filmmakers paused to pan slowly up a tree from roots to branches. The pan was accompanied by an appropriately spooky soundtrack. The soundtrack was so spooky that I was expecting the camera to find a dangling, lifeless body amid the branches.

Only it didn’t. It was just a tree, and a beautiful one at that. For a moment during that slow, creepy shot, I imagined that tree without a soundtrack. That’s the artist’s hand, I thought. We decide what everything means. The tree means nothing by itself, but pan slowly with some cellos droning in a minor key, and you have a monster.

I believe the documentary was intended to be sort of real life horror movie, only it fell short of this for me because of its lead character. The geologist was a reassuring guide through this forest of death. He talked about how important it was for people to spend time with one another, to find meaning in relationships. Somehow, his daily trips through the world of suicide had only connected him further to the life in which he was surrounded in that quiet, beautiful forest.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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