This evening I went walking with the dogs in the hills beyond the house. They start out as hills, brown and gentle and covered in sagebrush, and then rise up into brown mountains, and then beyond that there are higher mountains still, topped with snow and jagged white rock edges and cold blowing clouds. I took the dogs and went walking in these hills, just before dark. We saw a herd of deer here, when we went walking the other day. And now we climbed up to where the deer had been, trampling the lamb’s ear and working our way up the soft, exposed earth to a pile of rock high up the hillside. Then I sat. It was a nice place to sit. I could see the river, and the valley, and all the mountains beyond it. I could see a little house with a red roof, I could see a bit of the road. And down below me, the brown snake of the path we walked on, that ran along the creek.
I sat there, and took off my wool hat, and listened to the silence crush against my ears. I felt the cold good air, full of dampness today, from the snow. I poked the mud from the bottom of my hiking boots. I imagined myself a little house made of logs, with a goat picketed outside. I imagined myself a dog that followed me everywhere, and slept with me in the little house at night so I wouldn’t be lonely. I wondered why I couldn’t write. I imagined myself never writing again. I imagined myself growing old and bitter. FUCK THIS BULLSHIT, I wanted to scream at the mountains. But they were too nice, and I liked them too much. They never asked anything of me, and they listened patiently to my empty promises, and they always took me back.
It started to get dark, and I picked my way back down the mountain, and along the path by the creek towards home. The dogs ran in and out of the creek, bounded through the brush, scrabbled at holes in the dirt. I thought of my trailer, dusty and cold. I thought of all of the things I had never written because I was waiting for the right time to do it. I had been saving them up, but really it was just that I couldn’t write them at all, not even if I tried. And I knew that now because I was trying, in my little trailer, and I was failing. I wished I had a friend to talk to. I wished I had a whole community of support. But there was just me, and my own demons, and my own hopes and dreams and failures, and the now-dark sky.
Passing a birch tree that leaned over the creek, I stopped and put my hands against it. It had two trunks, and lovely white bark, and no leaves yet to speak of. Feeling it under my hands, I asked it about all the things that I thought mattered. My loneliness and despair, the drama of the human heart, my inability to be patient or good in the ways that I wanted to be. I like to ask trees hard questions. They answer me in feelings, deep feelings that come from the earth’s intuitive core, and I try to make these feelings into sentences in the English language, for my brain to understand. The trees are never wrong, although sometimes they give impractical advice. The ocean will answer questions as well, if you stick your fingers into it. And probably the mountains and the stars, although I have never tried. Sometimes if I am too angry or upset, the trees will not answer me at all. Tonight, tho, they did.
Why do you care about this stuff? Said the birch tree. Why do you give a fuck about any of it? Why?
The birch tree was asking a rhetorical question. And of course it was right. I stepped away from the tree, and followed the dim path, made of mud that had dried fast in the sun the day before. I am not human drama, I am not capitalism, I am not the struggles of the human heart. I am none of these things. I am the dirt path, headed home. I am the dogs, rooting around in the brush. I am the creek, mumbling over the rocks, its water cold, its intentions clear. I am the night sky, high and dark, and the stars, millions of years old. I am millions of years old.
I like trees, but I’m still lonely. Such is the irreconcilable nature of life.