I don’t write in summer, and I don’t know why I don’t write- it’s not like I’m doing anything better. I look at facebook in my idle moments and that makes me feel awful, and I remember how I don’t like facebook, and how I’d mostly let it go but then I got sucked in again when I got a puppy and started putting pictures of my puppy on there and people who I know and like but never actually have conversations with made a show of excitement at the pictures and that felt good and now, for some reason, I am always looking on there, and it doesn’t make me feel good.
What I see on facebook is lives in the city, these lives reflected in a kaleidoscoping hall of mirrors and I’m not sure what means anything and what isn’t even real and what is just myself, reflected back at me from deep inside myself. That’s facebook. Then there is my own life in the city- I stay up too late reading and walk dogs in the sunshine and make food and do my laundry and work and go to school and stop in the street to stare at flowering trees and distractedly eat cherries until I feel sick. I think that my life is real but when I look at facebook for too long a strange thing happens, I walk my dog to a friend’s house and have a conversation and it seems, for some reason, as though we’re underwater, like time is reflected back on itself, or like the experience is no longer flowing from one of us to the other but out, to a mirrored satellite in the sky that is facebook and then back down to us, and there’s a little bit of a lag, like talking on a telephone with bad reception.
Instead of making me quit facebook this makes me feel tired of being in the city. I start to romanticize the lives of people I know sort of peripherally who live in the country and of course, I can see photos of these lives on facebook, and it makes me feel even worse. I look at pictures on my slow internet connection in my trailer in the driveway, with my little dog curled next to me, and I say- I want to be in a field, digging in the ground, tan and not caring about anything! But what I really mean is I wish I didn’t care about facebook!
But I really do want to not be in the city. I want to be in the country but I want to have lots of friends there, and people to make out with, and that will never happen, and so I’m stuck. The country is a lonely place, but in my hungry imagination it is a glamorous place, with beautiful strangers on horseback and eccentric, tan people in little shacks who want to lie in meadows with me and share their wisdom while we watch the shadows move around. In the country of my imagination all the paths are soft dirt and you can walk barefoot everywhere, even run sometimes, and there are fields with high grass and velvety shade beneath oak trees and rafts made of tied-together driftwood and murky turquoise bodies of water with rope swings and sun-warmed rocks that smell like the sea. In the country of my imagination there is drama and fistfights and wild, irresponsible romance and people who go mad and people just being born and instead of feeling like there are too many people, there is a feeling of having just enough, of hunger for people, a real comprehension of the value of a single living person. And there are kittens, too, sometimes, whole litters of them.
Instead, since this does not exist, I pack my sleeping back and small tent, put a dog in each pannier, and ride my bike to forest park. I lock up my bike, loose my small dogs before me like so many chickens, and walk in on my favorite trail, the one by Ursula K. Le Guin’s house. After a half hour or so there is a ridge to my left and I begin, on a whim, to climb it, trudging through Oregon grape and invasive ivy, ducking under fir boughs and pushing aside indigenous blackberry. Potato, my little puppy, is like a dolphin, surfacing and going under, surfacing and going under. Finally he cries uncle and I carry him the last stretch, stumbling in the loose, dark soil, and then we are at the top, where the dusky evening light finishes its journey through the big-leaf maples to gather, yellow and loamy, on the ridge. There is a small path that runs along the ridge and I follow it, and after a moment I have found what I’ve come for, what I imagined in my magical imagination- a little meadow, high above everything, circled in big doug-firs, with the perfect little grassy spot to pitch a tent.
I cannot believe my good luck. I set up my little tent and the dogs hop inside to investigate, Kinnikinnick stopping after a moment to look up at me as though I am absolutely, completely insane. It’s dusk and already getting cool, and there are mosquitoes. I’ve brought a yogurt tub of quinoa salad and a few boiled eggs, and some hippie potato chips and an orange. I sit in the grass and eat, watching the way the light moves through the trunks of the trees. The birds that sing at sundown are singing, now, and I pack my food up when it’s halfway gone, saving the rest for breakfast.
I blow up my pathetic, high-tech sleeping pad and spread out my tired down bag that was, when I first shoplifted it six years ago, a zero degree bag, but now is just warm enough to keep me comfortable on a fifty degree july night, as long as I have two dogs inside. The bag smells familiar, and there are duct-taped parts where I tore it on the train. I feel incredibly excited, in this beautiful meadow on the secret ridge in this vast urban forest, with my old friend of a sleeping bag and my two tiny, super-capable little dogs. I find myself wishing I was on some sort of journey, that I had somewhere else to go tomorrow, besides home, somewhere exciting and unknown, somewhere that no-one, ever, had ever been. The dogs burrow into my bag and I lay in the tent with my book next to me, intending to read it, but instead I just stare out at the trees as the minutes pass and the forest grows imperceptibly dimmer and I feel as though I am in heaven. There is a moment, after nightfall but before I drift off to sleep, when my old fear of the dark comes to visit me, that scared little kid who had to sleep with the lights on and was terrified of aliens and crocodiles and shadowed corners but the adult in me tells that kid to STFU, that there’s no such thing as monsters, and anyway, the only monster in this forest is me. And then it’s dawn, and all the birds have come awake.
And now, here is a picture of my new dog.