torrential rainfall and the disputed kingdom Protista

radiolaria

It’s been raining torrentially all day- this morning we took the dogs to kelly point park, the superfund site where the metallic Columbia meets the sewage-filled Willamette, and big cold drops began to pelt us as soon as we stepped from the car. We walked along the path through the woods, throwing Emy’s ball before us. The poplar trees, huge overhead, swayed ominously in the wind from the oncoming storm, and we watched in wonder as limbs broke off, now and then, and fell in slow motion to the ground. Let’s go to the beach? I said. A tree might fall on us? But the beach was too exposed, the wind beating us like a newspaper and the rain splatting us and the lights from the grain barges on the river. Back in the forest, we watched the trees. Woo woo, they said. The air was grey with condensation. Along the trail nettles grew hopefully, taking up nuclear waste from the soil.

Now I’m in my trailer with the space heater up too high, and it’s still raining torrentially. Earlier I tried to study, laying in bed with my big floppy biology book, watching the water run in rivulets down the little trailer-window, but I fell asleep instead. Before I fell asleep I’d been trying to focus on the disputed kingdom Protista, but instead I was thinking indulgently about summertime, and houses I used to live in, and meadows I have known.

I’ve been feeling a lot of nostalgia lately. Maybe because it is the wet end of the wintertime, maybe because I have been in the city too long with only crowded backyards and superfund sites to retreat to. And it’s funny, because when you finally let a thing go, sometimes years after you first realize that you should be done with it, you never think that it will come back all draped in the soft colors of nostalgia. But that is how I feel today, tonight, about all sorts of things- and I am thinking of them longingly, here in my little driveway-house full of warmth with the rain pounding on the aluminum roof.

Where do they go, these things that happen? Our experiences, our disembodied stories? Apparently there is a compost heap in my brain where they are recycled into magic treasures, more whole then they ever actually were.

I think of North Dakota often, it is one of my muses, if I am using muse in the correct sense, if a muse can be a thing other than a person. Also my friends are muses, people I have known, mostly old friends who cannot get their shit together, who are propelled helplessly through life by their own irreconcilable contradictions, who are moved about as if by mystery. Who do not use logic. Who are painfully beautiful. Who always seem more alive than other people but also more ungrounded. Which is maybe the same thing.

And North Dakota. North Dakota from a freight train- the train goes fast, because north Dakota is wide open. The train could be said to hurtle. On both sides of the train, the soft gold grass. Bent at the tops, like an ocean. The native prairie that grew back after people fled to the cities. Just the grass and the train and above you, the glass observatory of the sky. Now and then a broken down barn, melting into the grass. A stone fence, half-finished, built from stones fished from the ground. A shiny ribbon in the prairie is a stream, flat and clear, like you could float down it on your back. Wind, and sometimes clouds, charging from the east. Lightning.

I used to do whatever I wanted. Travel all the time, move back and forth. I ate dumpstered birthday cake and slept outside under forgotten clumps of trees and that was ok, because I was young and needed nothing. I thought that everything was too fucked up to invest in anything, but then investing in nothing made me feel like I was already dead, and that made me wish that I was, and that feeling was confusing because I had no reason to want to be dead. It was like I wanted to be free so bad but then when I was free I realized that there was nothing else. Like when I was little and I would try and play the video games my brother liked so much but all I cared about was finding the edge of the world, moving my little man into all the corners of the screen to try and find some place beyond what you could see. But there’s nothing else, there’s just the tunnel or whatever, and it’s all set up for you, you’re supposed to jump and get the coin and stomp the mushroom and it’s supposed to make you feel good.

When I was younger, I never thought about what would happen. I figured that the world would just end soon so there was no point in thinking about it. The world felt old, tense, used up, on the brink of something. Everything felt so extremely precarious, like if I touched it it would fall over. It didn’t make any sense to me to put my efforts into something that would just end anyway. I didn’t know then that things that fall over build themselves up again, over and over like magic. It took me a long time to see that.

I used to not need anything- not money, not a home, not any specific food. But there’s a lot of stress in that lifestyle, and loneliness, and eventually your adrenals get worn out and you wake up one day and your body hurts and you can’t do it anymore and you need things. Or you throw yourself off a bridge, because the world hasn’t ended yet and you can’t keep bluffing.

I’ve been in Portland for a year and a half straight. I used to leave for about half of every year. Also notable- I’ve had my dog for a year and a half, I’m starting my second year of undergrad next term, and March 18th is my one-year anniversary with Seamus. I turn thirty this year, and I’m so grateful that this shit is getting easier. And it feels sweet, this nostalgia for the way I lived for so long, tonight, sitting in my trailer with the rain coming down- memories, dreams, popping up like treasures from underwater. Sometimes I feel anxiety about it- like I’ll never be able to travel again, because I won’t have the money, and my body can’t handle the way I used to travel, for free. Waking up on the freight train, sided somewhere in Minnesota, watching the dawn bleed into the sky. Shoplifting grapefruit and sardines. Spending days in a bramble thicket, reading Steinbeck. Walking for miles in the dead of night, looking for water. So many moments of feeling so alive- stacking up on top of each other, making the universe hum like an electrical current. Like it was just me and the universe. The universe moving through me, like I wasn’t even there. Have you ever felt that way? Like you can actually forget yourself enough for the universe to go about its business right in front of you. Like in any Farley Mowat book, when he’s been in his canvas tent in the snow for long enough and the wolves decide he’s just a bunch of lichen, and they start playing with each other and acting out all their wolfy dramas in front of him. Like he’s found the secret place at the edge of everything, where there’s something else that no-one knew was there.

I haven’t been working on my book for a while. I took too many credits this term, and I moved, so I haven’t had time to write. And I hate being really busy. It gives me big fluffy piles of anxiety. Too much of my brain is devoted to thinking about stuff like colors and shapes and patterns of light and very little is devoted to time management and schedule planning. So I sort of freeze up if my life gets too complicated and then I can’t do anything. I need large blocks of time to stare out the window and think about sea creatures. I need to be able to accidentally fall asleep while studying. I need to be able to be ten minutes late for everything. I may not actually be ten minutes late for everything, but I need that to be ok.

I wish I had another three month stretch to work on my book. It’s my ladder to the moon– I need it to climb out of here. But you need a really strong ladder to climb out of one way of life and into another one, and it takes a long time to build a ladder that strong. Right now I’m doing undergrad to prepare to go to school for my master’s in Chinese medicine, because that’s my other dream, besides writing. But when I look down that road I see full-time school for the next five years and then after that, working full time to pay off my student loans, and then working forever until I die. And there’s no time for writing in that anywhere.

How do you do it? How do you be an adult. How do you want things hard enough to make them real. It’s like I woke up one day and all the rules had changed. Or I woke up one day and realized where I was- in this body, on this ground, with this rain coming down everywhere. There’s no place at the edge of everything, and yet there is. And I can want both worlds, but so far, I haven’t figured out how to have them both at once. And that’s painful, but pain can be good. A motivator. Soothing, even. I feel pain, therefore I exist. This sucks and I want something else, therefore I exist. This sucks this sucks this sucks, I exist I exist I exist.

The Lake

you have so many freckles
and your skin smells like chocolate.
Last month it smelled like oregano and coffee, but now you smell like chocolate
milk chocolate
like milk chocolate dust
hot chocolate powder
eaten by the spoonful
dipped in water
licked.

You are perfect. You do not think that you are perfect because you have imperfections. But your imperfections are perfect, too. You are as beautiful as an heirloom tomato or a delicata squash or a speckled egg. I do not mean perfect like a red delicious apple because perfect like this does not exist. If you bite into a red delicious apple you will know it is fake- your teeth will break off, because it is made of plaster. All red delicious apples are made of plaster, and waxed to make them shine, and sold to children in school cafeterias who break their teeth off and cry, and swear to never eat another plant.

Your body is a lake, and I want to live there. Your body is a perfect lake. It has a ragged edge and clear waters, and the sky is filled with stars. I have a small wooden skiff that I push out onto the lake. I’ve brought some Brussels sprouts cooked in bacon grease and I lay in the skiff and watch the stars and eat the small brassicas and feel the water rock me. I drop the Brussels sprouts into the water for the fish to eat. The lake smells like wet leaves and tannins and something that quenches thirst. The ducks are sleeping with their ducklings. I’ll live here, in this lake that is your body. I’ll build a cabin on its shores. I’ll visit the cabin every day and sit on a stump and feel the winds from the forest. I’ll breathe in and out. My thoughts will empty, and instead there will be the music of small bells ringing. The sun will be setting and I’ll touch the grasses, the smooth rocks, the water. The trees made you and you are a lake.

I am broken, I am failing. I am weak, I am small. I am not strong. I feel heavy. Things happen for no reason. The more I try and understand them, the farther away they get. Weather, feelings, tornadoes in my organs. I look inside myself for answers but there are only riddles, mysteries, the metaphors of life. I want to ask you, can’t we live in your body, where it is always calm and there are no words. Your body is like the trees, I want to stay there, safe.

I miss the forest. I miss the forest so bad. I miss the slow ways the boughs of the trees move against the sky and I miss the way the trampled needles feel soft under my feet but most of all, I miss the air. I miss what is in the air, the breath of all the plants, the respirations of the leaves and mosses, the indescribable smell. The oxygen. The intangible, living spirit. I think, these December days, of the winter I lived in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula. I had a winter garden of kale plants and sometimes it would snow. The yurt was un-insulated, and the firebox of my woodstove was small. I had a dull ax and a crooked chopping block. I was mostly by myself. At night I had the stars for friends and would hear the elk huff, just outside the circle of my porchlight. I was incredibly lonely and ecstatically alive. I would run on hard dirt logging roads and sing, waving my hands in the air. I would try to track coyotes.

This winter is not that winter. This winter I have love, companionship, the city, and a better woodstove. The city feeds me in some ways too but it also confuses me. I understand the forest better, its clear relationships, its abundances and scarcities. I do not understand the city. I do not understand what I am supposed to love and what I am supposed to despise. And I don’t know how to hate it without also hating myself. I want to run from it, but I cannot. But you are made from the forest. If I put my ear to you it is like listening to a seashell to hear the ocean. You have the forest inside you, and the teawater of lakes, and the sound of wind chimes, and wind blowing through grasses. You have the fish and the sky. The small flowers that take seven years to bloom. You have all the magic hidden inside of you, and I know I have it too. But I cannot feel it so I want to ask you, can we just live in your body, because you are ringing stronger than anything, you are a bell ringing in this matrix of rock and dust, you are a bell ringing in the electric night, ringing and ringing and ringing, you are the forest.

Look! I wrote something!

My chemistry homework makes an appearance, as does North Dakota.

—————————–

S A D

———

It has gotten cold here, sometimes
sometimes it is not cold, but the air is filled with water like someone is misting us
like we are fragile plants that need misting
It has gotten sometimes cold but dark
dark, dark, dark
I do not know where I am
that it is so dark out
where have the trees gone? the sky? the road?
my eyes hurt from non-light
six o’clock feels like ten p.m.
I do not know what to do with this.
I have gone to the gym,
I watched TV on the elliptical trainer.
I do not like the gym.
when I was younger, I rode my bike through the dark, mist stinging my face, grimacing in pain.
I was fearless and brave.
when the ride was over I do not remember how I felt. Transcendent, like I had gone through the oracles and not been shot with laser eyes,
or just cold and wet and miserable, reminded that life is suffering.
My ears painfully red
the leather of my shoes damp
my bicycle rusted.
Now it is dark and I research light-therapy lamps on the internet
with 10,000 Kelvin bulbs
and it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I want to fold up into myself, I want to go blind. I want to find a giant puppy, eviscerate it, and climb inside for heat. I want to drop out of college and go somewhere colder but brighter, like North Dakota. I would have no friends. Friends and light frequently shift on the antique brass scales of my heart.
The country is like a periodic table, light increasing as you go east. I am the element Lithium. I am Oregon. North Dakota is a transition metal and Alaska is a noble gas. I want to go to one of the places that has not been discovered yet, Sunny Ununtrium where the ecosystems are still intact and no-one believes in science. The people who live there talk with their hands and use their voices only for singing. They live in huts thatched with palm fronds and eat coconuts and raw sea-beast. There are giant spiders. But would that really be any different than riding the lightrail downtown, bathed in fluorescent lights and off-gassing plastic? And off-gassing people, who don’t eat any vegetables, who wear too many layers and live in dark, moldy houses. These people have nothing but at least there are cats for them, cats they can feed dry kibble made from the bodies of euthanized shelter animals. Mostly euthanized pit bulls.

I want something exciting to happen. Something really big, like an explosion. Maybe the earth will crash into the sun and all of our molecular bits will dissolve into everything, heat and light and then infinite, infinite cold. I’m not sure if that is better than the park outside my school, where the pumpkin-orange of the maples clashes so well with the grey, grey, sky, and the mist that makes an infinite continuum of the sky. The sky falling down all around us, sifting down, permeating matter and dissolving the trampled leaves. There is beauty here, but there is not light. It is so still it makes me tired. I want to freeze in place on the bricks where I sit until I become a stone and can talk with the trees. We’ll look down at all the people and the bright white glass of the buildings and we won’t think anything.

r o o t s

My father lives on Crataegus lane in Alaska. Crataegus is the latin name for Hawthorne, according to a dusty book I found in the library. There are three types of Hawthorne in the book, which catalogs a section of Pennsylvania representative of “all of the trees from Virginia northward into Canada and westward to the Mississippi Valley.” The kinds of Hawthorne in the book are Scarlet Hawthorne, Cockspur Hawthorne, and Dotted Hawthorne. In pre-columbian times, the Hawthorne trees were understory plants in the virgin forests. Now, in Pennsylvania, they form impenetrable thickets. According to the dusty tree book, the members of this genus are typically “low, bushy trees” with “strong, tortuous, spreading branches armed with stiff, sharp-pointed thorns”.

In Pennsylvania, the showy flowers appear in April or early May. The five petals are “usually white”. The fruits are like small apples, dry and mealy, with large, bony seeds. They are an important winter food of the ruffed grouse.

Most Hawthornes will thrive in the poorest of soils. There are an infinite number of different kinds of Hawthorne, on account of the fact that they are “very unstable, and hybrids are apparently very numerous”. This frustrates taxonomists, who cannot agree on what kinds of Hawthorne exist, since they are always hybridizing and changing, and looking like each other. In Portland there is a Hawthorne with small, red fruits, like berries. You can make jelly from these, although I have never done it.

When I return to Portland in September, there will be fruit on all the trees. The blackberries will be over but the apples and pears, both members of the rose family, will be clustered and heavy above the sidewalks. The light through the branches will be yellow, hazy and humid. Green walnut husks will pepper the ground. Time will go faster than it does in the woods, and days will blink by in an instant. I’ll ride my bike in the evenings when the shadows are long and let all the nostalgia wash over me, all the emotional memory of the season, of last year and the year before and every September that has ever happened, until it washes all away and instead becomes what is happening now, in this moment.

My birthday is in September. I don’t ever know what to do on my birthday, I feel bewildered and confused and can’t ever think of things I’d like to eat or what I do for fun. What do I do for fun? Read, laugh, have sex. Eat ice cream and blueberries. Swim. Sit in the forest and watch the ants wear paths in the dirt and wait for animals to come walking up. Make up stories in my head.

I think that, this year, all of September will be my birthday. It’ll be like a birthday present to myself, September. I’ll be back in Portland and getting ready for school and moving and I won’t be working my kitchen job anymore. I won’t be washing dishes and peeling cucumbers and cooking soup in the heavy-bottomed ten-gallon pot. I won’t be kneading bread and punching bread and baking loaves of bread in the oven that hums ferociously and whose hot sheet-pans burn your upper arms in stripes, called “earning your stripes”. I have one stripe and one half-stripe. I have been here five months. If I lived hear a year or two years I would have more stripes, the way the other cooks do.

I like to cook. I cannot think of many things more satisfying than preparing food for one hundred sixty people in four hours from scratch, with one helper, making the big pot of soup and cutting the crusty new bread and roasting the zucchini for spread and slicing the onions and snapping the ends off the green beans and then sitting and watching the people eat, your black apron dusty with flour, a mason jar of water in your hand. It is satisfying and I give everything to it and in the evenings I feel restless and empty. I run in the woods on the dry trail until I am hot and sticky with sweat and then I take off my clothes and lay down in the stream and then jump up sputtering in the icy water, new again like I have just woken up.

When I am not working or running I spend a lot of time on the phone with Corinne. She is always very far away. We tell each other about the worlds where we live, like writing letters home. I ask her what she eats. Sausage, she tells me. Avocado. Eggs. I tell her that after running I ate raspberries and sheep’s cheese and coconut ice cream. I tell her that it was all I thought I ever wanted to eat, but then after a few hours I was hungry again, so I ate sautéed green beans and split pea soup and wild rice and romaine. And then later I ate some orange chocolate. After we get off the phone I eat some chocolate peanut butter cups. The sugar is not good for me but lack of good company sometimes drives me to it. It will be easier in September, when I am not in the woods anymore. Unless, of course, for my birthday I want an icecream cake or an icecream sundae made of coconut icecream and melted dark chocolate and berries, in layers, icecream first and then chocolate and then icecream and then berries and then icecream and then chocolate and so on, like an enchilada. I would like to eat that in a stemmed glass, so I could see all the layers. The chocolate would be mixed with coconut cream to make it softer, although it would solidify just-so in the cold icecream. And then while I was eating my beautiful, infinite sundae that was like the wanting of icecream and the memory of icecream and the having of icecream and the icecream you are saving for later, I would pull the beautiful wrapping, made from 1970s national geographics, from a small square box, and inside would be a brand new pancreas. The note card would read- “love, from the trees.” And I would gasp in delight and try out my new pancreas immediately. It would fit exactly, and I would put my old pancreas in the freebox on the porch, where someone will find it and make it into a costume.

And that would be the Very Best Birthday. An infinite icecream sundae, and long life from the trees. Or maybe instead of a sundae it would be an icecream cake. Or maybe instead of icecream I will have sex instead, because I don’t need a new pancreas for that. I would like to be able to have sex Right Now, in the woods. I would like to open the freezer and find Sex in there, instead of gelato and cold peanut butter cups that someone had the foresight to put in there. But there is no sex in the woods. Sex is in the city, because that is where the gay people are. Only straight people live in the woods, and deer. And a few shy bears I have never seen. And the steller’s jays with their screaming alarm-clock voices. And the soft-bellied squirrels. And tiny, svelte chipmunks. And the crows that live on the compost heap. And the odd bunny rabbit. And low-flying bats, who criss-cross the paths at dusk. And fantastical cougars, who make no sound and who I imagine always watching, from the rhododendrons. And a strange family of creatures, perhaps raccoons, who break sticks for fun around my tent at night and chortle softly to each other in small, congested voices. And various other stick-breakers, too shy to be seen, who run errands in the woods after dark. Some of them walk carefully, tensing each muscle and startling and the smallest movement, and some of them are clumsy, tumbling through the undergrowth as if drunk, lost and looking for the path. None of them bother me, tho, no matter how flimsy my nylon walls and how elaborate my imagination, or how often I leave beef jerky in my tent, and so I have grown to trust them.

Now it’s late. It’s dark and all the stars are out, the big dipper and the milky way, which is like melted icecream in the sky. Corinne wrote a poem today for her grandmother, who was there one day and then was not there, while Corinne was up in the sky in a plane, crossing the country to get to her. It had been eight months since Corinne saw her grandmother last, and she lost another three hours going east in a plane, against the setting sun. Corinne’s grandmother was there and then she was not there, the way things happen, mysteriously. Also, besides grandmothers dying, babies are born. Babies are not there and then they are there. I cannot make heads or tales of any of it, birth and death. The stuff in the middle makes sense to me, the Being. It is the transition in and out of Being that seems so inexplicable. Corinne was Being, in the sky, and her grandmother was Being, on the east coast, in a hospital, and then immediately she was Not. She waited until all her five children were clustered around her, and then she was Not. Corinne visited her body, the next day, on a table in the funeral home, in a room with candles. Corinne looked for her behind the heavy drapes, but she was gone. She told me about it on the phone, while I sat at the picnic table beneath the incense-cedars, methodically dismantling the fleur-de-lis seedpods that had gathered there. A thing like a tree, I thought, ceases to be much differently than a grandmother. A tree is made of wood, half dead, and surrounded by other wood in various states of decay. It pulls water hundreds of feet up its pithy core, and throws down cones in the summertime. When a tree “dies” it simply stops drawing water, stops dropping cones, and becomes, instead, part of the trees around it, who use its wood to grow helpful fungus and more small, new trees, and as a bridge over streams for deer, and as a place for small, bumbling stick-breakers to live. And the “dead” tree sort of melts into the spongy forest floor, and continues to “Be”, in a great mat of things that “Are”, whose borders are fluid and indefinite and yet unarguably alive.

The first rule of thermodynamics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. If this is true, where do “people” go after they die? Is it because we do not have visible roots, like a tree, and so it seems as though we are tethered to nothing, and we are incapable of comprehending the ways in which we actually exist? Because if we could see our existence, all twisted up with everything, the way I can see the trees’ existence in a forest, which eats itself and lives forever, then maybe we would understand more clearly what happens when we die, and what happens before we are born, instead of just the middle part, which seems to us like a spark from a campfire, flying away into the dark and then going out, for no reason whatsoever.

We are different from trees, but if you draw us in a chart the chart will look like a tree, the family tree. A family tree does not have stray bits, broken pieces, sparks that fly off into the dark and go out. A family tree is like a friendship bracelet or a braided river, coming apart and going together again, forever and ever, all the way back, way back hundreds and thousands of years, to thatched cottages and lean-tos, to Europe and Asia and Africa, to when we were early hominids, to apes, to single-celled organisms floating in the briny warm sea. And trees came from the sea, too, and stumbling stick-breakers, and bats at dusk, and eavesdropping cougars. And all the creatures braided together and came apart, and braided together and came apart, forever and ever and ever, and a branch from the family tree never broke and fell off and sputtered out alone or appeared spontaneously from the ether, not even once, not even one single time. And the beginning was in the briny sea or it was somewhere even farther back, farther back than we can comprehend because we are small and because we are made from it. We are made from the friendship bracelet of the creatures, and just because we walk on two legs and do not have roots does not mean that we ever begin or that we ever end- because we, like the great mat of plants called the forest, cannot be created or destroyed, only moved and branched and shifted like a river in its bed. And so Corinne’s grandmother never really stopped being, because there is Corinne, and Corinne will never stop being, as long as there are cougars, and soft-bellied squirrels, and owls that call out at night, mysterious and low, with immense wisdom and patience. I want to go into the forest and I want to stand abreast of the biggest oldest tree, and I want to put my fingers in its bark and say that I do not want immortality, I only want patience. Because my roots go back in time instead of down into the ground, and my heart beats like a hummingbird, and I want everything. And the wind whispers and the trees say that I can have everything, in time. In time.

I WANT


I want to bust you out of the city. I want to steal a car and drive up I-5 as fast as I can go. A nice car, a solid box, a bubble-pod, a car that smells like vinyl, nothing of the forest, a euphoric comfort machine. Stolen. What better thing to steal, than a car?

A stolen car and a suitcase full of money, to pay for all the gas. I’ll find the suitcase under some tumbled rocks on the mountain-top, underneath a giant Alaskan yellow-cedar of record diameter. A suitcase full of money and a car. The seas are filling with oil, the world is ending, who cares. This is no time to be pretending to know how to bake bread. This is no time for routine. This is no time for patience, for tolerance. This is no time to love the land of here below.

I’ll pick you up in my new car and then we can go anywhere. First, we’ll chase the sun. For moral. We’ll bust out of the rain cloud that clings to the cascade mountains and drive east into the summertime. It’s so bright out there that we’ll get suntans on our feet in the shape of flip-flops, even while driving. No more getting cheated out of summertime. No more pretending to know how to bake bread.

I never want to learn how to really bake bread. How to give an egg wash, sprinkle the loaves with seeds, mist the ovens with water to make a nice crust. I want to burn all bread loaves. Next, I want to burn all gluten-free bread loaves. I want to burn all pizzas. I want to burn the word PIZZA. As soon as I’m out of the rain cloud this feeling will pass. I’ll have my feet up on the dash, in flip-flops. Bread loaves can live. Bread loaves make a pleasing smell, sandwiches are sometimes interesting to assemble. Anything can go in them. Absolutely anything.

I’ve got you in the car with me and we’re busting out. Routine does not need us. School in the fall can Eat a Dick. Being far apart from each other is unnecessary. Missing your freckles come out, one by one, in the springtime, and seeing them only in bunches now and then, for a night or two, tears my heart apart. Now I’ve got you till the money runs out or we get sick of each other, whichever comes first. You’re wary of my plan, my stolen car, my mercurial wanderlust, but then I tell you that I’ll pay for your art school so you don’t have to spend your savings, and you feel better.

We go to North Dakota, because it is far from everything and not overdone. There’s an abandoned ranch, the grass waist-high. The wind blows ferociously, and sucks the moisture from our lips. The old house tips into the earth, but there is no mold anywhere. All the rooms are filled with light. The paint is peeling, and paint chips get in everything. I have a small gas generator for electricity. You’ve brought a good table and enough coffee to fuel a mild obsession.

All we do is fuck and work. We wake at dawn and run, without time pieces, down the pitted dirt road that goes through the grass. We can see the horizon in front of us, and I think of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her bareback ponies.

We run until we are exhausted, farther every day. There’s a stream to jump into, clear, with wildflowers. We bathe in the stream and then make breakfast out of things from our garden. We’ve cleared an overgrown patch of yard for our garden. It has volunteer watermelons and chicken bones in the dry soil. An old compost pile. We’ve got chickens. We eat and then I push you over into the grass and take off your clothes. We lay in the sun and bake. Then we crawl into the shade to fuck, because I am intolerant of the heat.

After fucking, we do not know what time it is. It doesn’t matter. We stumble, barefoot, into the house, leaving our breakfast dishes in the grass, and begin to work, you at your table and me at my computer. When we get hungry we eat from the big pot of food on the stove. Simple things, mung beans and brassicas and bone broth. Wild potherbs. Bacon.

When the sun sets we stop working, for we have no electric lights, and if we tried to work by oil-lamp we would go blind. The oil lamps hiss and we lay on the warm boards of the deck and watch the stars come out. I’ve got a banjo, and you’ve learned to play the thumb piano. Our hair is wild. We have no mirrors. It doesn’t matter, because we know how beautiful we are. We fuck again. All day, when we are taking breaks, moments of staring out the window at the tall grass, and the wind, we are thinking of new ways to fuck. Ways to fuck that no-one has ever done before. Fucking as improv, as spirituality, as ritual. Fucking that pushes our limits, our pain tolerance, our love for one another. Fucking that doesn’t try to be anything at all. Sometimes I read outloud to you from Little House on the Prairie while you masturbate. Sometimes I try and make myself come just by breathing and watching the clouds.

Frequently your coffee consumption keeps you from sleeping. These nights you sit up in bed and blind-contour draw my chin as seen in the moonlight. During the day you nap, and I write you love letters because I miss you, and feel my infinite smallness, all alone on the plain. I am like Ma in the dugout, when Pa has gone away to find work back east, and the blizzards will not stop coming. Only Ma was infinitely more patient than I am, because she never had the internet. Eventually you wake up, and find that I’ve taken off your clothes and tied you to the bed with some rope I’ve found in a broken-down stable. I’ve rubbed you all over with oil and placed warm stones along your spine. I’ve made constellations of your freckles with one of your shoplifted drawing pens. I’ve made you come seventeen times, in your sleep. You’ve had the strangest dreams, and you’re flushed.

Summer gets old and dried-up, and we run out of salve for our lips. We’ve eaten the twenty-pound sack of mung beans and are down to the bottom of our barrel of salt-pork. The wild pot-herbs have gone to seed and we’ve eaten all the watermelons. One day I wake up and want to read the news. You’ve been reading it on the sly for many months, and tell it to me in one long narrative there in bed, propped on your pillows, talking with your hands. I work in some magical realism to put the world back together, like an emulsifier. The seas are still filling with oil, there is still nothing I can do. The sun from the window is resting on your perfect tits, which have exploded in freckles. I pull the suitcase of money from under the bed. It’s empty. We haven’t grown sick of each other.

What to do next? Get married? There is nowhere else to run. North Dakota was the last place. You furrow your brow. You are both worried and excited by my mercurial wanderlust. Your hands are neat and square, the blue of your eyes has faded from the sun. I do not know what to do with you. Maybe I was exposed to too much lead as a child. All those peeling low-income apartment complexes. The lead weights in window dressings. Lead affects the part of the brain that determines impulsiveness, and one’s ability to learn from one’s mistakes. I flop back down on the sheets, and whine like a puppy. The sheets are thin and soft, like my grandmother’s sheets. They have small simple flowers on them. The sheets make me want to have sex, and sleep. They fill me with infinite peace, like my grandmother’s house, with its hardwood floors and chiming grandfather clock.

We don’t have money for gas, so we leave the car at the house, at the end of the long pitted dirt road. We use some of your savings to mail your art and art supplies and my computer back home, to the raincloud. Then we walk. It’s fall, and the wind blows drier than ever. I have a mason jar of water and a cucumber, and my banjo. We’re barefoot. Our jean-shorts are torn. My tye-dye shirt is faded and thin. Around my neck are rainbow freedom rings, and they glint painfully in the sun.

When we get to the small paved highway we’re so hot we almost pass out. A woman with air conditioning picks us up. She’s unhappy, so I give her my banjo. She rambles when she talks, and offers us diet sodas. You’re allergic to diet soda so to protect you I dump yours out the window when she isn’t looking. In this way you know that I love you, and that I Pay Attention. The woman is so excited by our energy that she calls her husband and breaks up with him, and then drives us to Oregon. She throws her shoes out the window, and after dropping us off in the raincloud she moves to a small beach town, and opens up a shop selling bath oils and gluten-free cinnamon rolls. She’s reached the end of her personal evolution and lives there, happily, until her death.

My problem is that I fear that I will never reach the end of my personal evolution. Back home, we both get jobs somehow, even though the world is ending and capitalism is becoming irrelevant. It feels good, to have routine. It’s much easier to pretend to know how to bake bread than to think. The wild part of me goes to sleep and I lose my suntan. The rains come back and we both have allergies. We don’t worry about what the next part will be because we both know that one day, the day will come when we won’t have to figure out the next part, that the next part will come for us, over the mountains in a tidal wave, and we’ll never have to think again.

the sun and time

This week is our last week in Idaho. Corinne is at the cave cabin tonight, to think in the fire-warmed dark and have epiphanies about her path in life, while the stars wink on over the salmon river and the goats, once tamed for milk and now gone wild again, bed down in the clumps of trees that cap the dark hills. The cave cabin is a small room carved out of the stone mountain and framed inside with logs. The front wall is made of mud and old car windshields, everything is fitted together with clever bits of wood, and the window opens on leather hinges. There is a woodstove made from an old steel drum, set into the rock at the back of the cave. There are a few shelves, two oil lamps, and a teapot. There is a shitter at the end of a little path that runs along the hill, it is made of recycled planks. Last time we were there, there was a frozen tower of turds in the hole where you shat into. Turds stacked one on top of the other, all winter long. But the weather has been warm, and I imagine the tower is now melted and collapsed.

Inside the cabin there is a rough board that serves as a desk, fastened just below the windows that look out at the river and the sunset and the stars. There is a chair pulled up to the desk, and some paper and old national geographics. I imagine Corinne sitting there, mapping out her life, burning beeswax candles and playing with her tarot cards. I sent some mung-bean patties with her, for dinner, and some split pea soup and rice. She took a big glass jug of spring water, the good spring water that comes from the tap here, and has so many minerals the glasses are never clean. It gets cold at night, still, but she has plenty of wood and blankets and though the vent on the stove at the cave-cabin is busted open and the fire burns too fast, she’ll get up at night to feed it, and build it up again in the morning to heat water in the teapot for her tea.

Here at the house I’ve been having my own sort of ritual, the kind where I read in bed for six hours, oddly cold and then too hot, and wait for my period to come. While the sun was out today I sat next to the river and read there, the wind blowing my blanket and the dog, the ugly wiry-haired brown dog with the weird yellow eyes, came up and sat next to me, next to the rock labyrinth that has just as much horse-shit in it as stones. The yellow grass bent in the wind, and the horse chewed at the ground and moved around, and I wished I knew how to ride horses, and I was strangely content, and I wished I never had to leave. There is so much to do, besides sitting in the sun and reading, and working on writing projects that may never be finished but grow larger anyway, foolishly, and surprise me every day- there is walking in the hills and collecting crystals, which Corinne can see better than I can, because I need glasses, but there are still enough that I find plenty- and back at the house we break the big rocks open with hammers to find the geodes inside, the geodes that we think might be inside, and get glittering bits of crystal all over the cement deck and laugh, like children, and feel like children, and I watch Corinne grow younger, and her freckles come out, in the desert, like magic spots, the nicest color brown, and her eyes flash like gemstones, and her lips are the color of amethyst, and she is happy-

It makes a person trust in the future. And there is no reason to trust in the future, and so it makes a person try and figure out how the future will happen, so that it might seem reasonable to trust in it- but there is no reason in trust, and trust, in a sense, is the opposite of hope- it is acceptance instead- this trust- the belief that Everything will be ok is not a belief that everything will, indeed, be ok, but a declaration that Whatever happens, I accept it, and then of course you can let go of the fear, and you are just where you are, and your shirt is full of crystals that you have carried home from the desert, where you were almost lost in a ravine choked with brush, but you helped each other find the animal trail, for cows and deer and wise beasts, and you climbed down the rock and crumbling earth to home, and everything smelled of sage, and it was the new moon. And you were happy, and you trusted.

I don’t want to go back to the city. Can you tell? But Corinne has to, and if I was out here alone it would be like my oxygen had been taken away. I am going to try and come back, to this land where there are no dance parties or potlucks or readings or buildings full of books or unique ingredients for cooking or really any kale, but still, there is so much to do- we haven’t even ridden the four-wheeler to the secret lake, yet, where in spring the fish are so thick you can grab them up with your hands, nor have we ridden the horse, or had our photo shoot in the good sun at the abandoned log farmhouse in the tall golden grasses, wearing the ridiculous clothing we got from the thrift store in town, holding a BB gun or a length of rope or teacups. One of us was going to be the cowboy and one of us was going to be little house on the prairie in a bright neon Technicolor muumuu, with a wicker hat with a big length of ribbon, blowing in the wind. And the shirt for the cowboy is thick cotton with turquoise feathers on it and geometric designs. And Frannie wants a bit of the wallpaper.

And there is so much else! I haven’t learned the constellations yet, for example. And I haven’t done my howling-wolves cross stitch and I haven’t built a miniature log cabin out of twigs that I fell with a tiny, imaginary chainsaw as imaginary winter comes quickly and notch and fit together just in the nick of time. And I haven’t found any roadkill, and I haven’t made a potroast. And I haven’t had a garden. The days pass so fast, and I thought they would go so slow. But when do the days ever go slow? It seems that time is speeding up, that life is a spiral into nothingness, faster and faster, and only youth have the slow smooth arch of the outside circle, where for a moment there is immortality and unspeakable wealth, as if there will always be enough of everything, and the minutes run through you and make you larger, and so little happens that you see it all and take it all in and there is still some of you left over at the end of eac day. I am not old yet but already, time is going too fast, and there is not enough of me.

And what of you, dear reader? No doubt you live in a building surrounded by other buildings, in a great glowing stretch of lit-up buildings, where weather doesn’t matter and all the crystals have long ago been picked from the earth or paved over. It’s where humans live, these days, nearly completely all of them, some crazy percent of the world’s population, now residing is cities. More than every before in the history of anything. We are living right this ten minutes in a way that has never been lived before. Everything looks different, if you are a tree or someone who has lived long enough to be able to notice it, than it did for most all of time, and no-one knows why, or where this train is headed. But it doesn’t matter because the train is headed nowhere, it is just the feeling of moving, this vibration, the earth through space. And I wonder- if time passes because we are on the earth and the earth is moving around the sun, and that is a day and night, then what is time on the sun? I imagine that there is no time on the sun. There is only one moment, and that moment is the moment of burning. And we are small burnings, children of the sun, small heat factories, tiny combustion engines, making energy. So is there time for us, or just this one moment, the moment of burning? And what gives it shape and color? And why are there feelings?

Who knows the answer to my questions? The trees know, but they are not telling. They are made of sun and water, they are indifferent to both time and space. They do not mind me asking, though, foolish mortal that I am, vibrating like a hummingbird, no roots to prove that I exist. They humor my need to see shape and color and space and time, my need to feel their curled white bark and think bark, to lean my forehead against their furrowed trunks, to ask the simplest, and largest questions, to get pine pitch stuck in my hair and think pine pitch. They cannot make existence small enough for me to understand, but if I turn off my brain, they can help me to almost feel it- and it is like a wind, a warm wind, the sort of wind that comes from sun, from water, from movement. And that is all it is.

Argiope aurantia vs. the giant who made civilization

I slept well last night. You are not going to believe this, but the weather has been warming and yellow garden spiders the size of my thumbnail have been making the trek through the wall between my shack and the garage and catapulting themselves, at one a.m., onto my bed near the wall. It’s happened twice. The first time it was a dull THUD, just after I had turned out the lights, as if a small rock had hit my pillow. Reaching out in the dark, I felt the big spider scurry over the back of my hand. Thinking it was a mouse, I yanked on the lamp-cord. It was a yellow garden spider, gentle and horrible, frozen in the light, terrified. I smashed it against the wall with my stiff dayplanner. I had unpleasant thoughts. I fell back asleep. A fluke! I told myself in the morning, over bacon. Never to happen again.

Then, the night before last, it happened again. Lights out, and THOCK! as a small object hit the wooden frame of my bed. NO, NO, NO, I thought to myself, and almost did not turn on the lamp. Almost rolled over and went back to sleep. almost. I sat up and turned on the light. There was another one, massive, trembling, immobilized in the bright lamplight. Gentle spider, I thought. Spinner of elaborate garden webs, catcher of dewdrops. Steadfast. What was she even doing in here? It was the female, large and decorated. The male is a ghost, existing only for mating, then dying. Their lives are in the garden- what were they doing in my shack? As I reached for my planner, a part of me remembered that I was the giant in the situation. I had created civilization, the combustion engine, synthetic fertilizer, iphones. She was only, maybe, looking for a warm place to lay her eggs. On a sort of expedition. Being brave. I smashed her with my planner. I turned the light back off, had horrible thoughts of yellow garden spiders jumping like lemmings from the upper part of the wall, falling in a cascade onto my face. What I deserved.

Last night I crawled into bed at midnight, somewhat anxious, with a borrowed copy of Chelsea Starr’s hurriedly photocopied zine, Long walks on the beach with Chelsea Starr. Chelsea Starr does not know it, but she is my favorite queer Portland writer. Maybe she reads this blog. Chelsea, you are my favorite queer Portland writer. Chelsea writes genuinely hilarious stories about her childhood of incredible poverty and neglect. Reading her stories is like reading about my own childhood, only somehow I have magically been given the ability to laugh at it. I do not know how she pulls this off, but it seems enormously important that she continues to do so.

I read Chelsea’s zine, and no spiders fell on my face. Life is good. I fell asleep.

Now, this morning, it is brightly sunny, like spring. I eat my breakfast on the back deck, sitting cross-legged on the wood. Eggs fried in bacon grease, Brussels sprouts fried in bacon grease, corn tortillas fried in bacon grease and bacon- friend in bacon grease. It is the same thing every day, with mustard greens or kale in the weeks that there is a frightful hike in the price of Brussels sprouts. I wonder if it is bad for me to eat so much bacon. I like to roll the egg and bacon up in the tortillas, and make a little taco. I like to eat the Brussels sprouts with my fingers. I have been having violent dreams. Is it because of all the bacon? Last night I dreamt that friends were trying to kill me, that my housemate shot me with an antique revolver. We were all wearing long slinky dresses with splits up to the knee. I woke up feeling as if I had missed something important, neglected something, forgotten something so crucial, like a child or a whole life. It felt as though, in the night, a part of me had left. Was it my old self, my old way of living, my old way of thinking about the world- was it this part of me, saying goodbye? Slipping out in the night? Did it happen when I half-woke to the sound of freight trains, the highline to Chicago, the 4am mail train? Was that the old me, leaving quietly, so as not to wake me? Scrawling a note on a piece of paper bag, leaving it on the nightstand while I slept? I love you, I miss you, I’m leaving, goodbye. Is that why I woke with such a sense of loss? Is this what happens when you decide, for the first time in your life, to go to college? After eight years of never being in one town for more than eight months at a stretch?

I do not know, but it fills me with melancholy, this bright morning. What happens to that other self? Where will she go? Will she be lonely? She will always be out there, in the fields, sleeping, alone. There is always someone, lonely. Running from nameless things. Looking. Attempting to transcend gravity.

And what about this new self? What am I, now? Boring? Uninspired? No! I will be prolific, I will grow all the things that one can grow will moving in time, but not in space- I will no longer spread myself so thin that I cease to exist entirely. Days and hours will stack up into something of worth, and every minute will add onto the one before it. This is what I want.

National Bacon Day in the Republic of Zanahoria

I ate bacon twice today. My body is a beast, and demands the pork fat. C made me breakfast- I was groggy, woke up in a black mood, the morning wind balmy, the clouded sky more bright than usual. The knock of windchimes heralded spring. C had breakfast nearly ready before I even got out of bed- a pan of roasted roots in the oven, steamed greens, corn tortillas, eggs fried in bacon grease and bacon, perfect crispy strips of lovely, salted, rust-colored bacon. We sat on the front stoop and ate, egg yolk dripping across our plates. We watched the houses across the street, all condemned, where the new sports field for the college will go. The bus went by, grumblingly. C wiped a hand on her sweatpant shorts. Her eyes twinkled like little lights inside her freckled face. Folks passed in front of us on the sidewalk, pushing strollers, going here or there for MLK day. After dishes I walked home under the weather beating the tree limbs, bringing a rounded soft wind with it and the smell of warming soil. My shack was cold- my space heater had broken. We’d spilled water all over my comforter while playing cards in bed and I’d draped it over the space heater to dry. It’d gotten too hot in there and the plastic dial had nearly melted off the thing. Now it seemed stale in my shack, and there was a strange smell, like decomposing leaves. My laundry was everywhere. My books needed reading. There was writing to do.

I couldn’t write. A nameless malaise sat on my head like a wet hat. I set out on bicycle to get a new space heater, carting it home on my rack, strapped down with an old innertube. Now there was warmth again, and the chemical smell of the space heater’s “rust preventative coating” burning off as I turned it on for the first time. I tried to read, but all I could think about was how irritating and unbelievable Oscar Wao’s sister is in the book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, not that I could write it any better, which of course makes me feel terrible. I turned the book over and wondered how it was that books even got written at all.

There was nothing to do but eat bacon. I was hungry, and there didn’t seem to be any other food in the world that I wanted to eat. I even went to the grocery store, wandered the aisles, looked at delicious foods, both those I was allowed to consume and those I was not. What I really wanted was an entire pint of ice cream, maybe a cheese pizza. But when you are allergic to both gluten and dairy, what do you do? You eat bacon. So I ate my second round crumbled on a kale salad with kimchi and grated beets and carrots. And then after the bacon was gone I suddenly felt weary of everything, again, this black mood like an acrid smoke that clings to my clothing. This day feels old. Tomorrow will be better.

love, weather, home.

I went to the east coast for love. Love is an interesting beast. A moving force, like weather. It carried me east, like a strong river. Time and space are movable in the face of love, place is malleable, futures become weighted with sentimentality. Everyone everywhere is having babies. I don’t want to have a baby but I like the idea of babies. A world with babies would make sense, the same way that big gardens and sunlit meadows and swimming holes make sense. Nice things, but who gets to have them? Most people, apparently, live in tall haunted buildings with no yards, the gutters clogged with leaves and Styrofoam cups. Snow falls and covers the trash and the pavement and the dead brown grass in the park and people are happy for a moment, they pull up the hoods of their hoodies and ball their hands into fists and walk around, throwing snowballs at chainlink fences. But babies? Never. On the east coast, I can’t tell if people are more or less unhappy than they are in Portland. With what sort of stick do we measure these things? And isn’t it just one big pot of soup, anyway? Everyone unhappy together on the head of a pin. Rare groves of trees left in remote, unpopular places provide momentary respite for the extremely fortunate. For a few days, while on the east coast, I was in Vermont, at C’s friend Joanna’s house, and we were sitting on a long couch in a room stuffed with woodheat. Outside the snow had been piling up and blowing around, pure and white like cake frosting and fantastically innocent. Beyond the house the frozen road wound four miles into a town of white-washed clapboard buildings that sat on end like cracker boxes. The cold river moved slow, shining and thick. All the world was a wintry eden, stitched together with the strong floss of naivety. I asked Joanna how it was that her parents got to live out there in the country when everyone else, anymore, lived teeming in cities with nary a blade of grass, and of course it was a long and complicated story, the story of how one finds a way to live in the country when there is nothing in the country to live for, when rural everywhere is busted economically and abandoned houses sit moldering and there is no way to spin goat hair into gold or live of burlap sacks of acorns. Nothing is so romantic anymore, or so mechanical. Nothing is analog. The only objects that move through space, these days, are the apples that fall in the abandoned orchard, small and misshapen but still tasting alive, sweet and crisp and, if anyone were there to witness it, perfect. But we have no memory for these things. What are we? Where are we.

We are here. The entire continent is covered in clouds. I know this because I am in a plane above them, looking down, god to the red-blue sunset and the curve of the earth. Oh, the curve of the earth! It takes me right out of the clutter of my brain and reminds me of the simplest equation of all. The earth curves, we are small. The east coast was swept free of clouds when we circled it this afternoon, the pincushion of Manhattan bristling in the cold atlantic wind. Tiny freight barges fought the moon on the open sea, carrying the cumulative product of several thousand years of human civilization. Mass-produced goods. When I first got off the bus in New York my fingers were numb from the cold, Lark wasn’t back in town yet, and the coffee shop that sold tea was closed. Then Sean called me, my friend from Alaska. He was in Brooklyn visiting his family. So I took the subway to his house and we sat on his rumpled twin bed and talked about the Gaia hypothesis and the unraveling of the meta-narrative of the universe. His room smelled like stale cigarettes, just like his cabin in Alaska. He’d moved into a new cabin, he said, with his FTM boyfriend. You’re a fag, I said. No I’m not, he said. Yes you are, I said. You can think that, he said, but I’m not. Well then you’re queer, I said. He was silent for a moment. Not straight, at least?

No, definitely not straight, he said. I asked him how school was going. I’ve barely been going to classes, he said. I’m too smart for school.

Sean begged the car from his sister and took me on a tour of the Dyker Heights Christmas lights, crazy plastic snowmen nativity santa scenes twirling and waving and blinking on and off, crowded into the manicured front lawns of old-money Italian homes. Since he’d been back Sean’s mom had given him shit about his beard, and the fact that he walked around the house without socks. He worried that he’d grown too Alaskan. I fiddled with the radio and he squinted against the traffic lights, glasses lost, and cut back and forth in traffic. “I can’t wait to get pulled over,” he said. “I can’t wait to show the cop my Alaskan ID. I’m going to try and play dumb, like- ‘But officer, we don’t have traffic lights in Alaska!’” By and by he dropped me off at Lark’s place, and I stomped up the worn wooden stairs to her floor.

Lark lives on the opposite end of Brooklyn, near the navy yard, in an industrial building across from an academy for Hassidic boys. On the first floor of her building is a commercial linen service, and the rest has been turned into work-live studios- but not, says Lark, like the fancy decadent ones in Williamsburg, which are, according to her, dark, airless closets that have been outfitted with granite countertops and brushed steel appliances. Lark’s fourth-floor apartment has cinderblock walls and big, old windows that let in more light than even I am used to, back on the Wet Coast in my dim wooden shack. The floor is concrete, and in the back of the space three tiny rooms have been built, each large enough for a twin bed and a bookcase. Lark has built a loft in hers, a nest for her futon and three-foot stack of blankets, and so has doubled the size of the room. Below the loft is her desk, crowded with art supplies, shelves for clothes and books, and her huge window that overlooks the navy yard, around which hang her plants, brought from Greensboro, from the brick house on Mimosa drive where the both of us once lived.

I got to Lark’s house late and she put on the kettle for tea, handed me a glass of tap water and I leaned against the counter, grateful. We were both exhausted, me from eight days of travel and small-talk with strangers and Lark because she’d fallen in love, a love which had driven her to take several thirteen hour Chinatown bus trips to North Carolina and back, from which she’d just returned. She said she hadn’t slept in days, she’d just been fucking and talking and wandering the winter streets of Greensboro, which had been dusted in a rare blanket of new year’s snow. Now her new date was on a plane back to Sweden, where he lived with his seven year-old son, and they wouldn’t see each other again until February. Lark is thinking of moving to Berlin, which is several hundred years closer to Sweden. She likes urban wastes, crumbled cinderblock walls and architectural ruins that go on for miles, all of which can be found in Berlin. It fascinates her endlessly, it fuels her art. Lark and I spent the few days before my flight making fantastically large breakfasts, walking in the cold clear wind, and then coming home to pot tincture and netflix on demand. Ever since I ate pot brownies with C’s family on Christmas, I’ve been on a bit of a drug kick. It’s been fun, this little holiday vacation from sobriety. I get really dumb and time slows down, and everything seems more interesting than it is, with threads of sadness in there too, and then I fall asleep.  My little bender is over now, though. I left the tincture in New York with Lark. I didn’t want to fly with it again. Airport security is ridiculous.

The wet coast! Take me back to the wet coast. To my shack, my bed, my books. Quiet. An idea of home. And love! Ridiculous things, like home and love. Who am I, and what morning did I wake up and find myself suddenly capable of these things?

Lark on her rooftop in Brooklyn

the young Annie Dillard

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Once upon a time when I was on the internet, I found these photos of the young Annie Dillard. I don’t remember what site I got them from, or who took them, which is irresponsible, I know, but I saved them to my computer and I look at them alot. Although I have enjoyed and been inspired by many authors over the years, Annie Dillard has, over time, pulled ahead, and then passed, and then left in the dust, every single one of them, to emerge triumphant as the single greatest literary influence of my life, by a very, very large margin- like how if you make a tiny solar system all to scale, and the sun is the size of a pencil eraser, then Earth is nine feet away, and the planets behind it aren’t even in the same building. My infatuation with A.D. has maybe even evolved into a bit of an obsession, or at least a place where I funnel a significant amount of the worshipful feelings I have towards books, the written word, and sentences in general. And as I learn more about myself, I start to understand more and more why her way of thinking and writing speaks so intensely to me- her achingly florid, densely poetic, and brilliantly philosophical nature-writing tastes, to me, the way chocolate-covered bacon should taste, unless you buy it from the Alaska state fair like I did this summer, from a stand called “pork lickers”- like the best thing in the entire world. And as I think about her, I am reminded of how I was ever introduced to her in the first place.

I had a lover once who lived in a big, rambling punk house on Skidmore street, the kind of house where no-one is ever home and there is bad, half-ironic goodwill art on the walls, and all the heat is lost to the high, high ceilings. This lover lived in a room that faced the street, with big tall windows and a gleaming wooden floor, and she had hardly any stuff- a futon on the floor, a little stereo, a stack of books, some postcards lined up on the windowsill. I’d met her at a birthday fire in a friend’s backyard, and we’d courted in the Trader Joe’s dumpster and along brambly shores of the Willamette below the OMSI, picking toxic (in retrospect) blackberries until our hands were covered in juice and blood and then kissing while The Portland Spirit pulled up to the dock and tourists disembarked along the ramp above our heads. She was the sort to run hot and cold, the sort who might skip town at any moment, more unpredictable, even, than I was. She would stay up late, driven by insomnia, and then the next morning bike a “century” to the coast and back- a hundred miles in a day, with only a banana and a bottle of water. She drank too much, couldn’t keep jobs, fell asleep in strange places without even a pillow, and was devilishly goodlooking. We got off on passing as boys together, on looking like young fags. I took her on her first train ride- along with my housemate at the time, Kristi- the three of us rode the train south to Dunsmiur, California, but in the sleepy midnight hour I missed our stop among the pines and we ended up in Redding, making camp in a field full of stickers and hitching, in the hot, dry morning, back north to the historic railroad town. As we were standing on the I-5 on-ramp, thumbs out, a cop car pulled up in front of us, and the cop stuck his head out and eyed us quizzically. How old are you? He asked me, who was the closest. 23, I said. The cop furrowed his brow, confused. I got a call that there were a bunch of twelve year-old boys trying to hitch-hike, he said, before driving away.

One day I went to visit this lover at her empty punk house and found her galloping excitedly around her room, Patti Smith turned up loud, sunlight streaming in the high windows. After shouting along to Gloria (GLOOOOOOORIA G-L-O-R-I-A) she switched off the stereo and pulled me onto the front porch, where we sat on the wooden steps and she cracked open a beer. In her other hand she held a battered copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the edition with the rolling hills at the bottom of the cover, and the big sky above it. She opened the book and began to read me the part in the chapter “Seeing” where Annie is crouched along the banks of the creek, attempting to catch a glimpse of a muskrat exiting its den. The language was a little too dense for me, read aloud, and as the sentences came from my lover’s mouth they crowded my skull like furry, gently-glowing caterpillars, and I was incapable of untangling one intricate, writhing sentence before the next one landed with a THUD atop the others, waiting to be understood. But I did get a sense, that warm afternoon, that this was writing more saturated with beauty than almost all writing is capable of being- and I was immediately fascinated, if a little intimidated by the slow, thick progression of the book.

I left town, the lover left town, everyone left town, and I never did read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek until September of last year, when I packed it as my travel-book for a cross-country train trip from Portland to North Carolina, and finally cracked it open while stranded at a remote stretch of double track in eastern Oregon under the last of the punishing summer sun, next to the freeway and a tiny, ramshackle farm with a tiny, ramshackle house, a green meadow, a babbling brook, and several brown cows. I was curled on my ridgerest under a short, thorny tree whose boughs bent over and touched the dust, providing patchwork shade and a cave in which I could hide. I was sick with some parasites I’d ingested while backpacking and had only begun to treat, and for two days I waited at that siding under the strange thorny tree, alternately nauseous, dehydrated, and repentant that I had set out to take the trip at all. At night there was the deafening scream of crickets, and the ten zillion stars overhead like broken glass dropped into a well. I opened Pilgrim and read it in the punishing heat of day, and I read it by headlamp late into the starlit night. And Annie Dillard, in that moment, became my best, and only, and most important friend, my spiritual teacher- the only person, suddenly, who could tell me that everything was going to be ok, and why. It didn’t matter, anymore, that I was stranded at this siding in eastern Oregon, that I was lonely, and that no trains with rideable cars were stopping so that I could get on. It didn’t matter that I was too sick to eat, that I was almost out of water, or that I constantly had to shit. It didn’t matter because the universe was simultaneously bigger and smaller than anything I could possibly imagine, and so achingly beautiful, intricate, and astounding, that not even death could transcend it. I’ll die out here, I thought, I’ll die or reach enlightenment, one of the two.

I got out of there eventually, on the slave unit of a train bound for Hauser, Idaho, where I caught another train to Minneapolis, etc. and so on. You can read about all of that on here, in the archives for September of 08. I read Pilgrim steadily, in bits and pieces, as much as I could digest at one time, over the three-month course of that trip, adding in the first two Twilight books around thanksgiving, when I was stranded at a truck-stop in Arizona, because by that point I needed, if only for a moment, to escape to intensity of Annie’s brain, if I was to continue to absorb it at all. I finally read the last two chapters of Pilgrim this spring in Alaska, in Tara’s cabin, aloud by candlelight- and was completely stunned by them, and by the lessons I took from them, and closed the book feeling that I understood, for the first time in my life, the irreconcilably contrary nature of life on this planet. I then opened the book up and began to read again, from the beginning.

Mixed in with all of this, of course, are Annie’s other books, which I have read, or read pieces of, or which wait patiently on my bookshelf, with all the other unread books. I have sought out others who are preoccupied with her writing, I have bonded with strangers solely on our affection for it. I have slipped her into this blog almost constantly. The only thing I haven’t done, is written her a letter directly. Sometimes I think about it. The earth spins, this and that happens, time passes, Annie Dillard gets older. What if I never get the chance to be her penpal? There are other weird connections to her in my life- several of my friends went to private highschool in New Hampshire with her kid, who is my age, and rides freight trains, and other strange coincidences, all of it making the line between Pulitzer-prize winning celebrity and simple humanness a little blurred and indistinct. And what to do with all of this? What to do with the way I feel about her writing? The only thing I can think of is to read and re-read it, and stretch out the unread bits like special, finite treats, and mourn our own mortality, as humans, if only because it means that something as incredible as Annie’s writing has an end, and one day there will be no more of it.