September 28 - October 1
September 28, 2005
I’m getting very anxious about the prospect of my reintegration into civilization and my life back East. I have less than three weeks remaining here, and I’m afraid to leave the safety of the wilderness; pretty ironic given that I was terrified for a whole year at the thought of coming to live here. I’ve gotten used to the buffer of countless miles and boundless quiet, a wall which makes for a lightness of being one cannot know in cities and towns, a lightness born of obliviousness and small wonders. Only when I’ve turned on the radio out here or gone into town and read newspapers has that wall been breached. Tonight, listening to NPR while cooking dinner, I heard reports of people starving in Africa, people in our own country displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the ever-rising death toll in Iraq, and I suddenly had a headache, and then had a hard time enjoying my sesame-encrusted pork loin. And I feel embarrassed to even write that. In my old life, how did I ever eat all my dinners in front of the six o’clock TV news? I don’t think I’ll do that anymore once I’m back on the grid. There is so much suffering in the world; how do you live so that it doesn’t rot you on the inside? Do what you can to alleviate it? Make donations? March in protest? But do these lift the weight, stop the rot? Listening to the report about these people in Africa, whose crops have failed and who don’t have enough to eat despite international help, I thought of all the food I’ve consumed out here. I spend an average of about $75 a week at Market of Choice. I treat myself to expensive cheeses, meats, olives, snacks, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Choice stuff. I’ve stocked dry goods I’ll never eat: brown rice, flour, sugar, oat meal. Listening to the news, I found myself wishing I could send my whole pantry to these malnourished people. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. An hour before all this, I was down at the river catching steelhead on flies, watching water ouzels and a great blue heron, my head as clean as the river, the air. Oblivious. Light. I was happy. Yes, I think there’s something to be said for obliviousness. Maybe that’s a cop-out. It doesn’t stop suffering except in the one oblivious. It’s a shirking of responsibility, even. But maybe that’s the guilty trade-off for peace of mind.
I’m not sure how I’ll handle the reintegration. I had a fleeting fear recently that I’ll have a complete emotional meltdown. But of course I won’t. I’ll be grumpy for a time. I’ll grind my teeth in my troubled sleep. I’ll have headaches more often. I’ll ride the high of the intense stress that comes with being a high school teacher. But I expect I’ll do what I’ve done here to find peace of mind—revel in the small wonders. I’ll look for them or stumble upon them as I always have. Fall foliage going from red and orange to brown. Snowfall in the glow of a streetlight. Ellis Paul singing “Maria’s Beautiful Mess” live at The Mansion in Middletown, me sitting close enough that I can touch his guitar. The sound of ice shifting on a frozen lake. Gussie’s sweet, attentive eyes; his big black paws; his taut little body. Coming to know and love a new batch of students. Seeing the first crocus of spring. These and a thousand other things will iron out the wrinkles made by my wincing at the hard, hard world and my new life, forty and divorced.
I’m tired tonight. This morning, feeling guilty about the condition of the corral trail, I lugged the Stihl chainsaw about a mile down the trail and cleared all the fallen trees. Cutting the biggest tree, I got the blade stuck, despite my silent assurance that I wouldn’t let it. I didn’t want to bend the bar or damage the chain trying to yank it out, so I hiked all the way back to get the bow saw to finish the cut. It did the trick, but now I’d walked twice as far as I’d planned. As if all that steep hiking wasn’t enough, in the afternoon we walked to the river for more fishing. I fished for about twenty minutes and had several tugs, but caught nothing. Then I noticed that the hook on the fly was broken, its point and barb completely gone. That explained why I wasn’t catching fish. Duh. It must have broken against a rock during a back cast. I tied on a new fly and tried my trusty pockets, but nothing doing. Then I made my way back to our beach, where I encountered a nice family on a raft. The Cramers. They’d parked right at our beach and were setting up camp to spend the night there. I got to talking with them, and they gave me homemade chocolate chip cookies and showed me a Rogue River book I hadn’t seen. There was a section in it on Dutch Henry. Annoyed that I hadn’t caught a fish, I decided to try the mouth of the creek before I left. And there I caught one, a nice steelhead, about 14 inches. I offered the fish to the Cramers, but they politely declined. While we were chatting, the older of the two brothers, casting from my rock, hooked into a steelie with a spinner. Here’s the picture of them unhooking the fish and giving Gus a sniff of it:
September 29, 2005
Having coffee this morning, I discovered an issue of The Alaska Sportsman magazine dated June, 1945. I got a kick out of flipping through it and seeing all the old ads for polar bear rugs, shotguns, Tlingit baskets, references to the war. But the back cover ad for Schenley whiskey had me laughing out loud. It reminded me of Gus chasing around old Dutch Hen:
Today I lacked all pep, and my right shoulder was aching. Maybe it was all the walking and lugging of the chainsaw yesterday. It was all I could do to go to the pond and back, put away some gardening tools and hoses, chop some kindling. I napped twice in the afternoon. Once didn’t do it. Had no juice to go fishing at the river. So, a day of rest. In Genesis even God needed one of those.
I cooked up the fish I caught yesterday, and it came out just right. With some shad roe Bradley left me, some brown rice, a corn salad, and a romaine salad, I had a nice dinner.
I’m starting to think about packing up. My car and storage box were full coming out here, and I had to mail myself several boxes of things. I guess I’ll do the same when I leave. It occurs to me that I won’t have a bed to sleep in when I arrive at my bungalow. My bed’s buried in storage. I’ll be roughing it until I can find someone to help me move the big things. I’m tired just thinking about setting up the new place.
September 30, 2005
Feeling much more energized today after a good night’s sleep (even though I stayed up late watching Patton), I started packing stuff this morning. I filled up two big boxes to mail to myself, one box full of spices, teas and stuff I’ve dried and canned, another box full of books. I need to get myself more boxes and packing tape on my next trip to town, which might be tomorrow. With Bradley coming in on Monday with a friend, I’m thinking I should go to the farmer’s market in Grants Pass and get some goodies.
After lunch Gus and I went fishing. The river was like a circus. As soon as I got off the main trail to head down to our beach I encountered a hiker. He’d walked about 14 miles and was looking for a place to camp. I directed him to a nice spot with a flat area and close to an outhouse. Then there were two boats at the beach, some people stopped for lunch. After they left, three more boats pulled up, guides saying they had twenty hikers coming to camp there. It’s just as well. The river was high and cloudy and the wind was blowing like crazy. I think a dam must have been opened upriver, because the river’s been so clear and low. Anyway, the fishing was no good. We fished as far as the back eddy pockets, and then headed back.
Looking at some maps this afternoon, I decided to head back by going north into Washington where I’ll get on I-90 and take that all the way, through the Badlands. It was the way I wanted to come on the ride out, but didn’t. I think I’d rather see Montana than Nebraska again. Man, it’s a big country. I don’t relish the thought of driving it again. I’ll have to download more books from iTunes.
October 1, 2005
Well, October made a splash here. Literally. A whole night of rain. All day yesterday I could feel it coming, could sense it in the bluster, see it in the swirling clouds, and by evening I felt the first tiny droplets falling. Several times I woke in the night to hear it dancing on the skylight. When I got up this morning the mists were snaking along the ridge. I’m grateful for the rain. It’ll make my drive into town so much more pleasant. No dust!
With the change of month, I had the calendar on my mind this morning; or the lack of one. I haven’t had one out here, except for the tiny calendar in my checkbook I’ve consulted from time to time, or the date on my watch. But no tacked-up calendar with big boxes to X out. And so, this draft of a new poem. Of course, as with most of my poems, it’s about more than that (or at least I hope it is):
In this ambivalent wilderness
I’ve lived long without a calendar
to mark the things I’ve done
or haven’t—no exes through
my cabin days like the eyes
of the dead in comics, or on maps
for tourists the places that say
You Are Here; no appointments
scribbled or scratched out;
neither birthdays nor holidays
to mind like pots of rice.
To know the phase of the moon,
I’ve waited for the glow along
this eastern ridge. To know
the day, I’ve gazed through
the square pane of a bay window.
And when one month ended
and another began, I turned
no page but the one on which
I wrote in longhand the vain
stanzas of my numbered days.
On the drive into town I had a really great look at a bobcat. It was on the side of the road eating a dead deer. I slowed and watched it and it ran across the road. Then I stopped and turned around. Out it came for more. Again I drove up and got a great look. Then it dashed off again. I waited for more, but cars started coming by and it didn't come out for ten minutes, so I gave up. Pretty neat.