Friday, May 31, 2013

Heart Full of Water, Gut Full of Woods

Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.Peter Drucker 

A vintage sign from Edinburg, Virginia hangs on the wall in my room. Its warning is clear. There is nothing vague or bullshitty about it. This is what you must not do, or this is what will happen when you get caught.

No Hunting Or Trespassing On This Land
                     Day or Night
Persons failing to heed this warning will be dealt with                     
                             according to law.

What is the law? It is the silver arrow, twelve inches or so in length, that hangs directly to the right of the sign. The warning without words is just as clear. Don't make me. I don't want to, but I will. Woe to the person who assumes it was left behind by Cupid. The warning of the sign is an act of compassionate prevention. Just get on out of here. Turn around. Don't do it. The warning of the arrow is the promise that follows if you don't abide compassion with compassion, or at the very least, a solid dose of intelligent fear.

Don't fuck with me. Don't fuck with the people I love. Reverse that. Put them in order of importance. Because if you fuck with the people I love, you are fucking with me in a far worse way than if you simply fuck with me.

The sign and the arrow were gifts from the same friend, given on separate occasions. She knows me well. So well that we have entire conversations where the questions or statements take place silently and the answers are given aloud. It's the sort of communication that works well in situations that call for camouflage.

I've been thinking a lot about the woods, lately. Everyone always associates me with the ocean, not the woods. This makes sense, because when I moved to the ocean as an early twenty-something, I knew that I had come home to something very important. I had started a long, slow, flowing process of forgiveness and redemption, mainly of myself, and I felt safe. I was safe. Yes, it was coming home. But it was coming home to a place I had never been, and it was familiar in the same way that meeting a relative you've never met before is familiar. Foreign-familiar. You don't know the face, but you do. Oh, yes, those are your eyebrows you're looking at. That chin looks like several other chins you know well. The ocean is my baptismal font, my  special blanket, my salvation and my soother. It softens me up and loosens my muscles. Whenever I return to the ocean, I tend to breathe more easily. I slow.

But I didn't grow up near the ocean. I grew up near the woods. I grew up in the Midwest, and I was born in late September. Falling leaves crunching underfoot intoxicate me. Trees are my undoing. Walking through the woods is not foreign-familiar, it is familiar-familiar. It is a completely different sort of homecoming. The woods do not loosen my muscles. My breath does not slow. The woods arouse my senses and wake me up. I am enlivened and alert. Bow hunting is on my list-of-shit-I-will-do. I could bury myself happily in a pile of field guides, binoculars, and camping gear.

Maybe this is why most of the time I lived near the ocean, I didn't live in a house. I camped. I camped for a full year of my life, in every possible scenario. A tent by a pond. A cabin in the woods. An RV damn near everywhere, including directly in front of No Street Camping signs a few blocks from the beach.

It seems ironic to me that during one of the times of my life that did me the most good, people expressed the most concern for me. "My god! She's moved to a place where she doesn't know a soul, joined a weird religion, and is living outside."

You can spin anything to make it sound more crazy and dramatic than it actually is. When I first moved there, into a very socially acceptable suburban apartment complex, with the requisite two swimming pools and a hot tub, with a strip mall across the road,  I was a mouse. I jumped at my own shadow. I cried the first time I heard a police helicopter. I couldn't sleep if I was home alone. I couldn't find my voice if someone cut in front of me in a grocery store line with fifty items in their basket. I was a mouse, and I was an angry mouse. Filled with fury.

By the time I left, I had shed my fear and burned off my fury. I was someone else entirely. I was someone who could swing an ax, lift more than you would expect, put down burdens that never belonged to me, and cook a five course meal on a camp stove or fire. I could wander through the fog on the beach before sunrise without a single thought that anything was going to find me while I was concentrating on the two steps ahead that I could see.

And now I am living far from both the ocean and the woods. I live in the middle of a great big city, in the middle of a desert. The desert is yet another kind of familiar, and the city is more familiar still. And I am still not afraid. The ocean still whispers for me to come home and tame myself. The woods still beg me not to forget my primal self. The sign, the arrow, the altars full of shells, the bookshelf full of homesteading, wild plants, and build your own shelter books.

My wild self is shaped and sheltered, contained and unleashed, by water and trees, sand and concrete. When I leave this place, I wonder what it will have done to me. I wonder, but I don't predict. All I know is that my wishlist doesn't contain much. Just a wedding ring, a typewriter that isn't dependent upon electricity (in case of emergency or choice), a surfboard, and a compound bow.

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