Chapter 1: A Dream, or Goal, and the Idiotic Process
Greer to South Rim
Maybe it all is in the senses. The blustery of the chilly Spring day up in the high plateaus brought dank to the aspen groves, the air redolent of a northeastern cellar as I stroll on by. My hands tucked into my pockets, my buff flanking my ears, and my hoodies zipped up to fend off the relentless wind; I am conscious of my sensual freedoms. My toes nip with cold from soggy meadows and my nose gloomily perks up with those dank aspen leaves, the mulch a potent herb over a cold boil. My eyes water and I feel I am alive.
The days drift but I am hindered not by my senses being entranced by my world around me rather my racing mind. I only wish the wind would flurry through me and roar louder. I think, I did have something occur to me. I cannot fool it. I tasted something consciously free last summer and whatever it was is gone. But really, something changed. In the distance I can pinpoint describe to you what I am seeing but even a stalwart visual changes over time. Whether by heat rays, natural catastrophes, my own blurring vision, or simply utter ignorance, let alone a communication breakdown. We are not all on the same page, nevertheless, I am only concerned with my own leaflets within the bindings.
I don’t think the notion of being consciously free even crossed my mind when I first dreamt of wandering so many moons ago, let alone on my first step on a long distant trail. Emotionally voided is probably where and what my mind drove for. All of this, imperceptible to my reality, what was happening around me, a study in alcohol at one point. Off and on, I undulated in pain as an alcoholist. I studied it rather than indulged in it in order to stave off fruition of a dream and the blessing of some sort of toilsome freedom. And there on the Salar de Coipasa in western Bolivia last summer I found both, emotionally and consciously free, a level, a condition of being human that seemed to blend in with impermanence, riding the god damn wave. I had not a fleeting high we usually associate synergy with, rather an elevated state. At that exact moment I was guilt free and finally living the actual life of years of inner turmoil, painful vacillations of emotional swirls and a chaotic intellect torn between the normal and the wild, or actualizing a primal instinct, a natural wonder, a blooming gut unfolding inside of me to explore the world and to shelve all fear and timidity apart. I wasn’t aching then, for I was thriving. For the first time in my life, I had been free.
What better place to experience this freedom of nothing, this blank existence, a shroud of an endless hole in a place as vast, empty, and voluminous as the Altiplano. The naked veneer of mineral and salt, ancient volcanoes melting, the whole world a smeared palette, life begat a vacuum where I was being hurled in a state of perpetual emptiness and I crossed over into the essence.
If I could carry this I would, and although I am free I am condemned by it yet I do not carry it. I walk in consternation at times, laden with guilt. Yet this hike I am on now is a freedom from everyday drudgery, the facade of actuality, the inconvenience of rigmorale. One step in front of the other, then back to work. Rinse, lather, repeat: the Shampoo Effect. I always thought I would leave when and if I’ve nobody left. I mean, I believed this event would occur. I waited. Far from being patient, stirring and lurking within society charming idiots with my smile and my shoulders of leadership. I used to stare up at Orion and his glittering shoulders. He held up the sky while mine only punctured the floor burrowing deeper and deeper. Release me, I thought. Constantly.
The last one...a morbid thought...’If I’ve nobody left’...I’m not sure how to elaborate that one. It’s holding on to a ridiculous dream, one that doesn’t make sense. Nobody left, like no one to miss me or need me or to care for, like all is done, or my freedom is no longer on anyone else’s hands...that’s when I’d go.
I still don’t know what that means. Because I am completely aware that is absurd and completely against any idea or notion of what I know or would think I would do. It’s a selfish and self-indulging thing that has no relevance to real life. It’s imaginary, childlike, a fairy tale that doesn’t take on the form of the present. Like an alternate universe. Or else, I am a coward. How else do I explain it. But, it’s there. Occasionally popping up in my brain or heart, a whim of fantasy, of the infinitely lonesome vagabond.
Chasing the coyotes, I’ve got worlds to run. I am feverish, pursuing the tapered point of a bushy tail of the middle pack, signifying the balance of a controlled beast. Because my focus is on the tail. I thrash through the gambel oak, one way, then another. The branches resist and poke further in as the leaves have yet to unfold. The radar of my instincts gouging the way through something complicated, while my coyote instincts are infantile. I am clumsy, but getting faster, my eyes zoomed in on what I am relentlessly pursuing; my heart is fusing over into another realm. The smaller game trails weave in and out of the thick brush, the few crusty leaves of the gambel oak clinging on to the last season of growth, already dead, like faded scars. The coyotes whack the sharp branches cascading the brown bristled leaves within a tunnel of brush. Somehow I am able to hollow out a path behind coyotes, trampling. My clumsiness relinquishes but a labyrinth grove of dwarf aspen trips my gut up, confuses me. I lose tail of the middle pack; my mind catches up, I am not animal then.
Suddenly a clearing and I gain ground. My stride opens in a tall length. And my unobstructed path, my stride within the bare slopes, pushes the pack further, quicker into the next thicket. They don’t trust me yet. Yet, I see what the coyotes are focused on—-something further up ahead, within another thicket, something I cannot see but I know it is there. Whatever it is, I feel it more than I see it. I want whatever more than the coyotes can ever wildly want. I feel competitive, arrogant, breaking from the herd of the mind. A social instinct fractures because I am hungrier.
Still I am behind three of them, zigzagging chaotically yet seemingly fluid through the pokey brush. At a fork, one coyote, a lead one, dashed off to the right, diverging to what I have known as to where people are to inhabit. I go the other way, chasing the other lead coyote, hankled by a reactive and unconcious movement, a fissure from my social instinct. Saliva now frothing around my jowls, I crease a furrow in my brow, I hunch further inward and narrow in on the hunt, my shoulders lurched, my hackles up. I made the choice: coyote not people.
I awake, up on the Rim, from a lunchtime quick nap and in a spontaneous thought, my coming-to, my random human mind is still there and I am befuddled by the whole 'lone wolf' expression. It simply isn't true, I think. The coyote, now, so similar to humans yet so vastly different--- to herd or not to herd. That is the question. My eyes still groggy, I spy on a wild horse herd from the heights of the bluff, not with any particular interest, no hunger pangs or urge to kill, nothing is triggered. I am lingering insouciantly up on the smallish and wallish rampart reading the contours of the land. The heat waves of the faraway distance high desert confuse me yet tantalize me, while the bends in the earth refresh me, make me thirsty; I see where water travels, erodes despite the patchy thick forest. Most of all, I am listening to the lament of the wind, hearing the moan of nature. It’s not always like this, but it is what’s left. All this dream world babble is code for the ultimate question: Just what the fuck am I?
A horse bellows down below me in the pasture. Burnt and laid low in a large expanse with undulating cover, the grass-green meadow is a place of refuge. Food, water, protection: the herd. At least until everything dries up. I spot a lonesome horse hobbling towards the circled main group about a hundred yards out. Long, dark tails flicker indifferently of the close-knitted band. I suddenly feel an immense sadness. A lone tear drizzles from an eye down my cheek and drowns in my scraggly beard. I am a fucking cow, just like everybody else. What shame I feel watching that lonely horse hobble back to the group. And I thought—no, I believed I had the pluck to leave with no strings attached. But isn’t that a guitar that cannot be strummed? The existence of a guitar is when it is made, the essence, now, when it is played.
I am injured. Not from the sympathy, nor any physically agonizing pain, no, no no no—-it’s the soul that’s injured, my spirit in this blasted muck. Hobbling back, head down, I feel what that horse feels. Connection lost, humiliation, dejectedly defeated. I’ve lost enthusiasm: people not coyote.
I gather up the gall to move forward. The sweet smell of ponderosa, vanilla and butterscotch, emanate from the puzzled jigsaw of bark. Air in my head, I am light. I found a drainage to walk up following a stamped out horse path. As soothing as my steps sounded the forest of ponderosa pushed me towards a window sill with a fresh apple pie atop. I couldn’t resist, as I floated through. Nevertheless, I walked on in guilt, ashamed for who I am which I knew not. Despite the seemingly insufferable pain the hobbled horse appeared to be in, I could not escape my hobbled thoughts and ridiculously feel worse, that this dream that has become idiotic. I am afraid, but I found solace in this mundane ponderosa forest up on the Mogollon Rim. I just felt faraway, of a place where I didn’t have to be me, anyone else, or anything. I was a part of the landscape, insignificant, sewn together within nature to a stitch that held the semblance of mystery together. Nature didn’t care. That was my true solace. I didn’t have to be part of the herd. Time to not dwell on my hobbled thoughts, a space to feel a loss with others or the guilt associated with it. And with time, the steps continued, the places changed, and I forgot about the wild horse.
Soon, I was under the Rim. I followed the pulse of the venous trail weaving into gullies and over shoulder juts. The rim above looked jagged and messy. The blood of red sandstone below the rim and along the route exhibited a core. Somewhere along the Rim, perhaps under and inside, a heart pumped. Of course I am being slightly poetic. Mainly, you can feel the Mogollon Rim, a divisive end between geologic features. The presence of the past pulses through this wide landscape, not quite the romantic dream of connection I sought, but if I could be a giant I would slide a barstool up to the bar of the Rim and slug a beer and smell the essence.
I wakened to the pungent smell of elk urine the next night, now atop the Rim permanently for now. My eyes popped open from smell, my olfactory senses telling the brain an animal stood near by. Immediately I knew the smell of elk. I kept still to not startle the number out there. Trampled or not, I wanted to be a part of them even for a split pissy second. The deep whiff of salt and sour, alkaline, brought me back to the Altiplano. Despite all this gunk I made a plan at that epiphany. Living and thriving ‘out there’ is as real as that elk piss. This Winter changed me, however. The pull of the opposite life I crave demanded I be present. Yet, the seed was planted.
Right now, right here, surrounded amid a thick air of elk piss, enveloped under a dark and moonless night, I am on a journey that will span into the next decade. I am doing it the way I feel I need to do—-maintaining relationships and connectivity, and not abandoning every last godforesaken one of you. All those things I said when I was young, I meant it. My gall is apathetic anymore to whatever mumblings are around. I am no longer brave only when I drink. If I do not interpret what is inside of me by the natural world I will stay holed up forever. But the Altiplano changed that. The static line I had lingered over is a severe depression. I crossed over and I ain’t turning back. The poles dictate my balance.
The smell of rain and a prescribed fire mixed into miles. Ominously, clouds ranged in like a lazy, thundering herd of grazing cattle. Smothering the land, I moved quicker than the sky pattern. I kept walking, driving, seeking a free consciousness smothered under clouds. How idiotic a goal! I hearkened my senses to forge my dreams. Maybe I understand through my nose, acknowledge with my eyes, and obstinately refuse with my ears. And how do I taste? I interpret with my taste. I tasted that bitter elk piss. No matter the alkalinity I see that window I saw. From my will I acknowledge my dream is now my goal. And I will fall over clumsily to attain it.
Rain sat in Flagstaff for a few days. I trotted over to a bar, a dark and dank bar. A drunk Navajo blathered about incoherently and I sat quietly listening to him. We chatted and laughed about languages, in particular how ridiculous the English language is. ‘Seek’ and ‘sought...’ fuckin weird, no? A biker swilled like a pirate and acted like an asshole, a disheveled student slunk on a tall table celebrating another drink as he was to graduate the next day. A yuppie ordered a coffee with cream. I am out back into another wild realm. My thoughts can save the world but I am not in the mood. Yet, when the bartender cut off the Navajo I scoffed and walked out with him. On the street, I parted ways and hoofed it under pouring rain. When I am in the mood, I will be gone regardless of how condemned I will be of my own guilt and of who I have left who may bestow my freedom. In the end, it is all ridiculous, simply me the most of all.
The rain persisted. Heavily shrouded in clouds the San Francisco Peaks appeared an unending ascending range, like an ominous volcano harboring evermore altitudinous flanks above. I followed fresh bear track and studied the meandering route scouting what the bear was smelling or eluding or touching. Then, the tracks pushed deeper through the soft snow and scrounged up fresh matter of mud. The bear had heard me and started to run. I tracked his stride envisioning the bear breathing only a tad effortlessly, unaffected by the weather or the time of day, or me, and affected only by his instinct for isolation.
The storms brought out different animal movements not normally associated with my being on foot. Lone coyotes snuck oddly close by, the cows hung underneath a juniper canopy of their own, and deer huddled close together. But the elk, they acted the same, indifferent to the dampness. Two enormous cells split the sky. Up on the plateau I could see a mega-thunderhead darkening the mountains to the south. To the immediate northwest, and the direction I needed to go, curtains of rain hung. I popped my shelter up not only to wait out the impending rain but to dry off what precipitation had lingered from last night. If the rain hit I had shelter. If the rain didn’t, I had a dry shelter. Either way, I felt secure. But above me an emptiness appeared, a vacuum of sorts splitting the cells into a vee. I sat on a flat yet sharp piece of dolomite, elbows on my knees and my hands on my chin, waiting. A large beetle shaped like the old racist syrup bottles wandered between my shoes. I observed the beetle pick over whatever laid in its path—-sprigs of grass and sage, fragments of paintbrush, specks of bark, and speckles of endless red dirt. I looked closer at the 6 oddly shaped legs. The legs splintered at 90 degrees and appeared stiffly floppy. Yet the beetle climbed over whatever it came upon. Diligently the beetle scoured the tiny plot it meandered in. Suddenly, tiny clumps of dirt flung out from under a tiny patch of grass near the weaving path. From underneath a grassy roof, another beetle, a tad smaller than the other one, burrowed under the clump of grass. I thought maybe this beetle sought coverage from looming rain, like I was witnessing a behavior, that even all animals and insect have some sort of emotion, like fear, during certain climatic events. I mean, that’s what I was doing. The larger beetle clambered on whiling away its picking and I wondered if that beetle could hear, or sense, or whatever of the other beetle. Not even one inclination for me to consider these beetles had any one type of emotional intuition. The one digging backed out of its hole and continued on, clearly unaffected by the incoming weather. Both beetles passed each other like ships in the night except without any longing for connection.
I sprang up and rushed over to my tarp. I giggled a bit, out loud to myself, broke down my tarp, packed up, and hiked onward towards the oozing clouds stacked with a towering thunderhead. I topped out at a barren plateau and the sky, all around me, changed. I trudged on exhilarated with the morphing world around me. I passed under strung out power lines from metal towers. The electricity zapped the air loudly, sizzling because the rain drizzled onto the lines. Under these towers and power lines my pinky and ring finger, nestled under the corked handle, tingled every time each carbon fiber trekking pole tapped the damp ground. I felt the static jolt at every stride and I persistently indulged the more so by keeping my fingers on the pole longer at every jolt. I even stopped, right out under and in the middle, and felt the static current vibrate and tingle my fingers. Muscles in my forearm quivered as the current ran through my nerves. Nothing seemed certain to me at the moment, except my wonder, a wonder I hoped would never change.