5111, Part of the Forest at Night
August 5, 2016
I’ve been on a multi-day work-related road trip that is just about complete. At the moment, I’ve let myself in at the old farmhouse, I’m sitting at my former desk, looking out at the intense green of The Hollow just beyond the big library window. The floodlight and “clean” circuit I installed so many years ago are still live although the rest of the electric is turned off. I turned on the light that was on my mother’s dresser at Deer Park Road, plugged in my computer charger, pried my old desk chair out of a pile, and I’m good to go a-journaling. I’d love to open the window, but the house has really settled and I’m afraid if I opened it, it wouldn’t be closable.
There’s a lot on my mind right now…
By the time I got to my final stop in Virginia yesterday evening, I was done with the whole road trip. The rental car has a nice seat, but after sitting in it for 12 plus hours a day for the last 3-4 days, my back felt unsupported. My legs were restless, my soul was restless, and I needed to give myself a break. Originally, I’d intended to spend this morning at the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth, PA. But from Winchester, VA it was 3 hours of hard driving north on I-81, plus I’d have to dash through the museum and stress until I was through the Harbor Tunnel and into BWI airport. I just didn’t feel like more hair-on-fire careening-from-objective-to-objective traveling. I put the computer away and sat for a minute in the Virginia heat and humidity. My clothes were dirty, my skin felt oily and sticky, my back was tender, my hair had crumbles of dirt where I’d leaned down into water supply pits with gravel falling in around my shoulders and down into my hair, my nails were dirty, and everything felt sticky. I gathered up the potato chip bag, brat wrapper from the Exxon station in Woodbridge, a couple of Coke cans and scraps of used toothpicks and stuffed them into a plastic bag, tying it in knot. The detritus of a road trip. At that moment, what did I really feel like doing?
I wanted a swim and a crabcake. And in all honesty, it would be a great act of love to take my Mom out to breakfast tomorrow if she was available.
That did it.
I was near I-81 and Route 7, so I left Winchester and headed east on Route 7 toward Berryville. It was a very familiar route, one I’d driven a hundred times back and forth to Davidson College during the four years Dear Daughter #1 attended there. I rolled out through the green fields, woodlots, subdivisions, and convenience stores, into more rural land, turned north on Route 340, crossed the Shenandoah, nodded to the Appalachian Trail at Harpers Ferry, crossed the Potomac River, and headed up the hill toward Frederick. When I got up on the hill and was edging onto I-70, I called Francine to let her know the plan that was forming. We had some kind words and a good laugh.
I rolled down I-70, picked up the Baltimore Beltway, turned north at I-83 and didn’t stop until I was backed into my spot on Traceys Store Road. It was 8pm.
Sitting on the back bumper of the rental car, I pulled on my hiking boots, stuffed my towel and water shoes into the daypack, grabbed a hat, and got ready to leave the parking lot. At the last minute, I put out clean clothes in the trunk, too.
The fire road had been recently mowed. It was wonderful and green. I charged into the woods going full blast, getting my heart rate up and getting a good sweat going. At the big oak where I made the left, I paused and said hi, wondering if the Druids were right. I called out to Benny, the Ghost Superdog, and he came roaring by in a flash so tangible I felt the draft on my cheek. We headed down the hill through the canopy tunnel, aiming straight toward the patch of silver water shining like a light at the end of a tunnel. At the edge, I jumped up the well-worn knob, threaded through the woods, and stood on Sunset Point. The water was still as a mirage. I ripped off my clothes, scattering everything. I barely pulled on my river shoes before stepping down and merging with the lake. I waded forward about 10 feet, then lurched forward. It was pure joy. The water was at least 80 degrees, perfectly clear, soft as rain, and so refreshing. I popped far enough out to stand up with barely my chin out of the water.
I scrubbed every part of me vigorously, soaplessly. If felt wonderful. A hundred or so geese further up in the cove to the left of me started to paddle away nervously. They squawked and honked, but didn’t lift off the water. Across the lake, some fishermen turned their boat light on and started to motor away. They talked in low voices that lilted across the water.
I got the idea to do a video so I went back and found my phone and brought it back out into the water. The sun was setting and the sky was a pinkish orange silver except for a strand of clouds. The moon was the thinnest crescent that hung a few degrees above the island across from me. On their movie cue, the geese took off with a great flourish of wings and confusion. It was too dark to see them against the wall of trees, and they never broke the horizon. Behind me, the summer crickets began their chick-it-a-chick… My senses were overflowing and my body felt renewed and refreshed. I was filled with gratitude.
Impatient with it all, I thrusted back through the water and when close enough, tossed my phone at my day pack. It hit it and bounced down on the soft soil, and I didn’t care what happened to it as I turned around and swam back out. I wanted the moment to last forever.
I wanted to become me all over again.
Could a life have a skip like an old vinyl record? Like a Lester Lanin LP?
Could I get to this part and start all over again or start back up at 16 when I got my drivers license? Could I go to the cabin under my own power again for the first time? Roll in with that bigboy sense of freedom and independence that would later open up the world to me? Could I move into the farmhouse again, right here? Could I smell lilac for the first time again? Could I see Penns Creek for the first time again, wade across the JP Winner Pool one more time? Watch the last fish rising after catching them all evening down in Ralston, and drive up Yellow Dog Road with a pretzel stick and a cold beer, the Yankees or Mets on the AM dial? Could I just have kids again? Could I laugh at their joy and share something important together all over again? Could I swim with them on the Loyalsock one more time? Could I share the ‘BVI at 40’ trip with Francine again, see that sunset with the islands and the sky? Could I hold her in our Colorado kitchen while she happily created health smoothies that she “can feel every cell happily absorbing”, could we make love for the first time over and over? Could I see her for the first time as we canoed on the Reservoir 36 or 37 years ago? Could I get my first 14,000’ peak again? Buy my first new truck again? Sit at this old desk and glimpse how this could be the place I come to over and over again between lives, like Jane Robert’s Seth came to his 14th century library? Could I start my career over and relive the same sense of joy and independence? Go to Rome and stay longer? Stand at the Trevi Fountain and throw another coin? Go to Madrid and be more present? Play music with a hot band and laugh to each other as the heat rose off the dance floor and people screamed for more? Could I catch a 9 pound brown trout on the FCTA water using 6x tippet and a size 20 Sulpher Dun? Could I go say goodbye to another trout season on a late fall day when the leaves crowded the water and the corn hung down and rattled in the quickening breeze? Could I sit with my Dear Brother somewhere, the brick wall here at the farmhouse maybe, or in front of some campfire in a western landscape, and sip beers and slice off chunks of beefstick using the cooler between us as a table? Could I sit at the cabin table with our younger daughter and talk about writing and road maps and work on a project together? Could I sit with the older one and talk about music and maybe play a song or maybe share an insight? Could I hear Francine laugh uproariously while on the phone? Could I make one more monster-steak dinner and have my closest friends outside on the lawn here, sipping wine and watching the night fall and laughing with joy and perfect privacy?
I shivered. I’d been standing still for a long time and the water felt cool. My core temp was down and all the heat and sweat were dissolved. The woods was ablaze with sound. The crickets were going crazy.
Toward the shore.
Up on the bank.
I felt for my phone and found it. I wanted a soundtrack of the crickets. I turned it on and a dialog box jumped out – Not enough memory for video. I turned it off and tried again. Nope. I couldn’t believe it.
I sat in the dark on my towel and pulled my pants and socks on. I felt around for my cuff and watch, locating them from the faint reflection of sky light on the metal parts. I felt around to make sure I didn’t leave anything and checked one more time for my wallet, car keys and phone. I refused to turn the phone on for light. Down to the road and upward away from the water, I was immediately surrounded by the gentle late-summer darkness. The woods welcomed me and the crickets and locusts cheered as I strode past. By the time I reached the big White Oak on the left, the cacophony was almost too much to hear. Every cricket in the woods was singing its own personal love song. Every locust whirred sensuously to every other thing. The trees lifted their arms offering thanks to the sky, and the stars sifted down though the sound and the leaves, aching with love and poignancy for the gone and the going and the freshly arriving. It was staggering. Overwhelming. I paused to imprint it. Maybe that was why the phone stopped.
Everything was cooperating, and I was conscious of it.
It was perfection. I was part of the perfection. I was participating in the perfection.
I was Lover and Loved. Eater and Eaten. Living and Dead. Submerged and Afloat. Here and There and In Between.
In that moment, I was part of the forest at night.