Camp Out Here

Dear mom, dad, family, friends,
I’m writing to you from camp in the Appalachian mountains,
which is a sort of fancier way to say y’all’s backyard.
The counselors are great!
One ran through camp this morning buck naked, only wearing antlers.
Ran off more scared than hell. And the black bear cabin’s door broke loose,
because I’ve seen them hightailing all over. Skittish as squirrels
and black as night and round as all get out.
Which is what they always say to us to do.

Eggs and I are like a balanced breakfast.
We get along almost any time of day.
Though neither of us are too fond of bees.
But they sure enjoy a plate of over easies.
Drives her crazy. She tries to eat them.

Mom, dad, family, friends,
you’ll be happy to know the woods are full with good influences.
In fact every single one of my fellow campers puts all their toys away
when they’re done using them. I haven’t seen a thing get left behind.
We all have our backpacks and everyone of us has at least
one clump of pages or maybe even a whole book. We read.
Mile by mile. Words that define our day and set our pace
and lead us to good water and never to obey. Just play.
Take a chance. Like a dance. A single song. Won’t last long.
Water’s dry. Turn around. One foot in front of the other over dry ground.
Magic. We discovered a spell. Some element of walking mixed with carrying
mixed with sweat and dehydrated noodles and dingy water
and a bunch of other stuff too, moves you.
Across the earth. We are all exploring
the most experiential form
of moving one’s self
place to place.

Not the quickest. Or safest. Or best.
But the form of travel that produces the most experience.
Mom. Dad. Family. Dear Friends.
Thank you so much for helping
send Eggs and I to camp Out Here.
I really hope we get to come back next year.

Jeremiah and the Dirty Dozen

Soggy cereal

Milk drains out of the bowl. Leaving Buena Vista like soggy cereal lining the bottom. Two hiking spoons to stir it up just enough for one last bite of crunchless marshmallow stars. The endless drone of distant cars. Highway noise on top of cold mountain hot on rocks in the morning sun. More than a day. More than a chapter. More than words. A true adventure has begun. Bowl of cereal now cleaned out and empty. Farm rashes and Lincoln Log buildings. Toys. To eyes. On top of tall places. A meal all of its own type and accord, bright against our squinted faces. Two spoons sit dry, but ready. To mile by mile. And walk across breakfast.

But it isn’t home. 

Didn’t like it one bit. Stepped down onto that road, looked left at empty and alone, and right at four or five who look just like me. Man bun on one. Shirtless. A better man than me. In every way but ego. The littler one, did he know where to go, another mile and a half on top of seventeen, up the road. And I didn’t like that either. But he was right. And. He had his shirt on. I wanted to swim in Jennings Creek. I wanted to feel air on my skin and water dripping from my hair. I wanted the dog to swim in it, brown eyes forgiving me for every one of seventeen with her mile-wide smile. But that wasn’t our story. Not our hike. The dog just ate her last cup of food this morning. And there’s a box up this road full with the only food we’ll find. I have to be there by seven. So worried, I got there five minutes to five. Miles that don’t move you closer to home tire you out more, or at least they do me. Every step that takes me forward on the path that ends in Ashley is the lightest walking I’ve ever had to do. But coming here felt like respot. Like hostel. Hotel. Like not meant to be home. Intentionally not so. Free shampoo and massage bar soap. Not Ashley. Not New York. Not Tuck-E-Man and Eggasaurus Rex back together again. Some reprieve. Yes. Resupply of what I need. But I took a right. Where the trail turned left. A single day at Middle Creek would have done the work of a week. But it won’t bring me closer to home. I’ll walk my feet through to the bone. So long as it ends in Ashley.

The Good Water

You can’t always root somewhere. Sometimes it’s enough just to lay down a tent. Ground too full with rocks like a drink with too many ice cubes. Trees going at it with every sort and size of straw. Bark-wrapped and pale bald. Thigh size and spiderweb fingers feeling creek bottoms like raccoons for crawfish to crawl in. Taste the good water. Not the rain. Not a filthy river. The surface lake man dug and fake. But the vast veins of crystal blue flowing beneath us all. Feeding us. Like roots. Sure you see a spring or two where the mantle broke and blue is peeking through. But the good water is deep. Thousands of feet beneath our feet. All of us. Even the trees. Through rock and clay and deep down defiance. We may never reach it. The good water may not even exist. But the foundations that get laid just trying, all around, growing tangled, bumped up knees and elbows from underneath the floor of the tent. A good night among thirsty friends. All of us. Seeking better water. And though I cannot lay down a root, for all of theirs, I can taste it. In my imagination.


Hiker noise 

Click. Chuff. Scrape. Tap. The left. Right. Left. Tick tick tapping canines while deep grinding molars together. Tsh, through lips, slips, ugh drum.

Ugh drum. And a hum. 

A hike is coming on strong right along.

Write alone. Up in the monster’s cove 

when he should behave

and sleep like how tired he is. 

Huh huh. And an ugh.

Snore like lions roar. Trick trick trick. 

Dud thud drops a mouse on the shelf. 

Being disgusting is its own form of stealth.

And no one can see where they don’t look.

Where a world of rodents gets left off the hook.

No one here fishes the shelters. 

They’re there though.

Boo. Says the wind. Booo. 

Says the bolted in ceiling.

Roof anchored down wears wind like a crown. 

While foreign shores try to snatch it away. 

This noise-chorus-full dark place we stay. 

On top of a mountain. 

Mount. Don’t know the name. 

Overlooking Burke’s Garden.

Where God got booked in. 

Gave over its thumbprint.

Just the same.

Mount. Sour Apples. 

Or Sour Apple Pond.


Out Here

All these letters in the alphabet. Every one is alive out here. 

Tall rooted t’s and unholy white o’s

in punctuated rows casting shade 

beneath the base of a great bright orange one. 

U bent creeks and double u springs,

bubble where, bubble up why, 

right into the bottle before dinner tonight.

X marks a place where two t’s met their fate 

and p’s and q’s and r’s and s’s

are scattered around like autumn leaves. 

This is where we learned to read. 

Where we scavenged language like food to eat.

Too late we learn it wasn’t food. 

And walked off long bark wrapped lists of options. 

Berries growing a’ la carte, ripe off the branch. 

Motivation. My friends.

Brains did not learn left to right and slowly down 

beneath disciplinarian hands and furrowed crowns.

But digging up brown. Swallowing worms with black finger nails and scratching around. 

Picking up putrid little p’s praying 

each one isn’t poisoned. 

Capitol G’s crawling lugging along their shells. 

All these letters in the alphabet. 

To taste, touch, see and smell. 

This is where we learned to eat. 

Out here. 

Looking for something to read.

Not in that order.

Groseclose. Atkins. Not in that order.
Knot Maul Branch Shelter.
Because settlers could not afford the iron.

Grouse cut loose just up a head, at the nose of the dog, scouting ahead.
The sound their wings made punishing air and us for coming too close.
Early morning. Before nine. More importantly. Before coffee.
Eight birds was just enough to fooly wake us up.
And scare the dog. Most famous of us all.

Mount Rogers. Does he happen to be related to mister?
All I want to know is who to blame for all these blisters.

Wilson Creek. South Holston.
Seven Holsteins dead stare eyes static mouths chewing leftover breakfast.
Dear mom,
I’m writing to say I’m hiking the entire Appalachian Pasture.
It’s swell. Throwing legs over ladders in bolted crosses across barbed wire.
Like a rustler. Like a thief. Mom, I may never leave.

My backpack is become a part of me.
Full. In the most intentional manner imaginable.
Stuffed. With stuff for each and every day,
of the three to come. And six in the past.

If you wanted to come.
You only had to ask.

Bastian. And then. There is Bland. Not in that order.
But just after Abingdon. Then back here again.

To track Appalachians. North.
Until the mountains end.