The cold descended so low last night it touched the grass and turned it white. In some places, soil has spat up phlegmy streams of ice like tiny fireworks frozen in place. If you’ve ever stepped on a bed of broken glass you know the feeling of walking on frozen ground. Only pines cling summer green, and it has turned the horizon eerily into prison bars, the nakedness of hardwood trees. I absolutely know someone dressed up in all the colors of mother nature’s vomit is sitting somewhere they’re not supposed to with a gun staring through their foggy breath and only hearing squirrels. Camouflage fools intelligence, but blares out loud to wisdom bright as blazon orange. More men and women than one could ever imagine have been sentenced to hell by a jury of furry woodland critters. Laid belly up guts exposed in the dead center of a hot country road paved with the asphalt of all your worst decisions. I look out across the early morning, late December scene, ice poised on the precipice of muck, and see many things where others say they don’t see much. Wooden towers untouched by carpenters taller than any of the two stories downtown. A man I don’t recognize weighed the cold against a lit cigarette unworthy. Two cats, three kittens. One solid vein of sunlight spiderweb woven between all the eastern trees. I don’t know who you have to be to look out at such scenes and read the story of eternity. I know you can’t stop once you do. I know something of the nature of truth.
I know it always sets doorways in windows.
I don’t even need to really get Judy on board, I know she’s just bored. With this episode in our lives, and everything. I can barely pick up on her little voice out in the hallway so sweetly chastising those children back to bed. Lord knows if it was the ringleader, or all of them, in cahoots again. God those are scary times. They put the boy out on a mattress they found by Lake Murray. I caught them riding an exposed septic field on the upturned roof of the dog house. And the oldest boy and the middle girl set the back wood on fire and denied it even to the faces of the firemen. Confessed in just disgusting, snotty tears that night. It was awful. All the worst definitions of pathetic. Judy has the patience of a person who grew up a smart mean child. The really alluring way a witch woos a princess. A worm doesn’t stop being a worm just because there’s a fishhook in her.
Shake your head. Shake it out. Shudder. The best way to unshutter. Open up why don’t you. Talking to yourself again. Out loud. On “paper”. Jesus Christ I have changed quickly. Same as it has ever been. I keep waking up while I’m already awake and realizing how many years I slept through fully conscious with eyes open. Dead-eyed asleep and ceaseless dreaming. What do I want out of life? What do I want out of a deer my brother killed. Everything I can get but I’m not ready for yet. I feel like the animals I’ve ended surely sit patiently waiting on the jury that judges me into whatever hereafter. I want them to look at the work, and feel maybe less hate and resentment than I would. We’re always counting on other people to be better than we are. Why does anyone ever ask why did everyone pile onto the short cut and traffic jam it into engine-idling oblivion. The long way is the short way again, because the numbers have shifted, and the only way to think nature isn’t on top is to bury your head in her. We will, all of us, die, and in doing the things we describe as life, learn to live again. You’ll shake your head. Shake out the you. The me. I. Whatever ridiculous code name you’ve been called your whole life. For me. I’m shaking out a Jeremy. I’m waking up all Jeremiah and feisty. A hammer in the hand of the carpenter was once a tree with roots cupped in the palm of the earth, and metal nestled deeper than that. If you want to know the creator, you have got to start thinking elemental.
You’ve got to start thinking. Now.
I have no clue about what the afterlife will look or feel like. But. I have every clue imaginable regarding how I entered, and my full understanding, of this one. And I can dream, without much difficulty, that being reborn into the next world will generally be similar to our entrance into this one. You had zero control. Absolutely no say in how you survived the first years of life. The most you knew to do was cry, and another being, better or worse, sought to silence you. Protected you. Ushered you every step to your current high-priced ticket seat. How do you find your way in the afterlife? The same way you made it to this one.
You scream, and cry.
Then something pities you, and keeps you alive.
Little dipper. Spits in a little cup. Orion’s belt. Twenty two hung from it. Shooting star out from the corner of an eye. Cat reacts. Coyotes funnel throats along their tongues and howl at the big black upside down bowl and eat something innocent alive. No clouds for miles means stars for hours and tied up dogs barking clear up till midnight. A word you can stand silent and frozen inside. They don’t quite capture that in movies. The heaviness of legs in pitch black. The frozenness you feel in sixty five degree darkness. Loudness, falling leaves. The timing of acorns. Some little animal like a ship in the center of the ocean bow lights off. We go our separate ways. Once hips thaw. Knees fracture like a glass hammer against an ice sculpture. The biggest, scariest, most armed, most equipped, steady lipped and high hipped being in the woods this time of night is still the most afraid. Nudist colony of stars in the countryside unclothed of course and cold as the North and on clear nights you can hear trains but can’t see street lights.
When I go walking alone at night with no light, it is the honestest I ever felt. The stark, bodiless impression it presses on me is the realest fear has ever been. The most physical and obvious loneliness. I carry a stick and feel ahead of my steps with it like a blind person. I step slow, and light, enough so that if I feel my toe come down on a twig I never drop my heel. I carry snuffed lights that would give me away to light my way, and I only ever turn them on when headed home. I tell myself, there is something out here worth this fear. It is better it should meet me by all means overly prepared, than some small goat, or distracted chicken, or paltry child.
A man like me out in the wild.
Blind. Naked underneath so many layers.
Armed. Two of my own. The land I do not own.
But I am the son of the one who does.
Don’t ask for rain, ask for a drumroll. They’re the same.
Overlapping rippled, whip-led, beaten with sticks, thrones and symbols.
Cloud-teased sunlight and pitch black night like a tent in the rain.
Ruined, but not unattained. Baptism is the recipe for mud. Clay.
And water. Brother in law wielding a fly swatter.
A son I thought would be a daughter.
I used to be a kid with a stutter.
Played break the ice with my speech therapist.
Lost. Froze solid. With a note to my loved ones
crystallized in blue hands. “If the cold didn’t get me
If the universe is like me, no wonder. No wonder whatsoever
this place is such a mess. Try to tell heart cells
what the lungs are blown up to. Ask the liver
how it feels about its job in waste management.
Tell on your skeleton to all the soft senseless pink frosting.
Take the cake. Dump it in the milky substance of your consciousness.
Make it soggy. Like the rest of your body.
Destined to be parted by a blunt spoon and swallowed unchewed
by the great toothless mouth of our universe. Slurping like breakfast cereal.
The big bang hit like a mid-morning sixth cup of coffee beer shit.
Self-expression. Wipe it away. Flush it down.
Forget it drowned in the bowl no one eats from.
These systems aren’t broken. Your tiled roof isn’t broken. But there’s a reason your roofer didn’t push you to choose tin. There’s a reason solar energy is secondary to toxic, highly limited, hard to procure, highly pollutive energy. These reasons are called corporate interests, and the reality is, our system of government was created with them in mind. You know that, because they left humans enslaved while they set businesses free. Fix education. Fix government. That’s the problem. We’ve never broken the cast off these things and seen them fail for themselves.
A crutch to the able-bodied is a disability.
I know it may not seem exciting, but to me it is like living scripture, I am walking twenty miles on faith that another traveler left a message in a journal that will inform me which direction to head for the next twenty. I quite possibly have never worried about my son’s safety more so than I am being gripped to shreds by right now.
Worry is the lightest thing that’s too heavy to carry. I decide to leave it here in this shelter, in this journal, where I snored so hard I shook the mice from the rafters and awoke with a black bear cub and its mama curled up beside me in our den. I burnt the paper that held my breakfast. I filled every watertight container I have brimming with the lifeblood of this magical, wonder-filled forest.
And before she left, pack on, boots laced tight, hiking poles in one hand, Hailey hugged me, a good hug, full of that same lightning that passed through her hand into me last night. When that insurmountable intergenerational distance melts away at warp speed and through so much time and experience, we stand equals, young and old, both able to imbue one another with the exact form of energy the other needs. She may as well have thrown gasoline on the fire last night. She made this old footsore man feel young again. For a flash in a pan. For five minutes. And she got to see her father, in me. Hundreds, no, thousands of miles, distance be damned, it’s all distorted through the filter of emotions. Every mile. So many thousands of feet, maybe ten thousand or more foot steps.
Knowing that doesn’t make taking one any easier.
My gut instinct is to call it a sign, but no. Jeremiah says, this is life.
Without walls. Without society’s endless game of hide and seek.
Hide from the world, seek products to fill the void.
This is what we’re so afraid of.
The deafening loudness of a quiet life in the country.
How this tiny insignificant spring can cancel out the noise
off so many other things.
I can’t even hear myself think.