What I want to say here today is about how we build towns in low places.
Now I don’t mean lowly, or head stooped, or humbled. I am talking altitude.
Down between the bases of barriers. Mountains. Like rivers.
We even seem to dig valleys deeper.
So everytime I come close to town I am walking down.
It strikes me in this moment that this is not a rare
or new or unusual instinct for a creature to have.
In fact, going over the historical math, we, as a species,
have a longstanding history of stacking lives up high in low places.
So it makes sense so much of our myths are full with fear of floods.
Waters rising. Of frantically fleeing above.
And I want to say the answer today is not a bigger boat.
Or a taller tower, higher stacked along quartz clay barriers.
It’s simpler than that.
So simple in fact.
It fits in a backpack.
Hanging from the dented shoulders of just about every person
I’ve met and shared space with on an average hiking day.
A little food. A liter of water or two. And some shelter.
A sort of parachute to carry you once you abandon the plane.
Climb away from the town we built up tall in a low down place.
We are intended to fear floods the rest of our lives
for never following mountains to their full height.
And see, even then, land sandwiched by sea.
What I want to say here today.
I don’t believe a flood could swallow this place any more than oceans already have.
I want to reconsider how many myths were written by people who only build in valleys.
Never lived out of a backpack. Clearly haven’t climbed high enough to know
there are places in this sort of place that will never be touched by floods.
If you don’t believe me, you should go. Spend some time with mountains.
Just be warned. After a month or so,
you may have to find new things to be afraid of.
“Today I met a flip flopping thru-hiker who called herself Fly Away.
She asked me my trail name. And I said Jeremiah.
Fly Away replied, “Ah, the weeping prophet.”
I laughed and said now you know that’s not far off.
And she told me about a vista overlooking the valley
I had just spent the morning circling, where she ate lunch.
It was just as breathtaking as she warned.”
Going through this trail journal and finding lots of little notes like this between poems. I’m excited to see it all cleaned up and put together. I will have a manuscript shortly, and I’m also working on an audio recording. Everyone who helped me along the journey, and I mean every one of you wonderful people, will receive a copy.
I know I’m biased, but I’ve never written anything like this before. The hike sort of naturally induced a story structure onto the more day to day, experiential journal writing I normally produce. It’s essentially a collection of free range poetry somehow all cooped up in the two months of my hike. Which was actually a pretty rigidly structured, meticulously planned and well rehearsed endeavor.
Each poem clearly uses some visceral detail or setting element as an excuse to answer every single question in the universe. [insert laughter] But divided up into chapters that follow each section of the trail, with little secular notes in between, regionalisms, geography lessons and of course, issues of theology and functional philosophy wrestled with continuously in my writing.
In some ways, I feel like the hike isn’t really done until I have this collection put together and recorded. And even beyond the value of this writing, is this new form. This pace of life. Blended into all my work. Everything I write. The consistency and intentionality required of a hike. Getting from where you are to where you want to be without forgoing everything in between. Which is actually the principal function of poetry anyway.
In other words, about eight hundred miles of trail journal coming to you soon!
Love is a twenty five mile day.
You take it on in sections.
Walk along. Taking your licks.
Your fallen sticks and fractured logs.
Your sharp rocks, and the ones that like to stay slick.
At the frazzled tail end of each, you’re beat.
Done. Broke-hearted but too tired to run.
Until you see it.
The tinny right angle of a rusted roof.
The creek. The road. Some sign for both.
And suddenly impossible has changed.
The same ways mountains range.
From nothing other than one foot before another
until miles you planned months ago
are behind you and gone. You breathe.
Drink a little red water that’s too sweet. You eat.
Then plan the next one and move on.
Love is not one.
It is not two or three.
Love is at least five of those sections in succession
until you’ve stacked up a day that was too tall, too heavy,
too much for you before you were ready.
Love is how you hiked it anyway.
Showed up out of breath feet throbbing
almost surprised you made it
to that random spot you circled
on a long list of random spots.
Bit off more than you could chew.
Wrote a check you couldn’t cash.
Eyes were hungrier your stomach.
Love is not a challenge. Or a goal. Or a game.
It is a miracle. Simple and plain. It is too much.
By definition. Love is too far to walk in one day.
And yet you somehow found a way.
You made it happen.
When they ask how, don’t explain.
Love is all you have to say.
It is the same as saying
I walked twenty five miles today.
I left the cap off the peanut butter.
Didn’t shut the refrigerator.
I unplugged the coffee pot when I was done.
And damn. I’m sorry.
Muddy footprints across clean floor.
Said eat one. Somehow ate four.
Clogged the toilet again. Didn’t I?
See. This is why I went outside.
Why Homesley booted himself out of his home.
Couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Now he’s four states along.
Took off after his feet.
I was warned.
They told me not to bowl beer bottles
all over the coffee table anymore.
Take the lighters of your pockets.
Don’t wash wool in warm water.
Or cotton for that matter.
Better yet don’t wash anything at all.
Going on three days now.
At the very least five good ones still to go.
Before I will be clean again.
I accept the smelly underwear of my own decisions.
Self-banished. Willfully evicted. Booted out the door.
Booted across four states.
Booted all the way.up north.
My God is the heart of the universe.
My God radiates gravity like it was light.
It started to hold the whole lot of us together
as soon as It figured out how to let us go.
We are held in mighty arms, like infants,
by a God that can not stoop to know us.
We are related.
But we are not of a kind. You see.
We do not belong in the house. Not yet.
We are like a supernatural child’s pet.
Arguing against Its parents
for our existence
since the very beginning.
We are God’s garden.
Its favorite pet project.
We enter the house at dinner time.
And are kept
in a kennel
in the backyard.
Daddy didn’t want to get a dog.
is a mom
who got one
I love this country.
Seated against a tree in Virginian highlands.
I love this country. And, I know what all that means.
Mountain pillars float above foundational streams.
Tall rooted sunlight schemes in wiggling green.
I love when high wind sweeps low and even stillness quivers.
Feel this shiver slink along my spine.
End up near my mind.
I love a cup of wine.
I love to breathe smoke.
And nurse fire.
I love the country where I am.
Gnats wing electricity near my ear.
Fire molesting moist wood.
Hesitant to burn.
Begged to be left alone.
This country is my home.
And I am anything but inclined to protect it.
On my feet.
Wide hipped pictures of horizons
and boot prints on the trails.
I love this country best
when I love it with my footsteps
with my time.
House. Jobs. Farm. Goats. Careers. Left behind.
By definition. They were not this country.
Which was here long before we were.
And will remain so long past I. Us. We.
Lovers of continents we can’t understand.
There are better ways than words to say it.
Since when is apocalypse an acceptable weather report?
This country gets bad storms. Or didn’t you notice
the people who loaned it to us were nomads.
They chased the good weather.
Sought out light winter like geese.
The ground shakes an awful lot in this country.
And it is kind of broken in the middle
so close to cracking geysers jet tail hot water heavenward
blowing off steam several times a day. Oceans change.
Always have. Hell, there used to be one right here
above my head. In the heart of Virginia.
Buried by hillsides.
I don’t think apocalypse means what we think it means.
If so, I predict a little bit of apocalypse at the tail end
of just about every single one of these new seasons.
This continent didn’t stay this wild this long on accident.
Trust me. It has its reasons.
Little fish bump and kiss loose skin around the edge of abused feet.
They feed, and tickle toes lips sweetly parted where a blister used to be.
Frightening. But gently.
Only little ones come that close.
Big fish became big fish by being fish who know
bodies seldom stop at the toes.
Movement is movement in sunlit clear fluid
and distance is a bent and twisted point of view.
I raise my hands sharp and flattened. Like a band director.
Little notes with speckled fins and silver bellies
leap at the chance to play a melody.
Whole schools of music maneuver at the flash of my hand.
Under the twitch of a pen.
Breaking water with only eyes.
Playing with fish
with my feet dry.
Climbs hundreds of feet in a single hour, with his two.
Carries a quarter his body’s weight.
Groans like an old man when he sits up or stands down.
Knees dryly creak across dry creeks and he sits on logs and logs.
Butt in a round impression on an iceberg-buried rock. Good.
And cool. And lichen spotted. And dog drool.
Feet worse than snakes about shedding off all their skin. Three hundred in.
Talking miles. Mouth flapping open smiles.
Words work mystic magic over rocky ground
and poisoned leaves of three in faded yellow speckled bouquettles.
One boot to stop you.
Two boots can set you free.
Tied up tight. Below the knees.
Harden your sole.
Faster than a speeding pullet chased by foxes after all she’s got,
to the very top, in a single hour, or at least a couple
firewood bundled all tight together.
He is quite possibly the worst hiker ever.
But he breaks hundreds of feet in half dividing them by two.
He draws sugar from the sun lips puckered on the run.
And eats dinner with boulders and calls oaks sisters and brothers
and makes believe nature holds a candle to his own mother.
He is yours. He is not super. But he is here. He understands.
He is here to under-stand. Not long on top of. Under. Stand under.
Under Stand. This is no child of the gods.
What we have here is the restless little brother of Man.
If we take our lives at face value, as in, we assume,
almost all creation came about the same way we did,
then we have a clear precedent for the possibility of making a thing,
damn near conjuring it up from spare parts
and convoluted yet meticulous genetic instruction,
yet still not understanding it in the least.
God could be out there begging pretty please.
While we proud-child our way out of the room.
God may be all knowing, all seeing, held breath disbelieving,
still unable to change a thing without unsettling the child sleeping.
Whom we are grooming for the wild.
Who can not live its entire life within the dense jungle growth of family.
Saplings don’t grow tall in the shade of giants.
Only where they fall.
Our deity may be very much the same thing to us as our parents.
Different. Person to person. Story by story.
The source of our entire existence. Out there.
Driving to work. Or playing golf, or church, or retired,
or buried somewhere.
If our universe is grooming us to go out and re-invent worlds of our own,
it makes sense for our farmer to be more hands off.
Our great, almighty, omnipotent, gracious, loving creator,
just waiting on a postcard.