The Wolf and the Earthworm

Evolution doesn’t mean progress. A species is as likely to evolve toward their own demise as they are to avoid it, and history might argue, more likely. So, if all our ‘advancements’ in technology, medicine, food production, hastens our ultimate extinction, well then, humans aren’t the most intelligent creature, are we? Common grass would probably outlive us. Trees almost certainly will. Nuisances like field rats and house mice and insects will benefit from the same circumstances that bury us. Worms for sure, licking their little imaginary lips at this moment. So fixated on the top of the food-chain we’ve entirely overlooked its bottom. Where decomposers make a buffet of predator and prey alike. Of course, we are all on course to be a course for bacteria, fungus, a trillion other pesky neighbors we’ve always put beneath us.

Language, considering how often it harms us, is not a positive advancement, it is a thick silence stuffed courtroom where the jury is still out and the judges are in their office pretending we can’t smell the cigar smoke. If the weapons invented last century end up annihilating us, we won’t be around to concede, but we will have lost this great argument that we are some divine, hyper intelligent transplant in this place, and common things, like houseplants, and inbred purebred dogs, and dung-beetles and dust mites, well, let’s just say they didn’t commit species wide suicide. So, the irradiated, zombie faced jury returns to their seats and the last one of them who can really stand straight enough declares the verdict.

Our kind is currently dumber than the very least of these.

Evolution does not stop with mutation, with innovation, or invention, or vagabond species escaping their nursery environs. Evolution is mutation plus time. Longevity. Sustainability. Evolution can only be determined on a timeline, and ours is frayed and wavering. We are so smart, so capable, right up until we threaten making our only world uninhabitable, and then we are so fucking stupid it hurts my stomach and makes it hard to sleep at night. We are a species plagued by emotions about which we were never given an education. Anxiety. Depression. Happiness. Fulfillment. Chemical cocktails that reduce truth to the bottleneck of our one particular, highly limited vision of ourselves. The idea that we would drop a nuclear bomb on another nation to save our own, as if that would not set a thousand wars into motion, as if our country is not floating on the same molten ocean, as if killing is not the seed of a gigantic, deep rooted, immortal killing tree.

I would sacrifice all of it, all the gadgets, the languages, the governments, the societies, for a good night’s sleep. I would turn off the lights on this moment. So that we could all see how much brighter and healthier our timeline could be. Two steps forward and one step back is still progress. And when compared to sprinting forward and never looking back, it is better evolution.

Our ancestors tried to explain this to us the best way they knew, with reductive, anthropomorphic stories, you know, our people’s preferred vehicle for deep instinctive truth. A tortoise and a hare racing toward a finish line. Spoiler alert: only one of them gets there.

Southern Homes and Living

Mariachi music periodically drowned cutting tile
water dripping off a saw blade. Men moving
red orange playdough with square shovels
praying for rain so they can stop.

Two million dollar houses disowned
builders scratching claws
kneading biscuits
in soggy tree choked countryside
northeast of Charlotte.

Charity house.
Southern Home Magazine.
Rotten egg smell by the front porch from walkway lights
real popular right now with real flame lapping sparkling glass.

Moving truck creeps into clogged cul-de-sac
everyone freezes
if you have a shovel
lean on it
stare
see if this newcomer
knows how to handle
all that truck.

I Wander

Hiking changes real estate. I remember house hunting with my family when my siblings and I were kids. No. Under a metal spiral stair case. Trapped between two thick yellow paint strips slicing the road in half. No in the yard. No that doesn’t fit in the yard. In the closet of a bedroom big enough for two, no, no more kids sharing bedrooms. 

I would describe it as exactly the opposite on a hike. I spent innumerable miles studying, imagining, dreaming of how I could make little flat patches on the sides of mountains, bareheaded bald spots on top of them, chilly Laurel stuffed hollows between them, into cozy fireside home for the night. No was in my little book of miles, my stack of shelter names and water sources and spectacles along the way. No was circling bare plastic in water bottles or a food sack stuffed with crushed Ramen wrappers and crinkly, metallic skin still plastered with bits of authentic peanut butter. I swear I could make anywhere home. Is that a superpower? An antithesis to the performing escape artist. My ability, my talent, the special skill I am about to demonstrate, I’m really good at home. 

Which isn’t a tent, a nice high firepit, a picnic table someone slid up underneath the shelter overhang, which is against the rules, and an answer to the prayer of every hiker in the rain passing through. It isn’t safety or security, there is none, save the insomniac canine stretched out on the leaves, ears sharp and crisp and up as early corn. It isn’t the view, though I’ve woken up by some doozies. I’ve slept sideways on slanted ground. Bent my body crooked as a snake in the shade to lie between the rocks. I’ve packed up my entire camp at nine at night because a strange man who had asked for food started staring at my dog, Eggs, like she was finally living up to her goofy namesake, hiked over a mile in the dark, shining no lights so he couldn’t see which direction we went, and set up camp in the pitch black not three feet off trail. Woke up to find out I’d slept beside an overview, woke up to carrot colored sunlight tickling hundreds of miles of central Virginia up out of a tough and too short sleep. I stayed one night down in this sopping wet valley dug by a wide shallow tongue of water called Dismal Creek. I know. I read the sign. The opposite of warm. The closest to freezing I’ve ever come when the temperature wasn’t freezing. It’s not a rule, it’s not even advice, so much as it is an observation, that one should always have trepidation about staying in a place where even the water is running. 

I could make anywhere home. Often, I think of campsites I scratched out myself, circled rocks and crushed my snow angel tent shape flat in the leaves. I wonder if anyone else has stayed there. I wonder if a ranger found it first and scattered the rocks and ruffled up the forest floor to cover the tracks. I wonder if perhaps there’s some territory in the afterlife where one has to go back through the world and revisit every place we ever left DNA. Gather it up like autumn leaves to lay down bedding in the latchless stalls of heaven. I wonder. 

Every night, I’d get my set up established, my shelter that packed down to the size of a loaf of bread, and expanded enough to hold me, my gear, my dog, room to spare. I almost always built a fire. Water boiling. Pour some wine if I had it. Slipping the dog slices of warm cheddar as if I hadn’t asked permission. I’d get out my notebook, wipe the excess ink pooled at the ballpoint of my pen, and wander. Pages. As my dinner grew cold. I’d shove all my dishes and food into a compression sack and send it up a tree on a rope, and I’d climb into my tent with my notebook and my pen, a bright white light emanating from the center of my forehead, and I’d write. 

And that’s my superpower. That’s how I stay anywhere I go. 

I am real estate.
I am home.

Little Empty Houses

Birdhouses and mailboxes and bedframes and double doors. Heavy wooden portal stoppers leaned up against racks of plywood. Medium density fiberboard with a watch-face sized hole drilled in front, a short cylindrical nose pegged under that gaping cycloptic opening. Sixteen slats glued together, screwed to two belts of black metal bent in gentle bows. Hypothetically, everything in a workshop is hypothetical. Growing dust. Doors off hinges. Overflown housing. Mailboxes with no fixed address. Potential piles up. Scullery doors in the corner. Solid oak end tables crushing castor wheels.

Space. Who builds space. Not the carpenter. Not the writer. The politician. The doctor. Not the builder. Emptiness. Pure, layered, reinforced racking potential. Who prints blank books. Fills pens instead of emptying them. Who makes the makings. Doesn’t care whether or not birds ever come. Who builds little boxes that resemble houses. Who makes doors who isn’t trapped by door frames. Leaned in aisleways, stacked in back of showrooms with cardboard sandwiched between. Custom doors stacked, piled, pre-divorced from their future portals.

There are so many ways to pray, but none come close to creating space. Full pens. Empty books. Empty frames. Doors with no deadbolts drilled in them. Miniature houses, no birds. The rigid rectangles that clutch the soft shapes we sleep on. We don’t know.

We don’t know where birds will nest.
We don’t know what we’re building.
We don’t need to. It’s better that way.

Let the birds decide.
Until then, build little empty boxes.

Between Seasons

Gentle wind rocks the front porch swing. Metal clinks.
Ghosts chained to the roof grow restless in powder-coated bonds.
Water in three forms squat between here and the moon.
Stars laugh at how close we are to too far away.

Sounds like summer. Not yet spring. Disappointed toads.
Crawled out of the muck too soon. Can relate.
Darker than a dry dark. A sopping wet and soggy dark.
Deeply stained. Saturated. Saturday. Night.

Strange Cats

Morning birds. Belting toads. Cats I’ve never laid eyes on before.
Coming out of the woodwork. Back barn repair and expansion
and tailend of firewood season starts every garden. In my head.
Out the window the other day saw a young chicken eating another one.
Hawk picked the bones clean clean down to her shoulders.
I buried the rest of her.
Fragrant mud.
Clean pajamas.

That love…

Love sets your responsibilities. I find the phrase ‘falling in love’ intriguing. In a ‘saying the quiet part out loud’ way. When there’s nothing under you, we call it falling, but once you’re grounded, we just call it gravity. That constant nagging attraction our species has been trying to escape ever since we lost our first forest. We are the orphans of titans. Longing, and loss, are textures of our love. Strands within our braids. Should we leave one out when we weave our happiness, that stitch will fail. We fall in love, I know I did, and then we live with falling everyday, so that it becomes a peculiar particular gravity conjured up in the cosmic draw between all bodies. Stars are born out of the oscillating pressures and biochemical dynamics between us. Love has set schedules, and early morning alarms in neat fifteen minute increments, love forces you to obey at least one of them, love abolishes laurels, and hiding places, and high grounds. We climb in almost all external endeavors, be it power, be it corporate ladders, be it chakras within yourself, be it up on crosses or pulpits or podiums or high towers. But. But, we fall in love. I don’t know. I don’t know if I buy that. There’s got to be some middle-ground between always either climbing or falling, and if there is, it’s that incessant gravity. Climbing, falling, resolution. Sounds like a story. Perhaps that’s a more fitting phrase about the nature of love.

That love sets your story.

Bear Stories

Almost more frightening than seeing a bear is someone telling you they saw a bear. An older guy, older than my dad, who, if you saw on the street, you’d call homeless, but out here in the woods wearing a backpack with a red bandanna decorated black paisley tied around his head, just a hiker. Supposedly, who came around the corner and surprised two bear cubs up a tree. Never saw their mother. He says. But had a sense she was nearby. He tells us this as he is headed in the opposite direction, toward the almost can’t be called a town a few miles behind. Where we ate cheeseburgers and charged our phones and filled two collapsible water-bottles with cheap fizzy gas station wine. Dad and I. This guy is filling our heads with thoughts of bear and I swear I can smell every ounce of that half pound burger I ate called the hiker, ironically, likely pieces of it beneath my fingernails, grease left off in my scant facial hair. Old man hikes on but we really don’t, we’d walked all day and by design were camping close-by, maybe a few dozen yards from the place he treed the cubs.

There used to be a shelter here, but it burned down and all that is left is a giant set of concrete steps and the half buried slab it leaned on. The site isn’t popular. I can tell because of how little walking it takes to gather up a waist high pile of firewood so I can light up these woods right until the buttcrack of bedtime. Dad teases me about it. Less than an hour and a young man comes bee-bopping down the trail buried between two earbuds. He sits on our orphaned steps and talks to us about joining the army at the end of summer. And this trip is one half vacation, one half training. He can’t be in his mid twenties. One of those ultra lightweight backpacks stitched with the word Osprey. He hikes light. Carries very little water. Trusts his legs to get him more. He started further back than we did, and he isn’t done for the night. By his projections, another six miles before dark. His stories are scary-exciting like inheriting land or landing that new job. Red tee. Spiky black hair. Sweat sheened tan skin and built skinny strong. He did not stop to get a burger.

I have to drink most of my wine because my wine bag busted from the carbonation. Dad goes to tent an hour before my firewood is spent and I dirty up a couple pages and watch the flickering darkness for the twinkling of bear eyes or old men who smell like damp tobacco and liberal patchouli. The trees catch hot breath off my tall fire and juggle it between branches, busking for my attention, and I give it to them, two ever-open quarters I flick out from my pocket, like boomerangs, always seem to fly back to me whenever whatever I gave them to is finished.

I’d rather see a bear than hear a story about seeing one.

If I knew it was there in the dark staring back at me licking its lips.
Even that would be easier than waiting.

The Keffer Oak

I think the letter L in the word world is one of its most essential uses in the history of literature. It distinguishes two things most responsible for the heady, desperate plight of the human. Our kind’s fundamental confusion. Between an indisputable reality and the far more complicated one of our own inventions. Words are magic. Words are misleading. These strings of letters contain histories, feelings, memories, and worst of all, expectation. Language comes by its good-bad, right-wrong, off and on dichotomy honestly. Mostly, a symptom of two dimensionality.

A great light casts a greater shadow. The mere presence of the word hero will inspire hundreds to consider thousands of what if’s and then who am I’s and redefine themselves in the oppressive gravity of that bright, radioactive word. Hero is almost synonymous with conflict, is it not? What would true world peace do to the hero complex? What’s the use in preparing for the worst if we never get to see the parachute in action? It’s fire, not water department. That’s four kinds of weapon on any police officer’s belt. A miniature version of the shield that might serve them better decorating their bulletproof vest. We don’t come equipped for peace. People don’t really seem to seriously believe in it even as possibility. Same with God. More comfortable with words like belief, and faith, than opening our eyes outright and declaring if God desired to be known, it is more than capable, and the world as we know and experience is its only testament. Everything, without exception, written in human language, is a secondary source, at best.

Words are fun. And easy. Manipulated. Like a walking stick, shaped for grip, for control, for thrust and use. But too often we trust them to tell us everything we know about the oak they were cut from. That letter that intercedes on all our words and with an absolute absence of subtlety, shakes us loose from them. Shatters that old bent dried up walking stick we’ve leaned on so heavily we’ve stunted ourselves through the pursuit of support we did not need. We’ve imagined our bones breaking and it has frightened us so we’ve decided to go ahead and precast everything about ourselves in language. And in saving, sanitizing our lives, we forfeited every grimy, heavy, clunky idea that made it worthwhile.

We’re handing over twigs and telling kids it’s a white oak. I’ve seen the second largest white oak tree in America, the Keffer Oak, in Virginia. No part of the massive three hundred year old, sixty foot tall entity was meant to be mine, was made for me. I could cut it up and split it and stack and burn a hundred thousand words from it, piece by piece, as a sort of revenge sentence against all the cold nights that ever nibbled at my ancestors. Bitterly, with sore hands and crooked back, like all conquerors, looking over my neat pile of firewood. But it isn’t Truth. It’s perception. A side effect of an intense, microscopic projection of our sense of self onto the things we create, we so desperately pretend we make up, like words. Like houses. And cars. The most recent gossip you’ve heard.

But that is not the same as the world. Thank God.
There is an insignificant barrier between our reality and our schemes.
That wonderful little letter separating words from worlds.