None of us had slept well that first night. Even if the tree hadn’t fallen on us. Even with dawn long gone we barely stirred from beneath the muddle of sleeping bags, arms, legs, and supplies. I couldn’t lift my head but an inch or two. On my head, all eight pounds of Mamba still slept. Steve pulled his snout from the crook of my knee and stared back at me, a look of sullen confusion in his button eyes. Us humans were puffy-faced, pale, and stiff. Rita lay inertly awake. Encircled by his mother’s left arm, Kino (aka Joaquin) curled into her ribs.
He’d suffered worst from the bugs before the storm blew them off, but had healed in the night. Of the dozens of bites that had covered his cheeks and forehead in particular not a welt remained. On closer inspection, however, three bites on the back of his neck had bled freely through the night and then scabbed over. Rita rubbed on an aloe salve. This took much of the swelling away at least.
“Black-flies you think?” I asked.
She arched an eyebrow, nodding and shaking her head in a bobbling manner, as if to say: “Fucked if I know.”
“Bogár,” Kino said in Hungarian, climbing into Rita’s arms. He beetled his facile little brows and pressed his plump lips into
We emphatically affirmed that and hugged him. Mamba screeched as she fell off my head.
Us adults, who hadn’t suffered quite as many bites (and none that bled), hadn’t healed much at all. Youth. I remember being young enough to heal so fast and I remember taking perverse pride in this. Like it’d been a skill or talent. A sign of my miraculous nature, my genius. But wasn’t it? Not a sign of absurd exceptionalism but rather the efficiency of nature itself and the virtue of my age.
Thoreau wrote in Walden: What is called genius is the abundance of life and health. Hmph. If I heal less quick the older I grow, then let that stand testimony on my passing virtue, which is (I now reflect, eyeing the pharmaceutical bottles and an over-the-counter pain reliever that line the right edge of my desk) quite efficient of nature too. Good on her. As Hunter Thompson said: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
We were all in the best mood you can possibly imagine.
Rita made breakfast. Two thick slabs of juicy watermelon with a side of
After eating, I sucked back my meds with instant coffee in one of Kino’s sippy cups. We locked eyes he and I. Him with his milk and me with my coffee. Bustelo, if you must know. And I went about decamping and reorganizing Earth-and-Sky, our big charcoal grey Subaru. Which by the way looked particularly more eggplant than charcoal, standing there at the edge of the dirt road in that hazy morning light. When I was done I thought about going for a swim for like the billionth time since we’d arrived the afternoon before. Another thought crossed my mind for the zillionth time just as I slammed down the hatch on yet another better-late-than-never masterpiece of efficient packing: How can I convince Rita that we need to rent a boat and find a campsite across the water in the wilderness?
After all, though the campsites were all free, if we took a boat that’d cost us almost $100 per day. More than a Motel 6. And it’d chip quite a chunk from our bank account. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother to try convincing her? Anguish, anguish, anguish.
Wasn’t as hard as I feared. Wasn’t hard at all in fact. She volunteered the idea before I could. We agreed that if there wasn’t a jaw-dropping waterside campsite, much farther from the road along the south edge of the reservoir we’d take a boat to the north. There was an island she’d been eying on the map. Right at the threshold of the Five Pond Wilderness. “My only worry is it’s going to rain around two in the afternoon. We should set up camp before the rain starts.”
Made sense. I nodded.
That name though! Five Ponds Wilderness. The verdant imagery it called up. So impenetrably feral, enchanting the nameless part of me. The part that thrills at the first warble of a bluebird. Something I wonder if many of us still hear often enough. That part of us, sadly, as over-cultivated and demineralized as our exploited planet.
As the song recedes so does the soul…
Silence, however, does not signify an absence of song, much less its death, but our deaths rather- the death of our songs, our unrestrained chorus of response to all the wild things. In the nameless places within our souls, the singers have been censored, shackled. Cut off, choked out. The source of our highest degree of intellectual and emotional capacity, starved. Lips still lightly humming mangled melodies that have lost harmony and rhythm. Commercial music rarely rouses me. I’ll trill along. Rarely a rebel voice responding to that wild, first-music crests the waves though. It does, just rarely.
Everybody knows, everybody knows… Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan’s shoes, wearing his disguise. Splashing wine with all the rain dogs… J
ustanother verse closer to death.
Mostly the stuff’s the clown car’s claxon of control, authority- the industrial insistence that you do not know what you feel, that submission to the banal, predigested puke (of market-driven morality, etiquette of outrage, frantic rutting, empirical factoids, alpha-beta genderism, wage-whoring, barking orders, taking orders, and fifteen-minute bathroom breaks) is not only my legal right but the best value I can get for the shabby, legal tender that is my life. I have misgivings. Daily. Something in me rebels. Even as I sincerely chirp along. Rusty. Out of tune, butchering lyrics. I can’t help it. Everybody knows Maddona’s Ray of Light is a masterpiece, but what if we’re presupposing maybe…it isn’t? Asking for a friend.
Oh. Sorry forgot to take my clonazepam. Meanwhile, back in the Adirondacks….
Warily watching the sun and the thickening mist fight for dominance, we went looking for a campsite on the south edge of the reservoir. Crazily, we couldn’t find anything, except the wheelchair-accessible site with pull-up parking and an outhouse. So we returned to the ranger-station where a general store run by a helpful-if-taciturn type of older gentleman rented motorboats. We’d met him the day before. He was the one who told us about the secret campsite that doubled as a well-known fishing hole. I don’t remember his name. He mentioned the former owner of the general store, Frank, once too often and that’s all I can remember.
Not-Frank rented us a 12-foot motorboat that Rita, Kino, Steve, and Mamba watched bobbing at the dock with more than a little terror. We divided up our supplies. Taking with us the absolute essentials, locking the remainder in Earth-and-Sky.
The motorboat packed chock-a-block and all passengers aboard we watched the rain start to patter down over the water and speckle our clothing. Not-Frank asked: “You operated one of these before?”
“Yep,” I replied. After he left Rita asked me if I knew what I was doing. “Yep. It’s just been about twenty years since I last got a chance.” Rita shot me a horrified glance. After a couple of cranks at the motor, I got it going and we shoved off, maneuvering (to my surprise) quite deftly into the open water.
“Do these things go fast enough to flip?” Rita asked, clutching Kino tight. For Kino’s part his arms and legs were wrapped around her, koala-like. Steve looked like his whole world had been turned inside-out. From within that stoic face (granted mostly by genetics), his button eyes implored me to turn the fucking boat around. I’m pretty sure he used profanity, yes. Mamba hid beneath a loose corner of the tarp covering our belongings.
“No,” I said. “It can’t get that kind of speed to lose control like that. Except in stormy weather. Or if we hit a shoal. Not-Frank said
“Not on the map he gave us. Oh shit, I think that’s a shoal we’re heading for right now!”
I squinted into the mist, looking for the shoal. Nodded. Yep. It was indeed. “Good eyes.” I decided to change the subject to something less anxiety-inducing. “Do you know which island is ours?”
“That one?” she asked, wiggling her finger in a haphazard loop at a general area still mostly shrouded in mist. What I thought looked like the upended roots of tree washed up on a beach. As beautiful as it was unnerving. I asked if that’s what I should aim for. She hesitated. “Maybe? Sure, why not.”
At this point, every dog, toddler, woman, and man onboard that 12-footer silently muttered their oh-fucks.