We make camp just off the road beneath a ghost pine, strategically setting our bags between cow patties. The night is warm and buggy, the moon rising over the ridge a fat, ponderous orange globe. It wakes me more than once in the night, at which times I breathe deep the scent of dry grass and nighttime, snuggle closer, and drift back down.
In the morning we make our way into a canyon: manzanita, ceanothus, purple flores desconocidas, scrub oak, and at the bottom alders, willows, and dogwoods in bloom. On the trail there is a dead rattlesnake. We find a nook along the creek for lunch, and spend an hour eating and swimming. (By "swimming" I mean wading thigh-deep then plunging under, coming up hollering and then getting the hell out.) On the way back, someone has cut the rattle off the snake.
Part of this retreat is an attempt to retreat in earnest, to remove myself from a world that increasingly overwhelms and defeats me. I told him I don't read the news anymore; I don't want to know. Every new thing - the state is selling the land we camped on - every new thing just crushed me. I've been sleeping fetal lately, waking with my jaw clenched. I need a retreat from 24-hour broadcasts and babbling incoherency. I am fragile these days. Brittle.
And part is also to enter more fully the world I love. There is refuge in running water and rustling leaves; I need to learn how to find that refuge within myself. I want to live each moment. I know that if it is to be done it must be done in the madness of the city as much as the stillness of the monastery; I know also that the monastery will have its own madness, its own politics and problems and incoherencies. But I feel that I do not know how to slow myself down, how to bring myself deeper. I want to retreat from the thousand inconsequential decisions of my daily life - what will I wear today, what will I eat for breakfast, what will I do with my hair, what movie to watch, which ketchup to buy - so as to make room for the questions I really care about. What life will I make for myself?
I am not good at the middle path, but I can get swallowed in uncertainty. My intent is that this time will help me to clarify the answers to the real questions so I can face the others with impunity, and so that I can learn to love the inner world as much as I love the outer. Or that I may learn to love the rattlesnakes as much as the dogwood blossoms, and also the man who shot the snake, and his loud pickup and ATV.
This is the last post before I Go In. Keep an eye here and also at CRN in case Chris and I figure out a good way for me to post-by-proxy.
One more story before I go:
We had just bedded down for the night and were murmuring sleepily about the moon and the warm air and the bugs. Headlights came out of nowhere (we were in the middle of nowhere, so there's no place else they could've come from) and loud music, and loud voices. We were startled, and tried to remember whether or not we were trespassing. The truck drove past us, shining a spotlight at us as it went. We sort of huddled into our bags, though of course hiding was impossible - the car was right there anyway. The truck continued on a few dozen yards, then stopped and started to back up. Fear curled in my gut. I was painfully aware that we were in the middle of nowhere, that there were at least three of them and only two of us. "If we had a gun, now would be the time for a shot into the air," he said.
The truck backed up until it was just even with us and the light shone straight in our eyes.
A voice out of the darkness: "Y'all need any help?"
We assured them we were fine, and they continued on. The world is not so bad.