Saturday, August 29, 2009
Fly Away Home
Since moving from Sunset Park this spring I've lived in four other locations, not counting a few regressive nights on my mother's couch, which would bring the total to five. Certain aspects of moving have become very streamlined for me. Every time I start packing to go to a new place I go through my things and ask myself, When was the last time you touched this object? Wore this shirt? Opened this book? Things have been paring down. Coming to my current roost I had one bag of clothes and a backpack. Of course the weather has completely changed since then and I've been wearing the same long sleeve shirt over and over. I don't know if this means I should have packed more or if I could have gotten away with packing even less. One shirt. Done. Who needs pants? The Man.
Earlier this summer I went camping with some friends in Harriman State Park on the edge of a lake. We took a train to Tuxedo then walked through town and off the road into the woods. I have been looking back on that trip as some of the worst packing of my entire life. I walked into the woods prepared for little more than dying cold and wet in a ditch covered head to toe in ticks. Yet somehow my backpack was so fucking heavy it felt like my collarbone was being gradually pulled apart by the straps across my shoulders. It was a two hour hike to the camp site and this wasn't considering the walk through Brooklyn to the subway then wandering all over Penn Station for the train.
Luckily, my friend Zach lead the way and he loves to camp! It's just camp camp camp day and night with this guy. He has a camp stove, a bear bag (this is where you keep your food not your bears...unless you eat delicious, delicious bear), various tarps, and an extra tent for myself and my pal Robin who would have been sleeping on the dirt with me otherwise. He also had lots of great advice, like "Don't wash your face with the water we cooked pasta in," and "Don't bring berry scented lotion to the woods full of bears".
Some of you (I mean the two people who read this blog) may know how terrified I am of sleeping out of doors. Like most unreasonable fears this one has waned through practice or the 'facing' of fear. I've slept in a tent a few times now without prescription drugs OR a panic attack and though I went to bed that first night startlingly sober (though he packed everything else Zach forgot the bourbon) I believed in the possibility of sleep and not that I would be murdered by an itinerant woodsman.
Fear is not the same thing as discomfort and within the hour both Robin and I were shivering in our sleeping bags. At least that's what she claims. Every time I looked over at her she was calmly breathing out frozen white puffs. According to her she tossed and turned and declared me an 'excellent sleeper'. We'd borrowed our bags from a couple who told us they'd slept on the snow with them. We realized they must have zipped the bags together and cuddled but Robin rejected my offer to spoon. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it spoon with you.
The next night I thought, if I could just be warm I would sleep like the dead. But the body wants what it wants. It was warmer but there was no peace. You see, I hadn't packed a mat and through the thin texture of my sleeping bag I felt every rock and clump of grass and rabbit dropping held together by the hard hard cold cold ground. My eyes closed occasionally but that was as close to sleep as I got.
Since this trip I've thought a lot about what's the least amount someone would need to live in the woods and though there are many people who actually have the experience to answer this question let me dwell on my suppositions a moment. Fire. Food that wont quickly perish, until you learn to throttle squirrels for soup. Good walking shoes, until you walk them off your feet and develop a thick sole of skin. A tarp. A place to sleep. Well, I seem to be wavering here...because what is necessary to living in the woods depends a lot on how much you want it to be like living in your home. One could slowly shake off what is vital to a civilized life and keep only what is vital to survival. I don't think of that as a romantic idea. Being uncomfortable is hard. And if you're going to live in the woods, well, why not build a cabin? As camping goes we were in a pretty good place, not a cabin but there was a nylon roof keeping the rain and some of the bugs out.
I still don't have a permanent home but when it happens how will I face the flood of...stuff? All the lamps, the mattress, the bags and bags of clothes I never wear, boxes of books to the ceiling, letters, photos, drawings, twenty-five years worth of knick knacks pouring in on me from storage to be sorted through and categorized and valued again. They wont take it well if I say, "Sorry. You're not vital to my survival." Then I imagine myself in a bare room, in a poorly insulated sleeping bag tossing and turning on the floor. But hey, at least I don't have BAGGAGE! There must be a happy medium somewhere.
Wait, before I finish I just want to mention the bugs again. There are a lot of bugs out there. Ticks especially. Zach had a handy little plastic tweezer to pull them out. Robin was covered in them every time we came back from a hike. I never found any on myself but did enjoy mooning her under the pretense of a tick search. The thing about bugs is in the city we think of them as scurrying around the floor, hiding in the dark until we go to bed. It's a war and we think by keeping our homes clean, lining the cracks with poison we'll win every skirmish. But as soon as you go out where there are more trees than people you can see the fallacy in this thinking. Bugs in the woods are not shy, they're not gonna hide and you're in THEIR house. A tent is basically a little air bubble where you can breath without inhaling gnats.
I'm in the woods again, in a cabin actually, and the line where my house ends and the bugs' begin is blurry. There's no heat and the screen doors droop on their hinges. I have to evict squatting spiders and hypnotized moths pretty regularly, ants swim in my honey and this morning I killed a mosquito helping itself to the buffet of blood in my eyelid. Later I was walking along the road and saw a black raspberry bush, the last of the season's fruit glistening on its stems. Falling on it like a gremlin, I ate what was there leaving nothing for the birds or neighborhood children. When I stood up I checked my legs, for ticks of course, but found instead a little red stowaway, a ladybug clinging desperately after what surely must have been a traumatic trip through space.
I recited the old rhyme. Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home...and just like that she spread her hard candy wings and fluttered off. It was kind of like magic and I appreciated that she didn't let me get to the grim conclusion...Your house is on fire and your children are gone. Now trying to imagine my future home I keep thinking of the ladybug's scorching tinderbox. The tiny firetruck manned by grasshoppers. Her (many?) eyes reflecting the dying flames and charred remains. She'll have to rebuild.
On our third day of camping we woke up to pouring rain. We shook out our temporary homes, rolled them up and packed them away. When we got off the train we went en mass to a friend's house for showers, a hot meal, Pictionary and a big bottle of bourbon. Damp cold and sobriety has its place...but not at MY place. That much about my future residence I do know.