We come to this same town every year to escape the clutter of daily life. Every year we rent the same room in the same building on the main drag through town. When we get here, after unloading my luggage from the covered bed of the truck, we go to the grocery store. This year at the Stop-n-Save I buy three avocados, unsalted butter, pork rinds, one dozen eggs, two cans of tuna packed in olive oil, tomatoes, pre-washed romaine lettuce in a plastic container, chocolate, coffee, bananas, and a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco.
Marcel waits calmly in the cab of the truck while I check out. I see him address an itch by gnawing gently on his body where it itches.
We always come to this town in spring, when Marcel’s allergies act up. In all of my pictures from our trips, year after year, Marcel’s face grows whiter, and there is always a spot on his left paw, darkened by his allergic licking. I try to keep him from licking but still he licks it when I am unable to watch him.
I bring magazines to read, as well as books. I bring books I feel I cannot easily make time to read at home, owing to the clutter of my daily life. Last year I brought Middlemarch, and this year Swann’s Way. These demanding texts are more manageable during our trips, taking advantage of my employer’s paid time off policy.
I bring my meditation cushions in a big duffel bag I use only for that purpose. I arrange them in a corner of the bedroom. I use a lint-roller to clean off the black buckwheat-filled cushions and plan to meditate for longer periods than I am able to at home, temporarily relieved of the clutter of my daily life.
Inevitably the clutter of my daily life re-emerges, takes new forms when refracted through the lens of my paid time off, grows from the seeds of disorder that lie in my heart. Socks and underwear accumulate on the bedroom floor. Olive pits and empty cans of tuna start are left on the kitchen counter. Within the context of my paid time away from the clutter of my daily life, daily hikes provide a respite from the chaos. Each day we hike between five and ten miles in the forest. Black bears are not uncommon in here, and we sometimes see bear scat on our long walks. To date we have not seen a bear in person, so to speak. I do not bring a gun on our trips.
I sometimes mutter to myself, Just for once I’d like to see a bear out here. Maybe then, if I experienced the big fear that would presumably arise in me as a result of seeing the bear, the little fear from the scat would dim. Then I wouldn’t be so cut off from everything, I say out loud to myself as we are walking on a trail near town, marked with blue diamond trail markers. Maybe then I’d notice the socks and underwear accumulating, and maybe then I’d just put them into a plastic grocery bag, saved for that purpose, that I could carry home and empty into the hamper in my bedroom, or directly into the washer.
What can one do to bridge one’s separateness from the natural world? Going on a long hike on my paid time highlights my alienation from the natural world. I end the hikes in the midst of an imagined dialogue with my enemies, defending an obvious rhetorical position to the people lodged stubbornly in my nervous system. Trudging through a national forest, looking at my feet, lost in thoughts, I’m more tired than when I started, my chances of sleeping improved, but the rocks, streams, trees, and turtles remain silent and concealed.
At church, when I was little, my Sunday school teacher told us that to be in Hell is to be forever separated from God’s love. In trying to move closer to God’s love, since then, amidst the clutter of my daily life, I feel I have been only further ensnared in what I sometimes imagine as the Chinese finger trap of solipsism.
During my paid time off, I bring my dog to suicide country, where despair claims the men and women in large numbers, having separated the souls of the men and women from God’s love and taken them with it to be devoured in Hell, the way a lone coyote baits a house dog into chasing the coyote back to the waiting and hungry pack.
I get up on the last day of my paid time off and take Marcel for one last walk, watching for coyotes. I do not bring a gun on our trips.