Recent Guelph Life Features- CHECK ‘EM OUT!:
The toilet always sets the tone. Smell– the first sense to emerge, even in utero– is our most dominant and most neglected receptor (except when the smell is impossible to ignore, then it reigns supreme). The hermitage loo wafted cedar and fresh air, slug and earth. Toilet paper rolled tight inside a Tupperwear; shovel and bucket of cedar chips smother the waste. Basic needs met, and beyond: a moon-shaped sunbeam glowed white on the back wall. Even a view, if one dared to leave the door open, which I did.
These three days would be simple. I’m here for the bountiful nothing. The bountiful nothing of all that grows and languishes all around and in me, too. Apples reddening on the boughs; field flowers drying to a grey. Spider webs assembled and disassembled. Just things changing form.
I would write, walk, sleep, write, walk, sleep with just me. I came here to get away from you.
I foraged for dandelions and wild edibles, ate an apple from the orchard floor, drank a jar of Chantalle’s juiced greens from a tin cup with a simple message.
I loved my alone time. For about a half-day.
You were everywhere– you, who came before me, now dead and alive (your private notes of hope and fear you left in the drawer of the writing desk (I read them one hundred times, resisted correcting your spelling errors), your pamphlets on ecology and spirituality and all your dreams as stewards of this land from decades before, your chocolate you left on the ledge above the camp stove, with an expiring date circled (you care about me) and the chair you placed at the perfect spot for the morning sun.)
You, just beyond the wildness of here: you, filling your cart with bananas and deli meat; you, parking your cart outside the washroom while you pee; you, scolding your child as you shop at the Walmart over there in that wildness across this field. You are here, too, sharing this same sunrise.
I walk while my body sleeps. Some die, others fly. Lucky ones make love.
The mind and body do their natural divide. The body mind. My spell check separates those two words as I type, though the philosophy that interests me most invites me to experience the bodymind as one. I do wake up exhausted after those active dreams. Maybe the body is doing the work inert?
I have two re-occurring walking dreams; both involve wild body exploration in an urban setting. Re-occuring dreams are extra surreal since they involve a subconscious memory of a subconscious memory. (I am not on acid.)
I’ll tell you one here that takes place in a city I call, when awake, Vancouver. The place has no name for itself when asleep. (As in all dreams, things are recognizable yet totally strange. Change, the only constant. “You were my mother and then, all of a sudden, Ronald MacDonald.”)
I am always North-bound floating my way upwards from a mash of other dreams when I arrive here where ocean comes up hard against the land. There’s that steep cliff-edge trail I know I have to climb. Climb and climb, circling the evermore activity below: the livers living their lives on boats, on land, at beer, in detox. I have travelled the path ahead so many times, I’m impatient. I skip some and force the narrow turns moving through other dreaming nobodies without care (see-through nobodies, as if players in an online video game, their invisible operators at distant keyboards dreaming their dreams). Yes, there’s the old cave where a cloud lives, the little rest station and the half-rabbit, the witch who chases me with a Bic lighter, but I will eventually make it to the sandy valleyland flooded with a blue lake. See that small beach there? My brother will be appearing soon to picnic, which I know every time I pass, yet I have never awaited his arrival. I have to get to the narrow spit that must be walked barefoot in sand so hot it hurts and pleasures, so deep that I am fatigued and fuzzy and staggering when I at last fall into the sand joined by a sudden marsh of cattails and chirps, room enough alone for my face-down sprawled-out body, naked now, ecstatic.
That is the drive that gets me here. I am the last existing human in a last beautiful place. A dream place, a hazy eternal forever place, a terrifyingly lonely place that I covet and fear. It feels terribly close to Truth. Something so familiar but so fantastical. I have never been here in real life, right? Yet I know it. Nothing comes from nothing.
Is it the end of life, afterlife? In waking time, I believe it is. I wonder if I will keep visiting the North Vancouver Spit until I am once and for all comfortable there, once I’ve finally created the significance of what I think my life is meant to have, once I’ve come to terms with me, and you and all of the things in wake time.
Without this comfort, the company I keep turns cold. I feel finished, trapped in a terrible freedom. I don’t want to be this free. The panic pounds as I try to get out of my dream, to burst open my eyes to return to wake time. I am stoned and desperate to get sober, to wear off the now-unwelcome high, but the sun, the heavy haze weighing on my body, the heavens have me in a sleeper hold. The water is rising, kissing my toes, wetting my mouth. Brain is gone and heart is open and flying away.
When I wake, I have to pee. Is that all it was? The body’s poetic memo to the mind?
(Be forewarned: this is a dirty post. Some discerning readers may even call it shitty.)
Here we are, you and me, together – all of us, really, even those you and I don’t like – travelling along our little trail. For the sake of sounding insightful (and at great risk of sounding corny), I’m going to say that at the beginning of the trail is a cave and at the end is a cave. Both dark and mysterious places. There are some who claim to be Cavers, to know that darkness, but I’d say we all know the same: nothing. We all start and end at the same place.
Our trail is not linear. Sometimes we find it on a map. It is marked, it is well-trodden. Other times, we can’t see any markings. We tear up the darn map, or others kindly/not-so-kindly tear it up for us. For our own good, for their own good. No matter, it is torn up. Ho ho! Sometimes we off-road, forge new trails.
Today, I am plain lost (of Mind), looking for Meaning. I know, there are those who say you are never lost, you just don’t recognize the trail, Dodo! I am uncertain of what to believe. That’s why I appear to Not Be Moving at times. Some say you will have a more satisfying life if you go about convincing yourself that everything has a purpose, moreso, a Meaning, even the ugly, especially The Ugly.
On this early Spring day, on this urban river trail at the base of an exclusive golf course, there is only shit, dog shit clambering out of the melting snow. The Great Melt when the snow that once blanketed the dirty world in white, making it clean and fresh and Pure, now reveals itself as merely a thin veneer over months of dog shit, candy rappers, used condoms. Within 20 minutes of the trailhead, I found over 40 piles of poop, two of which I stepped in. How rude! How inhumane of dog-owners! Hang them! Wrap the shit in newspaper, place it on their porches, set it on fire and ring the doorbell!
My sign says: “Dog owners. Get your shit together. Unwalkable…”
The trail markings here have words: Beware of flying golf balls, a diversion designed to trick hapless walkers to look up when the real stinking danger is below.
This is the Cutten Trail, land that once belonged to Arthur Cutten who made a fortune betting on wheat in the Thirties, a fortune never uncovered, a fortuned rumoured to be buried here in this dirt and dog shit. (Hence, the occasional sighting of those middle-aged Metal Detector Men who have strayed from their beachside habitat.)
Along all trails lie both mierda et flores. (I’m showing off my cosmopolitanism here with these Spanish words because that is how trail walking was explained to me by a girl, a Pelegrina as we called each other, who I met on the Camino trail in Spain twelve years ago. She walked this ridiculously long, madly famous path (as many have since Medieval times) searching for Answers of Great Concern. Would she continue walking with her fireman husband, or would she leave him for the shoe salesman in Valencia? I was asking the same question about my partner back in Canada, but the decision was more difficult as I had No Shoe Salesman. (And I was mostly the problem). There was that hunky buck-toothed Brazilian pilgrim on Day 8 who waved me back on the trail from whence I have strayed- surely a Sign, this was The One, my life-changer. But he was of a different mind, resulting in embarrassment and sangria.)
Mierda et Flores. Flowers and shit.
Here are a few flowers I recall over my years of walking the Cutton Trail: The Spoon Tree, The Message in the Bottle and The (butterfly-stomach) Hand Holding.
Number One: The Spoon Tree. Some wood nymph hung a dozen mismatched Grandma silver spoons on the branches of a tree. They called to walkers by clinking in the wind. Old spoons of Real Silver, eventually pinched, one at a time until there was none, likely pinched by students for their dorm rooms at the University on the hill. (Students: forever the scapegoat.)
Number Two: The Message in the Bootle. Another time, I followed a rogue trail down to the marshy riverside where tucked beneath the exposed root of a Willow tree was a Jam Jar. In it was a lined piece of paper torn from a notebook with These Words: You are loved. I wanted to take this love letter with me to make it mine, Mine Alone, a Special Message for Special Me, but there are a thousand special mes for whom this message is also written, so it must be left where it was found.
Number Three: The (butterfly stomach) Hand Holding. Long long ago, in another me, a Barefooted Boy slipped his hand into mine on a morning hang-over walk. It was so exciting I nearly threw up. Nothing came of it, it was never spoken about, he found another Special Me, yet the feeling is still alive in me today. Is it for the boy?
One good thing is, if you look for it, there is always worse shit. Once, on a Night Walk, I found a pair of men’s underwear, extra-large, full of human shit just off the trails’ edge. A drunken accident? Illness-induced, a desperate act of a hiker, a homeless man, a student heading to an exam who literally shit his pants?
Or was it another love letter for Special Me, in disguise? (See above, the Ugly has it’s meaning, too. One man’s trash, etc… ) Is this a reminder of our shared humanity: we are all Vulnerable? You, me and the stranger, too.
Merdes et Flores. Don’t flowers grow in shit?
Everything in everything. They are the same. The joy in the suffering, the suffering in the joy. Can’t you see the pretty colours in these pictures? When you don’t look too closely? Or when you look really closely?