Friday, August 29, 2008

A little something

Going to my home game tonight and bringing my PA buddy, sbstar. Stories to follow, rest assured. In the meantime, I was looking through the vaults of an earlier time and found this:


The frying pan sits on the campfire, pond water boiling up to the rim, bringing with it the accumulated, previously fused, burnt food from the bottom. In just a bit I will be able to dump the water, scrape the last of the charred remains and ready myself to leave for home.

I've camped here for three weeks, fishing, picking dandelions and pulling cattail roots for food ... by choice. This is something I know about; and it doesn't really require a lot of varied experience. The knowledge that schools impart, or the calm that surrounds me — even the coyotes yipping and howling at night just fifty yards from my tent — all difuses and infuses after the third day or so.

Five days is not enough time to spend here. Dread sets in almost as soon after relaxation, having made this trip many times before, and knowing what my reaction to the traffic, noise, garbage and flurry of inconsideration will be upon my return to the city.

I arrive here with enough water for the duration of my stay. I have seen but three people in the last three weeks. They were all here to fish for a few hours, chat briefly about the pond owners and their own legacy of fishing rights, implying, if I was predisposed to such a thing, an outsider like myself need not get territorial about their presence. Take a few bluegill or crappie for dinner and be on their way. "Me and the wife been comin' out here ever since Fred Sr. put the pond in." I nod. I'd been coming here for well over twenty years myself. His wife nor I have much to say.

I remember my first time here. I was greeted by a heifer, dead two days or so, bloated. On the second day its gut exploded while I was eating a late lunch. The noise, sort of a loud fart, scared me into spilling my water in my lap, splashing into the fire, hissing several pitches higher than the cow.

All week the cow stayed downwind. The flies got pretty thick. The coyotes took care of the rest.

For a while, while I had one, I brought my family here. They loved the spot. The year crazy Fred Jr. tried to drain the pond, we came down here to find the water level at about two feet surrounded by a fifty-foot muddy shoreline of dead fish. We fought the whole time — three days — her wanting to leave right away, me trying to hold onto something nearly gone, the kids crying in the a-ground john-boat. That fall, my wife ran off with a crewing coach. I recognized the irony in that situation only now, on this trip.

So why continue coming to this place? I'm sorry if I've given you the impression that death and only death associates itself here. No, for I love the flies and coyotes, the fish that muddied their backs in the remaining shallows, and the flames that allow me to sit here staring into their cool blue centers, listening to the crying calves a half mile away as they're weaned from their mothers, their pain temporary, somehow not real because it will be forgotten in a few days.

Like the time I walked through the poison ivy that used to line these shores. It eventually stopped itching and draining, healing but taking all the hair on my shins with it. It's okay.

Muskrats and beaver aren't permitted to reside here. My brother comes down for target practice as a favor to Fred Sr.'s grandson who now owns the pond. Bought it from Jr. after the draining fiasco. In fact, my brother comes down here more often than I, visiting with the grandson when he's in town. I imagine them sitting around a campfire remarking how I never leave wood for them. I should tell them that I appreciate the well-stacked pile they leave me.

I wonder if I'm the only other person who camps here for any extended period. There is evidence of others, less respectful of the place than I am of my brother and friend. Beer cans and bottles covered in moss spot the water's edge and come up in the ash pile. I am sure I have spoiled party plans those nights when a car pulls in, sees my camp, turns around and parks further down the road. I hear the bottles bounce off trees or into dirt clods in the fields. I'd call 9-1-1 if I could, if there is such a thing down here.

The ex-Sheriff, now dead, was an old friend of my grandfather. Everyone down here knows who my grandfather is ... was. I felt completely safe in this county, when he was alive. Mere mention of his name meant any trouble would be dealt with by an octogenarian pit-bull. Of course, I was very careful not to get into a situation that called for his intervention, a respect for the family name-thing; an honor to him and his ghost that would surely be in the area, if it were to be anywhere.

At the risk of sounding pap-plus, it is the memory of Grandpa alive, as the memories I carry assure me that I am alive, with the occasional move forward, the feeling of progression adding to the life force; and only recently having gleaned the hope of deliverance to encourage me on. In the same manner of the coyotes and flies feasting on misfortune, and the overcrowded fish waiting for rain or the dam to be plugged, allowing the overcrowded spring to fill beyond its channel, I embrace all of the struggle.

To me, this is balance, and when I return to the city, I try to hold onto this perspective. I try to break through the thick vitreous of the traffic's haze and the "Yo-yo-yo-drugs-here", nowhere-to-go-except-to-an-early-grave neighborhoods I have lived in before and after they have been gentrified, the mixed odors of a multitude of dying cultures carried along the songs of old and young listeners oblivious to notions of hope that are not related to food, clothing and shelter — money — for today and tomorrow. Tomorrow will become today and we shall start again.

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