Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Getting Away


I've enjoyed getting back to work, the routine that's anything but, the noise, the activity, the lines of reasoning and questions. The "Hey B!", "Doc!" or simply, "I need your help". But on a daily basis I need just a little bit of quiet time, just to myself, no cell phones, no TV, no schedule. Just the secret, strong murmur of silence.

Some people have a real hard time with the quiet though, finding it illuminates those things within themselves best left hidden. Quiet brings that time in which you can ponder the extremities of loss and the destiny of flesh, something most people don't want to put the remote down long enough to consider.

But there are noises that bring only a smile. What is a the first sound that you can remember? As a child, I remember the sounds of the kitchen, my Mom cooking something. I remember the sound of the front door, a heavy hardwood door that shut with the announcement of "Dad's home!". Dad would walk in and kiss my Mom. Not a peck on the lips, but a long kiss and she'd giggle, there with flour on her face and that is the sound I first remember.

I remember the sound of bat meeting ball as we played with my oldest brother out in the back field. The CRACK as aerodynamics and physics joined, the ball just a spherical dream of speed heading out into the trees as our dog Pepper raced to recover it before we did.

I remember the sound of the piano, as I practiced hour after hour as a child. Beethoven, Bach, Debussy. The sounds of the music filled the house, filling me, the opening chords of Rhapsody in Blue awakening something in me I was too naive to articulate.

I remember the sound of taps played at a funeral of someone I knew, the wreckage of duty crashing on the ears of those who are left. But it was a sound that fell without lasting damage for we were raised to be fighters, stronger than wreckage, taller than fear. Honor the fallen and continue the fight.

And always and forever, I remember the outdoors, walking or fishing with Dad. A way to get away from the artillery sound of traffic, away from school, worries, bills and whatever it is we need to occasionally shed the load of, even if we always hold the responsibility. Dad could spend all day in hip boots,in a Western stream poised with the relaxation of that first cast of the line. No sound at all, but the gurgle of the water, the wisp of a line as it traveled through the air, with a sense of direction more than speed, carefully seeking those quiet pools where sustenance lay. When he came home we sensed something in him much bigger than the steelhead that he laid on the table. Something he had needed, and somehow found.

My escape has been the hunting camp where even with friends I could seek the inarticulate solitude of a cathedral of trees, where I could watch the moon grow round in the darkening sky as I waited for the flash of a white tail. In the woods even the the most profound acts seem simpler. The crack of a rifle, the crash of a large buck, that act of deliberately taking the life of the game of the forest to put meat on the table; so clear and closing in its sound that no words needed to be spoken. The echo of the shot, the strident fall of the deer remained insular, wrapped up quietly within the chronicle of outdoor life, only to be spoken of in reverent, hushed whispers around a campfire.

Just as there were days of plenty, there were the days of cold feet and a cold barrel but we wouldn't take them back for anything. Whatever we could gain that would set us free of obligation to the suburbs might have been beyond our reach that day, but not beyond our desire. We wouldn't throw down our weapon and stomp out of the forest stopping at the nearest mini mall for takeout. We would wait, there in the blind, there in the stain of dying brush, waiting for it when it came, and doing without if it didn't. Sometimes those meals after, of beans and fresh biscuits and bacon, were the best of all, as we looked forward to the next opportunity to head back out to forest and cornfields ripe with whitetail.

But too soon came time to return to neighborhood and work, hours of travel, the groan and rumble of an airplane, the vibration felt from the yoke to my bones, the cadence and sorrow of air rushing past, left behind in the wake of strained metal. There were hotels in the city, waking to the staccato bursts of sound from the street, cars, shouted curses, and horns. Even where I used to live,with neighbor's far apart on sometimes acres of land, but the Starbucks three miles away, there was no such thing as real quiet, There's the neighbors lawnmower at 9 pm, dogs barking or a shouting match off in the distance between people caged too long.

You either adapt to it, or you get away. I voted for the getting away part. A four lane addition to the road from a less than good part of the city to the north end of our little town brought with it gang graffiti and crime. Properly values were crashing. We had our first rape. A woman was beaten to death with a claw hammer. There were a number of break and grab burglaries in my aneighborhood, kids, the cops said, taking small electronics, cash and booze, but it worried me. I realized that I was close enough in that if there was trouble, I wouldn't be able to defend the place too long even with back up. I wanted to be further out. If not full time, at least a place for the weekends and holidays. Not so far out that when I go walk along the creek I hear the sound of a banjo, but far enough to be away from the major roads and cities in the event of a disaster where the unprepared come to loot the prepared. So I made the decision to sell the place before prices dropped even more, and save for a chunk of land.

Someone said "you're going to get your own Walden Pond?" I've read Thoreau, who chronicles his life off the grid in his writings. I found his words moving but found little in common with a middle aged man who probably couldn't field dress a deer if he had to. But there was one thing he wrote of that I have always identified with. He talked of judging the cost of something but how much life you had to expend to get it. I left a relationship long ago for that reason, because in terms of cost to my being for what I got from it, it violated my sense of thrift. It's the same reason I got rid of a huge house of space I didn't need any longer and unnecessary possessions. Things are precious when they are few and carefully selected. If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt.

So I gave away to those in need or sold half my possessions, rooms of furniture, all the useless decorative clutter, keeping only the art that I truly liked, my books, the furniture that's hand crafted and comfortable and the tools of my life that I really need. Some said I was foolish, as a woman alone, there's safety in a busy town, a steady finality in the noise of a large neighborhood. So there is, as well, in the sound of the scrape of metal against a pine box. These are the people who also tell me that I shouldn't have a gun, the police will take care of me; those that speak imperious and loudly, not hesitant of opposure or argument, simply impotent to conceive either.

I'm renting a small place away from there. It allows me to save quite a bit of money and it's in a safer area, further from the city but close to where I can get in to work. Hopefully in a couple of years I will have saved enough to build a small cabin or buy a small farmhouse with cash, a place where the world will only intrude if I wish it to. I'll likely keep or share a small apartment or house in town for work if I'm too far out, but as soon as I clock out, it will be empty as I drive towards the quiet. There will be my time alone, walks out, firearm on my hip, lest I encounter a mob of chipmunks. There will be my times to just sit, out on a felled log. Time to stop, without schedule as I watch the sky turn from the subtle grey of an unpainted church to the deep purple darkness of a priest's robe, the stars impenetrable and invisible, as if waiting for us before they showed themselves.

Barkley will be sitting by my side, hoping we're under a dog biscuit tree, soon to shed its fruit. We'll wait, serene and still, the moon shining on nibbled shadow, content to just sit underneath the starry sigh of heaven. The only other lights are as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, barely remembered like the smell of decay, sensed only in the instant of its knowledge and then fading to dim memory as you move away from it. Dark and far away, as such things should remain for as long as possible.

From where we sit, an owl will call, the sound unintelligible amongst the vernal branches. As a satellite tracks the sky, the owl calls again, a call to go home. And within, there will be an old Victrola, a ham radio, lots of books and some board games for when I have those I love stay. There will be my little computer to write and communicate. In much of the daily breath I draw there will be noise, but it will be the sound of a blade striking wood, the sun shimmering off of the blade like silver. It will be the crack of a rifle shooting on my land, the tool I will use for provision and protection. It will be the hum of machinery as the shop takes shape, room for more tools, room for more freedom. There will be voices, but they will those of reasoned discourse among friends, as though many of us chose to live away from civilization, we are not so naive to think it doesn't deeply impact us, our safety and our liberty.

It will be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It will be life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields, walking out into the constant trees, alone when I need to be, but not forlorn, intractable and accountable. Walking on forward, rhythmic steps into the hushed, secret shade of life off the grid.