Monday, August 24, 2009

On the Median

April 9. I find many unusual things along the edge of the grass, many of the clothes I wear, for instance, and food sometimes, and other useful items. Today may have revealed the best find yet, or at least the best thing since I picked up my watch that tells me the days. It's a rigid folder with a lot of happy colors and animals on it, and inside there are three blue pads of paper bound with little spirals of wire, and several writing tools in a clear pouch. I am writing with it now.

I don't know if I will keep the folder, but I like pad and the pouch, and I have often thought I should keep more solid memories than the little marks I make on my tree to note the days.

April 10. One thing I can describe is my home. It is a small lean-to, packed tight with pine boughs, which keep me dry even when it rains hard. I can hardly see it even when I am looking right at it. At the very front opening, there are a few stones where I sometimes have a fire.

This lean-to is nested in a small stand of trees. This in turn is tucked into a little fold of hill, a narrow ridge on either side of me, as if I am in the center of a large "M". At the feet of the M, of course, are those long, black boundaries that define my space. My trees rise almost to the top of the ridge, it is one of many bunches of them. Swathes of grass weave in between, as if the little clusters of oaks and hickories and maples are bubbles in a green stream. There are stretches of bushes and scrub too, and in the summer, blue flowers pop up in the grass. My bubble has several nut trees, and it is cool (and sometimes a little muddy) at the lowest point inside. On the east side, there is a sandy bridge, a turnaround maybe, for the travelers on the blacktop, but a white plaque on a metal pole indicates that this use is forbidden.

April 11. When I walk straight west from my home, the peaks of the ridges rise for a few dozen paces, and the middle valley spreads out. There is a little white molded streambed that fills up when it rains, and empties into a pond in there that is not large, and not deep, but it teems with frogs and turtles. The water is very still on it today, and the sun is very bright and high in the sky, and I spent a few minutes looking at myself just now. My eyes appear very deep and dark against my wide face. My hair and my beard are the color of bark. I think they used to be blacker.

April 14. Did not leave my lean-to today. Was not hungry, and it feels like it will rain.

May 5. A lucky find this morning: a deer, nearly whole, resting a few short steps from the shoulder. It must have happened in the night, but nothing woke me up. The poor creature's hips were shattered, but he was otherwise intact. I wonder how long he managed to survive after he was hit.

As I sit here, I can smell the meat roasting on my small fire, and it is nearly too tempting to wait. Up near the top of the hill, where the breeze comes, many strips are hanging from my makeshift drying rack (just some sticks really, that I stripped bare of their bark), still glistening a little in the sun, and the deer's hide is spread out over a rock, also drying, close by. I will boil the heart and kidneys tomorrow, and I may have some meat to smoke too, but I will have to move up the hill for that as well, if I don't want water to seep into the hole, and I do not know if I want a fire that high up.

I am worried that so much meat will draw rats or crows, but I will camp near there for a few weeks, and maybe I can catch some of them if it does.

June 13. I woke up panicked this morning. The buzzing and shouting was not another nightmare, it turned out, and as I crept up the bank, I could see unhappy men dressed in orange crowding the bank, swinging around machines on rods in the open space between the blacktop and the treeline, sending clumps of grass, still wet from the dew, flying from the business ends, offering tiny glints in the morning sun. A hundred paces behind them, a large green vehicle growled near the edge of some of the closer trees, with a great arm that reached up to the branches and rent them horribly, with a ripping sound, as much animal as it was mechanical. I could see two men in yellow hats in the cockpit of the machine, pointing up in my general direction, and I froze.

I don't believe I am highly visible in my deerskin, but I felt that these men and their horrible machine were going to cut through straight to my home. Moving carefully, and as quickly as I dared, I crept backwards into the shadow, out of the immediate reach of the thing.

The rock that my hand closed on was about half the size of my head. When the monster finally approached, I felt the sound would deafen me, a hundred times worse than the big boxes that pass by so frequently in the night. When it was nearly upon me, I looked up a moment at the end of the arm, and it was less a fist than a mouth, spinning with brown and gray teeth, chewing up the branches and spitting bark and leaves. I hurled the rock where I thought the cockpit would be, and abandoning caution, I flew back to hide under the branches. As I write now, the sound is fading.

June 18. They cut the other side today. The crews are not hard to avoid when you watch out for them. On this side, I didn't find any sign of my rock, or of anything else but piles of cut grass, now drying and brown, and speared through with new shoots.

August 28. Laying down last night, I could see stars peeking through the breaks in the trees. I am sure I have looked up like that a thousand times, but last night, there was something about how the canopy was broken open and I could see the ragged line that separated the black of the underside of the leaves from the black of the sky, the nearby darkness from the darkness that surrounds the stars, and I felt somehow big enough to reach through it, walk up that shimmering corridor to the endless reaches. It was very quiet, and maybe that was the difference, and no lights went by. Looking out under my stand of trees, I could see the thinnest sliver of moon, hanging low in the sky. I swear I'd never seen the moon before either, not really seen it.

It was a good night for sleeping, dry and comfortable with the faintest crisp taste of autumn mixing in with the air, but I couldn't sleep, worrying about the hole in the trees. I moved out to the edge of the copse, and that helped.

September 19. I am not in my little stand of trees anymore. I feel like I have been restless for many months, but looking here, I can see it hasn't really been so long. It didn't feel like there was a decision made, but this morning, I stuffed my odds and ends into my little pack, what was left of the jerky, my hoard of nuts, and a pastry, now very hard, that I found last night still in the bag. (The bags are excellent for starting fires.) I kicked away my little ring of stones and started walking, clomping over the rough surface of the turnaround, and then on through the grasses, the gray and beige tops of the plants gently brushing my knees.

Maybe I will read this later and wonder what I was thinking. But I am sure I don't know.

September 29. I am standing on an overpass, and have been looking down at the world below me. I have seen many of these continents that intersect my own, both over and under, and crossed them in the manner as the circumstances have demanded. (Usually, like now, they don't even touch.) On these overpasses, my long island has often been cut off by a sudden canyon--and I am forced to navigate along the shoulder if I want to cross. Sometimes I'll wait for night to do this, and I'll sprint along the edge, dragging my hand on the rail while trying not to peer over the other expanse. But now it is not so dark yet, and I have stopped halfway.

Below, another path stretches out perpendicular to mine. It shares the air as my path, and without doubt, leaves blow back and forth and up and down the gorge. Maybe an acorn rolls over the pass and germinates into a little oak, grows, is cut and pruned sometimes, and its roots tangle with the roots from my trees through the mass of soil which is shared too, pulling at the same rivulets of groundwater running through the common earth like veins. I can imagine a man like me walking the lower way, looking up at the overpass. I squinted into the dusk to see if I could see anyone. Did I imagine a flicker of orange? A fire? At this point in the season, it's just as likely to be bears as anything else. I should move into the trees, I think.

October 4. Another turnaround, but this one apparently in use, or at least sort of. The machine is blue and white, and I was surprised to see it occupied, by a clean man, keeping very still. As close as I was, I could see many neat bumps and buttons and clocks on the inside. The man was faced outward, and he was holding a smaller item, although it was not really that small. He supported it with both of his hands.

It took me a long time to creep up to him, but I never saw him move. I think he was asleep. Or dead. But if that was the case, he couldn't have been there that long. I moved quietly past him anyway, crossing from behind. He could have just as likely been sitting at my turnaround.

It is later now, and I am lounging all the way out near the rail and thinking. The blacktop has become much more crowded and faster than I remember. I have grown comfortable walking just the same. I am getting hungrier faster, which is very inconvenient, but there are also many more containers that I can scrounge.

October 19. Thankfully back with some grass around me, with rocks and squirrels.

I kept walking even after my continent shrunk to a strip only twice as wide as I am tall, with a white divider, waist-high, running right down its center. With my feet on the grass, I could still pretend everything was normally sized, and that wasn't so bad. After a day or so of this, however, my grass walkway squeezed in too, and the barrier spread out slightly, and soon all that was left was a solid raised path that I could walk on. As the world closed in, traffic and signs seemed to come from everywhere, and large structures loomed in the distance. There were light poles stuck into the hard surface, and I counted a hundred of these before I gave up.

Far enough along, there were objects that spanned the macadam, a row of little blocks with people in them. I got just far enough see the last lightpost on my walk, where the path finally gave way to nothing at all. The end of the world as far as I'm concerned. I turned back.

The return was much worse, with the lights glowing above me, and also streaming at me fast from both directions. It made my eyes hurt, and I almost lost balance. I slept for a while leaning against a pole, I don't know for how long, before continuing on. Now I am here again, back in some normal space. It's getting a little cold, but I feel safe, and I am thankful for my deer skins. I miss my old camp, but I am happy that I can read about it.

November 5. I know that the world doesn't end there. Obviously the machines are filled with people, and I know that the surfaces are passable--I have crossed turnarounds and bridges made from the same material, and I have retrieved items sometimes a few steps out. I can read signs, and I can see landscapes like mine on the other side. Nothing stops me, and other than the remote fear of getting broken like a deer, there is nothing to even harm me.

I walked out almost to the center line tonight. That far, and I stood for a second before coming back to the comfort of the brown grass and coarse sand. I am sitting now on that edge, having gone that small distance, which is only a tiny fraction of all I have wandered. Vehicles pass by one after the other, humming, and they sound like the wind. They flood my eyes with yellow beams, they light up my dirty and yellowing notepad for a moment before receding red points in the washed-out aftermath. It is dark, and I am sure that they can not see me.


Keifus said...

I don't think it's the first time I've told a story like this, and my apologies. Please don't psychoanalyze me.

I think highway medians, especially when they spread out, are almost as fascinating as other islands. Tiny, isolated worlds. I have often wanted to pull over and explore.

switters said...

My idea for median acreage:

Use half for solar panels, and the other half as orchards.

Really liked this, Keifus. I never really thought of medians as "islands", but you're so 100% on the money there.

Do you think that we can get to places too fast, that travel has become a convenience instead of a... adventure, or... sure, a chore, at least sometimes?

I.e., the world's become way to small. I''ll spell this out better later.

Enjoyed it. Don't stop.

Keifus said...

Appreciate that, but I have to say I find it as disappointing as everything else I put out. Maybe I'll fix the typos later, if so inclined.

You could use rooftops for solar and gardens too (talk about your wasted space), and patios too if you're remotely competent, or so I heard. Recall reading that rooftop gardens are great insulation, but you need to seriously take care of your hydrology.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about travel, but I'll say that a lot of the American version is fucked up--too spread out, inefficient, and stressful would be my complaints. I have definitely come to the conclusion that the general layout is deeply flawed, and I'll be reading your thoughts with interest.

And bringing it together: I recall in high school laughing at the various "first lady" initiatives. Highway beautification was Lady Bird Johnson's pet cause, cleaning up litter and planting stuff. The attractiveness of highways was actually due to the policy effort that came from her (you can just see LBJ with the patronizing of the missus), and having thought about it for a bunch of years now, it was a damn good one after all.

(Hey, I got a dog last weekend too. I am surprised how happy that has made me.)

twif said...

color me intrigued.

also: woof!

i've never actually had a dog. my family had one, but he wasn't really mine (more my mom and sister's). also, he was a toy poodle, which barely rates as a dog anyway. i like the idea of having a dog, but not yet sold on the reality. though, i figure my boy will eventually start asking for one (around age 6 or so) and will probably get one then. depending on circumstances, of course.

Keifus said...

Hey, ixnay on the ealray ogday! She might hear! I'd tell you the breed(s), but I'm kind of embarrassed...will post some pictures when I get around to it, I think. Maybe I can photoshop in Tokyo under her feet so she doesn't get self-conscious.

I share your prejudices, but we have a tiny house, and she meets the general doggy requirements of personality, non-annoyingness, and unquestioning fealty.

I was basically hoodwinked into this. My mom came across a rescue operation with the kids last weekend (coincidentally, she says), and they fell in love. Mom all but promised that we would adopt her.

twif said...

size isn't the defining factor. corgis, for instance, a small but still real dogs. same goes for terriers. pomeranians and those ugly things (chinese cresteds?) that people carry in purses are, however, not.

Keifus said...

Still haven't managed a photo, but this picture looks a lot like my dog. Poor thing has genetics stacked against her, but as mentioned, she seems to be surprisingly okay so far. She has expressive doggy ears, which helps a lot, and we are pursuing normal human-canine relations, like walking and hiking in the woods when we can. I'm trying to get over my breedism.

Aaron said...

Wow. That was really engrossing. Thanks, K!

Keifus said...

Thanks. Don't you guys have a famous troll out there that lives on a highway median?

artandsoul said...

Maybe travel gets better when one hits 50.

So far since I've turned 50 (which was last August) I have had some really great trips. VERY slow. VERY low key. VERY locally involved with wherever we are. And VERY long.

Psychoanalyze you??? Never!!

Finding islands in our midst is the first sure sign of something good, though, and I like that!

I love the pic of the dog-that-looks-like-yours! Congrats on the new species in the family. We've got no animals right now, having lost our dear cat in May. But I am feeling the tug.

(Hey Twif: I had a Corgi, loved her so much .... she was a great dog!)

More anon - glad to be back in the blogging loop.

twif said...

i'd love a corgi, but what i've read is they are not always good to have around young children, given their method of herding is to nip ankles. would love a border collie, but i haven't the space or time to devote to one, alas. herding dogs are brillant.

artandsoul said...

My little corgi began herding me when I brought her home at 8 weeks! She'd gently pull my pants leg to get me to go somewhere -- she wasn't exactly sure!

I think the thing about corgis is that some are very mouthy, and some are not. If you get that mouthy one they will nip and probably scare a kid. But they are endlessly patient and I mean endlessly patient!

Border collies are absolute god-dogs! I want one!

Take a look at this site - a friend of mine found one and rescued her:

Her name is now Hope.