He first noticed something in his gate, not so much a clumsiness, but a lack of fluidity. It’s not like he’d ever been a long strider anyway. No one ever confused him with a person of graceful movement. At five foot, eight inches and 145 lbs, you are what you are, and that’s not long and smooth. Since he was old enough to have some kind of self perception, he had always pictured himself as a weasel, maybe a mink. A stone-hopper. A rubble-scrambler. He was not a gazelle nor a horse, not even an elk. Amongst the hooved, he might be some form of sheep. Not that he ever thought about it, well, actually he did.
So maybe because of his self-consciousness he noticed that he was shuffling more than before. When he first started this trek, he had more spring in his step. It’s been some time. He’s been through shoes. Until now, he’d just blamed the changes on aging, that and weariness. Now he’s not sure. It might be something else altogether. Too many days alone will have an affect on you; peeling away the layers, opening those hatches and latches that a busy mind would purposefully ignore. When you’re alone for long enough, you’ll eventually find yourself staring down into the dark basement of your mind. And the basement is not just a room, it’s a world of itself where graves are shallow and beasts prowl with broken limbs, a dreamland of banished thoughts where bristling memories scurry from the light and peer back at you with a strange and familiar fury.
He had avoided his reflection. No streams. No puddles. Now he sat staring at himself in the warped tin on the bottom of his thermos. Something different there. Something distant. He began to hum the way his Mama used to hum when he would rub her back. Another way of sliding out from under the thumb of reality. And humming, he walked. How many days since the last city? A season’s worth of walking since the last voice that wasn’t his own. And what about that last person full of sarcasm at the why of his journey? He made it a point to change his explanation after that. Why tell anyone that he is following some internal compass to somewhere that will present itself in a fashion that he will know but remain dumb to explain? It’s crazy. He remembers the words of the Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, “as soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it….” And so he did. He had, most definitely lost his mind. And somewhere in the losing of it, he began to change. First it was inward, he could feel it in the night while the fire burned. His body became cavernous and the needle-toothed bats swarmed the ceilings of his mind, the naked mole-rats dug blindly through the dark green-black guano of his guts, and from the center of his world there were groans from sources that aren’t listed in taxonomical records; beasts and beings exiled from creation, but existent nonetheless. Then came the first outward, physical change. His hair. Long, wiry, black and silver hair. First it grew from the tops of his fingers and toes, then it spread to his hands. Now, in the reflective tin, he could see the hair coming off the tops of his ears, off his cheekbones and even a couple off his nose. He noticed a change in his amble. His legs and feet constantly ached. All the walking and fasting made his body become the machine that it was supposed to be. Humans are deemed to walk. We are old pathmakers, all of us. He looked down at his strange feet and grunted. “Animal.” He said it aloud to himself, but also, to the world.
Now and then, he would feel dizzy. This he blamed on lack of food and poor nutrition. Once he woke up and realized he had passed out while walking down the side of a steep hill. He must have tumbled a bit, his knuckles were bloody and it took a minute to realize what had happened. He read once that a pig was the fastest animal to go from domestic to feral. Supposedly long black hair sprouted from their backs within months of running free. How long for humans to go feral? Probably depends on the person. Two ravens circled and croaked. He stood and swayed and hobbled down the rest of the hill, a raggedy man in a play with no audience, acting in clothes that no longer fit. Crossing an open field, he stopped and looked at the trees that lined the horizon, he could see them breathing under the sky. Of course they were breathing, fuck, listening too. Across and into the woods. His direction was determined by the lay of the land and the angle of the sun. At night he followed the stars, all familiar and twinkling, especially the polestar. Venus was the brightest, coldest light in the sky when he stopped moving. He roasted chicory and drank the bitter tea and slept inside his blankets where dreams wriggled from their holdings like quicksilver from a broken pot. This night he dreamt he awoke among the floatwood at the strandline of the sea, his body was half emerged from a casing like those casings laid by dogfish. He flailed and gasped and stared, wide-eyed, at the retreating tide. He was something between man and eel and his mouth gaped and gulped. He could hear the fluting of the frigate birds descending with their scissor tails and razor beaks. The sand covered his eyes. The sea and the birds and the fear of death caused him to wake. He was calling. And there wasn’t anyone, just the night. He remembered the words of Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer — “Listen to the carrion, put your ear close and hear the faint chattering of things to come….”
Mountains marched the horizon, dragging the trees. The sky was some color between grey and the blue between there and black, and there was a wind that matched the colors. His feet had changed to the point that he no longer doubted that something was off. His legs bowed out. His arms were thinner than they had ever been in his adult life. The land was wild and rough. The trees that lived here were wind worried and twisted, the product of gravity and pushing forces. Mystery lives unblemished on the edges of the earth. For the last week, the stars haunted the daytime skies and the moon seemed broken and hollow, maybe not real. He heard voices and sometimes called out to them, but they would only pause and then begin anew. After a while he allowed them to speak without disruption, a constant unintelligible uttering. Something was going on with his back, his shoulder blades felt dislocated and the arc of his spine limited his movement. Nothing was left. No packs. No clothes. No pen to draw and no paper to bear the lines as witness. No comforts. The basics were his way of living in those days before he came to the Edge. At first he thought maybe it was a canyon, something he might circumnavigate, but after some deliberation he realized it was simply, the Edge. He spent some hours looking out. More thoughts of the Mad Farmer, “Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.” The gulf was all of the space of the present moment and he was at the Edge. When he stood to move, something broke free in his back, like a bone long out of place that moves to it’s intended spot. Transformation is essential to growth but from growth there is no return, all is progression. He was past being surprised by his changes, so the wings that broke from his back, quaking and shivering, gave him little pause. And they rose with a mind of their own, unfettered, furious and ranting, like horses held back from the race. His wings, harbingers of flight. All that ever was became a perfect presentness. And he lost his mind and tipped into the star-flung sky buried below him while his wings took him into spaces that would not have ever been found had he never ventured. There is eternity in the blink of an eye. And spinning and fleeting, the cosmos, disregarding past and future, swallowed him entire.
Dark the night,
Dark the sea,
Dark these churning guts
I cry to muscle,
and beg to bone,
lift this heart and take
me home. — TLC
We are all children of the universe and eventually we will all return to our source; some screaming and clawing like naughty teens, some solemn, and some with a wild and adventurous heart and gleaming teeth. The last was my buddy and compadre, Chris Pilaro, who went on before me, to light fires in the dark so that I might find my way. Carry on, Chris, you fucking stud! This writing is for you as is today’s adventure and tonight’s whiskey from a tin cup. See you in the big whatever else, brother. Love. Tobias