Saturday, August 15, 2009

Returning from Elsewhere: Narratives

Well. I'm back.

From eight days camping in the Northwoods. Off the grid. Off the map, even. From dipping into Lake Superior's mists and shoals. From No Place Between. Northernmost Minnesota, above the Lake, in the Arrowhead counties that have few paved roads once you leave the shoreside highways and towns behind. Where they call the region The Top Of The Map. Where you're as close to Canada as you can get without treading waterlines, where you're closer in mood and art to the Arctic than to life in the cities.

Back from all that happens when you go: those rapid intense changes to the self that happen when you're focused in and there's no outwards distractions to keep you from mortal spelunking. From being dislocated at least once into a shards of what you once believed, given permission to fall apart on the lawn and take several days to stitch yourself back together, a kind of reconfiguration that honors the old pattern of self without duplicating it, or its mistakes. From the annual hard work of camping with others that takes its toll on your strength and energy: having fun at such a high intensity is as tiring as having a meltdown, because living life at such high intensity for more than a week is always exhausting, and requires time to process. From sleeping in utter dark and silence, with a loon calling occasionally from the neighboring lake. From getting out of the tent in the middle of the night for a moment, to witness the Milky Way covering half the sky, foreground veiled by the tall silhouettes of cedars and white pine. From starlight bright enough to see to be able to walk the trail. From the long glare of a close meteor, so bright it leaves a long tail behind it, so close the fireball at its head is green-white with the light from distressed burning ions. From where a bachelor wolf came into the cabin clearing the other day, a little bit lost and curious. From dipping naked into the Temperance River, and Hare Lake, and showering outdoors under water hand-pumped cold from the well and heated in 55 gallon oil drums over a small fire to run down the hill through hoses and valves and emerge as liquid ecstasy.

And I'm not back.

Part of me always wants to linger, after returning from a week's camping, or a roadtrip, or a photo travel expedition, or just going to visit someone Elsewhere. I'm always reluctant to dive back into the virtual world of Connexion, be it online, via phone, or even just to let the neighbors notice you're back. Of course they will, anyway, when on a steambath morning in August you're unloading the truck, shirtless, and piling clothes and blankets for laundry, washing the road dust off the windows, and opening the tent to air and dry it out. The tent lies on the lawn on its back like a satellite dish or an upturned beetle kicking the air, helpless and cleaned out. It's a downtown market morning but do you really want to do the work of getting dressed and going out.

You want to linger in the silence that you slept in, comfortably, for the past week. You get no better sleep than sleeping outdoors in a tent, in utter silence and darkness. Sometimes very strong dreams emerge from it. Time has shifted; nothing ever seems quite as urgent as it did before leaving. Reluctance to re-engage with the high speed traffic of email and Connexion from everywhere via cyberspace, that feather-light non-touch that means nothing to the body. Even reading books in the morning, the usual morning practice, shifts away from deep thought towards deeper thoughts in fiction or poetry, those truths that can tell deeper human truths because they cloak them as lies.

You want to take a few more days to return, to gear up to speed slowly and gently, not grinding your gears, not pushing or being pushed faster than inner quiet requires. To spend at least a day doing nothing but laundry and silent integration before you take up all those other conversations that Connexion requires.

And eventually get back into the pace of everyday life. But maybe slowed down a little. Maybe a little more thoughtful than before. Maybe with a slight sideways look at what people take for granted, don't think about much, a look with a little suspicion that it doesn't have to be that way, that it could maybe be better, or at least different. A little detachment brought back from No Place Between, to protect you from the vice of egoism, the sin of pointless drama, the sadomasochism of everyday life. A bit of perspective, no judgment on it, a bit of detachment, learned from Elsewhere, and those gods that walk there, reminding you that whatever you think you need to live, there's Something More than this.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Art, after this length of time away I expected you to tell me you'd written a novel or something. Or is this post the calm before the storm?

10:52 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Actually, at one point I completely reached the end of words. I think I strained something trying to birth a poem, and was verbally quiet for days afterward.

Remember, writing is not my dominant mode. This next week I'll be focusing more on music. While I was camping, I did write a couple of poems and a few journal entries, but most of my time was taken up with photography and video work. And hanging out with the friends I was camping with, too, of course.

Perhaps there's a calm before the storm, here, or a harvest after lying fallow. I don't know. I need to not overdo writing, when writing pulls me away from other modes. I'm still not back yet, really, and am taking a quiet day today. Need to just be silent, and integrate. What comes from that is sometimes art made at white heat, it's true. We'll see.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I was half-joking, half-serious, but I understand more than you might think. As I grow older I become more and more aware of the limitations of words; so much is lost in the translation.

So, be silent. I'm going nowhere.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

No worries, I figured as much. The limits of words, that's really important to know about, I agree.

8:20 PM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

How I envy you your regular traveling. My restless spirit craves it, but my life situation at the moment isn't very amenable to it. I'm going to work to change that, though.

11:46 AM  

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