Tag Archives: outdoors

Wild Pack of Family Dogs

15 Jul

Bekah and I met in Belize. Boston, barracudas, viper, and archaeology were involved. But that’s a story for later. That’s a story I will write next week. But anyhow, so we met in the summer of 2005 in Belize and somehow I convinced her to move to New Mexico and attend UNM with me. We got a crappy dumpy house next to the university and a blow up mattress, some folding lawn chairs, and stole WiFi from the Wendy’s. On the weekends we would go out and explore the archaeological sites of northern New Mexico and made friends with our idiotic frat boy neighbors. Back when we were young, (even more) silly, and full of wonder. When we had nothing, and yet we had it all.

This picture from 2006 sums it up rather nicely. (I’m the one with the pickle).

Screen shot 2013-07-15 at 11.29.52 PM

Bekah had never been camping before. Being a city girl, fresh from Boston, she hadn’t done lots of things. Learned to drive a car, ridden a bike… but camping. That just seemed such a shame to me. We had just spent a summer or two in the rainforest and so we were up for anything. I had spent a research semester working at Chaco Canyon and I convinced Bekah and some of our idiotic neighbors to come out for the weekend with me so I could show them around all the sites. Chaco Canyon is unparalleled in beauty and culture and history. It really is a must see.

So it came to be that Bekah went on her first camping trip.

We packed up the old Subaru and headed out. We wanted a scenic route. And we also thought we were invincible. And we were both somewhat new to the desert southwest.

The Chaco Canyon website has this warning:

Warning: Some of the local roads recommended by map publishers and services using GPS devised to access Chaco are unsafe for passenger cars. Please use our written directions below to avoid getting lost or stuck.

I had even spent a semester out there and chose somehow to not heed this warning. So… yes we started late in the day. Yes, it got dark. We got lost. The water was up in the wash and we were afraid to try to cross. What to do? We set up camp right where we were- wherever that was.

There was no moon and it was really dark. We pulled our little caravan into a U shape and pitched the tents. Pulled out the hot dogs, snacks, some beer, and I’m fairly certain someone brought out a hookah. We proceeded to eat, drink, and be merry out in the middle of the desert, far from anyone or anything.

We thought.

One of the neighbors we brought along was a little green (I’m pretty sure he was still a teenager, if memory serves me) and he ended up a little sick and woozy, lying at the edge of our camp circle staring out into the distance.

“Guys. Guys. Guys.” he was shouting. We were ignoring him. “Something is out there! Something is watching me!”

“Shut up” we laughed, tossing bits of bread and things at him.

And then after a few minutes he would start again. Finally he was getting quite persistent and borderline hysterical, so we all looked over at him, out across the sagebrush and prickly pear and into…

A pair of eyes reflecting red in the beams of our flashlights. And then another pair.

A wild pack of dogs had smelled us and heard our commotion and come up on us without our noticing. A panic ensued, with folks tripping over other folks and screaming and running. I ended up in the car with Bekah. The sick boy was in the backseat, moaning. She and I were frantically running over scenarios of what to do, how we could get away. Finally (and this is how she tells it though I personally deny all suggestions about my inner redneck) I looked over at Bekah, dead serious and straight faced, and proclaimed, “Imma git ’em.”

I proceeded to put the car in drive and to the appropriate tune of banjo music I bounced us over the brush and dirt and actually tried to chase off the dogs, the kid in back dangling his head out the window and puking the whole time.

Well, I guess I did chase off the dogs, and I don’t remember how but we did end up getting to sleep that night. When we awoke in the morning we discovered that we had camped right on the EDGE OF A GIANT CLIFF.

And that was Bekah’s first camping trip.

Remind me sometime to tell you about the second time we encountered a wild dog out west. 😉

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Who Do You Need When You Come Undone?

30 Nov

“but when a southern anthem rings 
she will buckle to that sound 
when that southern anthem sings 
it will lay her burdens down”                                – Southern Anthem, Iron and Wine

When I am sad I go home.

All my life I have known who I am and where I come from. I’m a Southerner. An Oxonian. Sometimes a place can define you, make you who you are.  Not in any sense of fatalistic determination, I simply mean that when your environment is as all encompassing and (arcane) as Oxford, Mississippi the in late 80s and early 90s, it’s hard to not be a product of the southern gothic. At least for me. Move as I may, however far, I have that place so deeply ingrained in me it’s in the very core of my thoughts and actions, in the substance of my tears, and when I slip up, it’s in the slow drawl of my speech. We Oxonians have a sense of place- or of history- of a collective past so contradictory we spend our entire lives contemplating it.

When I am sad, I go home. It is my admission to vulnerability. I go to Mississippi. When my heart aches, I visit the red clay hills and steamy green deltas that both broke and healed me when I was young. The river. My river. My lake. And my town and my place. And I become part of a colletive we. Our place. I melt back into the clay from which I come.

The sights of magnolias and giant oak trees, of weeping willow and Spanish moss, of kudzu forests in the shape of dinosaurs, and the sounds of crickets and birds, and the smells that hang in the humidity like a thick blanket comprised entirely of a watery air. It’s all so familiar. It embraces me.

But It’s not the same. I grew up in a small town that was just beginning to be known for the miraculous nest of culture that it is. Now that we’re caught on, alumnus and other out-of-towners buy up the real estate and bulldoze our history in order to install chain restaurants, condominiums, and shopping centers. High end wine and cheese bars and private clubs are everywhere. They have torn down the older, crumbling buildings that I knew so well and erected newer, flashier, and higher city blocks than I ever dreamed of as a child. The woods have been replaced by high rise apartments. The population has more than doubled. My town is underneath, buried beneath progress.

Sadness frightens me- triggers the stress response- fight or flight- and I RUN. I run to something, though I don’t know exactly what it is- I simply run to the future. I run to move the ground beneath my feet. I run because I don’t want to answer for it, I don’t want to explain to them what it is.

And I am not quite certain as to who the ‘them’ I am referring to is.

Maybe ‘them’ is everyone who doesn’t get it, and those who don’t let it go, and those who don’t know, those who know too much.

Terrible Knowledge

-the kind that has a weight; the kind that leaves a scar.

I run back to where it originates, where everything originates in my world.

There is hope and beauty and peace in the absurd.

I have this memory from when I was very very young. So young that when I recall my memories they are just blips and blurs. My brother and I are playing in the backyard, up the hill by the blackberry patch at the edge if the woods. I remember the oak trees and the shape of the hill. The crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I remember the neighbors and their small farm. The old green truck that sat in the garden for so many decades it became part of the plant life. I hear the sound of the call of the wild turkey hens. I can smell the dirt and leaves. The memory is as alive as the little green grass snakes that hang from the trees. And I remember the blackberries. Our game is simply to push each other into the thorns. Our parents scold us. We both win, and neither of us ever win.

And all of it is gone now.

I remember the nightmare I had about Sardis Lake, full of faceless bodies missing their limbs and I remember not wanting to go water skiing because of it.

We played a game we called ‘scientist.’ We would poke at algae with sticks and fling it at the ducks. We roamed the woods in search of the tree with the initials carved into it. It had a mark, a wound left by lovers years before. Scarred. We found the spring that fed the lake- we named it. We saw the cannonball, left there from the war that raged and destroyed deep in the dark cervices of the county, and that still rages to this day. We stumbled upon a very old tombstone, picked it up, and brought it home us.

My best friend and I roamed wild in a forest that to us had no end. We lost our boundaries. We shot a squirrel. As it jumped from branch to branch we chased the poor bastard with a bombardment of .22 bullets. Finally one struck it- right through the head- and it fell 20 or so feet down to us. We killed it. The devil made us do it. We cried. Smeared the blood on our faces. Tied it to a brick and threw the body in the lake.

I remember the home movies we would make at the creepy old ice house. And how we would dare each other enter Faulkner’s woods or walk around Rowan Oak on the darkest, moonless nights.

How Ole Miss was nearly indistinguishable from the town itself.

“Meet me on the Square” 

Ice cream on the Square Books balcony and wasting time at As Seen on TV. Even the old Purvis’ pool hall, where children weren’t really allowed but we dared to go anyhow.

Living in a tornado alley and the familiarity of climbing into the tub and leaning an old mattress against the tiles, listening to the rain and thunder outside. And the the sight of the pottery manufacturing factory that Floyd and the other cats came from after it was leveled by a storm.

“We’ll be at the Grove”

I visit the plot of earth, next to my father’s, where I will spend my physical eternity when the time comes.  I will share my rest with many great men- my father, William Faulkner, the yellow fever deaths, past classmates, accomplished professors, and lauded statesmen. All gone now.

A comfort in the insanity. Acceptance in the inevitable.

And time slows down. A year happens each day I am at home- my Southern home- and when I return to my reality time has skipped ahead and things are different. It is my time machine. My reality check.

I’m lucky to come from such a place, to know the deep sadness and heavy air that hangs optimistically over the deep south. And it puts my own sadness into perspective because no matter how many times I see someone off to St. Peter’s, my sorrow is minuscule compared to the suffering and pain and loneliness that Oxford- that Mississippi- has known. I am insignificant in the story of the South.

And it is not a defeat to be sad. Just an observation. And it is not cured by these visits. Simply acknowledged. A celebration of the macabre.

A habit I cannot shake.

Perhaps when I am sad I go to the place that I associate with sadness. Sometimes I am too tired- and that underlying southern sadness is just all that I have left. And I think I want that more than nothing. Because to let my southern sadness go, to forget the great albatross that has anchored me thus far, would be to belittle it’s value to me all those years. To let it go and move on and forget about the place underneath the kitsch and development would be saying that there was nothing there worth remembering. And the nothing is scary and empty and sad. It is a cycle that cannot be broken. And to leave it and let it go entirely feels like a betrayal of how much I once felt for my woods and lakes, and how those places enveloped me, and what my kudzu covered jungle meant to me as I formed the shape I take now.

But sadness is not all. It can’t be. There has to be a balance.

If we loved once then we can love again.

The joy and thrill of beginning life still exists there alongside it. It is found on Bramlett hill. The innocence and awe of the world. The kind that wears off as we learn to weather the storm. With every break and every hurt is the reminder that I am still alive, that the deepest cuts heal and the gnarliest wounds mend up. Our scars are our maps.

I see the town as I remember it- I get lost now with the new roads and the new place- but the old Oxford is still there, underneath, lurking. You cannot kill a ghost.

And I am not sad I left. But there is always a sense of longing that I feel when I am away. I guess it is easier for me to preserve the memory from a distance.

But when I am sad I return to my home.

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