We’re trying to find a bonfire on a piece of Crown Land our bush camp has set up on in the Hearst Forest. It shouldn’t be that hard- it’s pitch black other than the dim glow coming from the mess tent, which we refuse to go into (its too yellow!) and we stand on top of the hill our tent city encircles, scanning the horizon. There’s an odd sensation of hearing the people all around us but being apart from them. Its the kind of darkness you’ve never known before, and the kind of quiet, miles away from traffic and towns and highways and neon. A sound stands out from the darkness and the white-noise babble of the socializing groups. “Heave!” What the hell? The sound of something heavy being dragged along the gravel drive draws us. We peer through the treeline that separates our clearing from the drive. A group of planters like a demon apparition, dragging the keg of earlier toward the alleged campfire.
It suddenly becomes immensely important that we beat them to the fire. We have, by now, spotted the telltale glow of burning cardboard boxes on a ridge that surrounds what we know, by day, is a deep gravel pit. At night, the safe passage is invisible and the beacon of fire draws us. “Let’s just hold hands,” I say, “and stroll.” Earlier in the night we had limp-leggedly made our way down a steep hill of wildflowers and mosquitoes safely, albeit with a few grass strains, using the same method.
Its the night that lasts a thousand hours, together with three or four other ones in my mind that now blend, muddled, together, running into the realm of myth and legend to be recounted again in dark nights around a fire. “Was that the same night that Q pissed on Evan’s car?!” we cry out, remembering in one fell swoop a pothos I bought at a Hearst garage sale, a school bus full of entirely naked tree-planters, a crew-boss in a cow-boy hat on the far side of a fire, smoke drifting across his face as he plays the guitar mariachi style to accompany a story told by another crew-boss. Was it the same night five of us ended up in Lauren’s tent to get away from the bugs, smoking inside the nylon structure while ash and smoke blew around us? Was it the same night we danced to Sex Machine by James Brown over and over again in front of the bus? Was it the same night that my friend disappeared and when she reemerged hours later, had fashioned a remarkably efficient fanny pack out of duct-tape? Or maybe the same night that a little gold car zipped by our hiding place on the dry-bus again and again like a god-damned Benny Hill sketch, loaded each time with more and more people, until, eventually, it ground to a halt with flat back tires and its inhabitants disembarked like clowns from a clown car.
I don’t remember, but we went forth with confidence to skim the edge of the pit. Sometimes, I limply skidded down the sides to scramble along on my knees, reaching upward to maintain my hand hold. By day, this distance was no longer than two to three minutes. By night, we may have walked as long as Moses in the desert. This is the land where bears are spotted, rummaging about an unfortunate lone camper’s tent. Finally- the promised land. Our friends reemerge from the dark around us and we blend seamlessly into our group. Our boss emerges from the shadows, a pink blur in a neon-housecoat, with a plastic decoy owl perched on her arm. “What the fuck is that?” we ask. “A fucking owl, what does it look like?”
Another night, but connected- the sheer and deep feeling of complete and utter well-being, tramping through the wild-flower patch toward Shit Mountain where all of our outhouse tents were set up in a weirdly social ring. The night is so bright with starlight that everything is perfectly visible and dry thunder is rattling in the distance and fireflies are congregating around in the thousands. As I am sitting, completely enthralled and actually in peace and somewhere close to nirvana, in a shitter, the cloudbursts outside break and a roaring downpour of rain breaks over the wildflower clearing and the sleeping tent-city. “Hold onto this fiercely,” I tell myself. “Hold on.” In nothing but a quickly grabbed crochet shawl, sitting in a stinky shit-tent with a swarm of mosquitoes eating me alive and trapped there by an abrupt thunderstorm, I am happier and more complete than I have ever been in my life.
Around the campfire, we sit and are. We touch, we cuddle, we talk. We listen to stories, we tell stories, listen to songs and sing them. People I’ve known for two months are closer to me than people I’ve known for ten years. Some of this contributes to recent writer’s block. I don’t want to write, I want to talk. I want to sit with a cold beer and get increasingly more passionate and red-faced and slam a glass down on a counter and spill while emphasizing a point. I don’t want to write about food and love and travel, I want to eat and love and travel. I don’t have the words for it anymore, crouched over a desk and staring at a screen. They’re all there, but hesitant and unwilling, seeking another venue to entertain themselves. Conversation.
Soon, soon. Back to the woods. Strollin’.