We found it by accident. Drove the car 15 miles north of Rapid River, down a dirt road that had recently become a frozen river. Snow as deep as the bumper I looked at Shane and said “We’ll start wherever the car stops” and hit the gas. It was a ‘99 Camry hatchback, growing up easy in the country side of an Atlanta suburb, it’s previous owner, a college professor, moved to the U.P. to retire, he was selling the car to make room for a jeep which could better handle the winter weather. It wasn’t made for anything more than a mild rain or whatever the hell is in Atlanta and yet, going forty-five it sputtered and spun through that snow like a damn champion-we made it about fifty yards, give er take. Shane had never been snowshoeing before, I don’t think, certainly didn’t act like it at least. Then again, putting on snowshoes never fails to fool even the veterans- we were snowmen long before we started walking. Cursing, shoving hands into our pants like teenage boys the walk commenced. The wind was viscous, a quarter mile of field to the wood line, threatening to rip the very jackets off us we tried to hurry only to quickly remember or realize running when you’ve got four feet of leather and ash attached to your feet the only possible outcome is to end up face first-our graves dug themselves, foolishly stubborn we got up and trekked on. The woods offered some comfort- a distant coyote sang out. No path to follow, no notable landmarks, there’s probably a river somewhere. A massive hill met us almost instantly, thankfully we were already at the top, unfortunately, this meant we got to enjoy ourselves-this adventure suddenly turned into an impromptu ski trip. Something to be mentioned, this had been planned out barely, we had a backpack, of pens and paper, of short torches, a pot, water, rice and bad coffee. The idea was to find a spot, start a fire, eat a shitty meal then mosey back to civilization, to cower next to a wood stove and gorge ourselves on coffee and well cooked food.
Every patch of forest looks the same with little variation, a few more deer tracks, some more of one tree and less of the other. If you walk in a squiggly line you’re more likely to end up somewhere magical, when near the brink of death the mind starts to hallucinate-close enough.
Post-high school life involves climbing mountains to write poetry, climbing trees to write poetry, having fires on the banks of various rivers to write poetry, scaling cliffs to write poetry, wandering in the woods for hours to write poetry, driving to Warped Tour with the exes, smoking weed while watching Mad Max at 2 am while eating Chinese food with the members of a pop punk band-Shane and the exes were oblivious to the THC, mostly- to write poetry all in the company of the same and only person except that one time involving Warped. Wonder what the greater expected class of 2014 is up to, in the meantime Shane and I are making sure a search team will never find our bodies.
A bird whistles, in the gullet of an idealized winter wonderland noise is obscure, our screams would be audible for miles not that that matters. Shane grows weary of my “instincts”, every patch of forest looks the same, squiggly line lead us home. We enter what summer calls a swampland and what winter calls a pain-in-the-ass-for-anything-trying-to navigate-through-it. The pain-in-the-ass-for-anything-trying-to navigate-through-it was entirely dominated by dense thickets of willow, our faces out of frustration became blunt axes cutting a path through, cursing again slowly meandering, the swamp cleared to a stream flowing mostly frozen.
Earlier in the summer, or maybe after the following spring the ground was soft, decorated in craters of stagnant mirrors and button willows. Our feet, then nimble, hopped from sedge-mound to sedge-mound, scraping knees and exposed flesh, never dodging the brambles, the thin strip of skin connecting pant bottoms and low-cut socks became a scroll, detailing the adventure, the story would be told wordlessly in vivid cicatrix. With risk of getting wet, a bridge was assembled, cut and broken decaying monoliths were reborn to support the urgency of finding such peace.
It’s not there now, the craters have disappeared under a blanket of snow and foliage. The bridge lost in the surge of Autumn rain storms or maybe overtaken by the weight of time never happening. I don’t know, Shane doesn’t know, I ask about the bridge and he replies that it’ll be built again, for the first time at some point.
Winter has saved us this task, unable to jump or display the same gracefulness as native wildlife-the bridge need not be remade now. Skating across to a hollow of cedar menhir, long ago maybe in the future there was a fire pit roaring alive with laughter and serenity- everything is cloudy remembering life as a pointillistic picture; I was sixteen long before I was eight and what a way it is to live that way.
So we enter. Surrendering backpacks and burdens- on the southern corner of the cove there was a small pine between two massive continents. The fire was or will be there. With cotton hands and driftwood daggers we carve out a hole for the platform to burn. Singing songs of books read recently- desolation takes solace in our throats, howling like a sentient breeze asking from the most tiny pockets of frozen earth if our presence will go unnoticed. Let it be best that these hours are offered from bone hands to winter’s love, to melt and swivel behind the fins of rainbow trout in spring, let it be best that all we’ve done be reclaimed immediately as anthems leaving our lips break apart, crash into the emptiness of birch bark and switchgrass. In response a bird whispers, for now we are ciphers together and distant.
Gathering damaged branches to burn, conifer tapestries were woven into nest to keep the wind out, to establish a home amongst the wilderness. Stumbled forlorn, turned corridors into puzzles pieces, walked as if assembling the parts of one another we couldn’t fix before or memories that weren’t adequately captured. Stripped parchment from trees, taking away their gasoline and oil so we could stay warm and have room to write about places that aren’t actually places, at least not anymore. A lighter was acquired from a back pants pocket, gloves taken off and placed above the ground on rotting log made to be a couch comfortable and accepting. Shuffled and shivering breathing to reclaim the energy lost, a placid flick from numb finger, the brief shower of Orion and The Great Bear brings forth a bit of flame big enough to be shared. Spread over twigs of pine and mostly cedar did it so tenderly like folding a bookmarked kiss over a shared, unintentional smile. Grew into pensive recollection, a reflexive work of nature crawling into the pores of denim-sewn jackets, grasping for all that we could give and take and leave behind. An assurance to breathe in a little more and exhale just the same. Surrounding this long exposure of being and nothingness snow fell, defiantly passive against the relentless roar of wind taking bouts at exposed faces, intermittently fingertips available shaving off skin cells whisking them elsewhere and eventually, a mountain will form from what’s taken.
Absent long before ever present, embellished in warmth before succumbing to the vulnerable tendency of pastel epochs; as much as we are it is all that we are not that defines us. At an age of awakening when the ground yet again supple, and more accepting of memory, fiddleheads will play their hymnals in rhythm to ravens plucking trumpets. A temporary home for serenity will succumb to an inevitable release, and in its loss of identity will rejoin the greater birthplace-returning to the absolute imperative of presence. Like everything else when you no longer can feel you know it was worthwhile.
Snuffed with ice water and a last wish. Packed backpack, boots tied to preserved monuments tracing fading trail path searching for old wounds signaling to turn here or continue moving forward. Brilliant vermilion diffuses above loosely stitched hats pouring through peppered evergreen windows; roughly a few snowflakes west following the coming night to return to a pockmarked field then even more so beyond with rubber and windshield wipers into flat rock and setting sun. Goodbye’s slipped from closed palms passed through language barriers as brief nods, transient instances of standing still not tired or wanting rather transitioning, inhaling reverence.
-What was or is then. Sometimes I feel walking down Broadway or Delta or whatever street is snow painted that I am walking toward the great glacial chimney amongst those great cedar trees, burdened graciously with short-torch and wanderlust. Shane following nearby doubting my judgement, cursing the love-touch of wind. Flurries falling fastidiously and this feels real, for the first time inherently magnificent, entirely unsure if I am here or actually there or somewhere between. The difference means very little.-
Shedding cambium to reveal all that had enveloped us had kissed our cheeks raw, had cradled and cared had passed to our backs as death cedes to life; opposite the direction of movement was a forest in hibernation ablaze with a handpicked bouquet offered forth from the setting sun, underneath was only and ever human.