A cabin in the woods sounds infinitely better than a shack in the city, which is exactly why I went–to trade in the grime and the grind for the sunlight and the silence. I sold it to myself as two nights and three days. You get these big ideas. You get these big ideas and they carry you along. You move from one to the next like you’re hopping from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing at all. You don’t even know what the big deal would be if you stepped into that inch of water. Just that you’d have to hang your socks on the line or something. Just that you’d lose the game you were playing. Sometimes in the parking lot late at night when all the cars are gone you jump from sleeper to sleeper down one side of the lot, in and out of the lamplight. You wobble, careen, catch an edge– step down and touch the nothing, the pavement.
No one’s even watching.
In one scene from the brochure I used to sell myself on the trip, I was meditating placidly in sheets of morning light, stirring a galaxy of dust motes with my breath and my whirling chakras. It seemed like exactly the thing to do for two nights and three days straight, but the first half day dissolved into a three lane river of cars that wouldn’t quit because the Exodus was clearly oversold. We were crowding each other into the turns.
In another scene I was frying fish I caught in the river and chopping vegetables with a towel slung over my shoulder, listening to crickets. You’d be thinking of music, or a glass of wine, but they weren’t in this scene. I was going to the cabin to be with myself–to peel the silence open, the silence that awaited me there.
I saw that I needed gas and my back was starting to put up a fight so I pulled into a fish stand with blinking light strands along its edges that made it look like Christmas in July, and asked for a Number Eight. The rock ballads from the outdoor speakers were getting lost in the darkness. The mosquitoes were at plague levels and I was willing myself to just sit there and eat, to sit there and be happy. To savor it somehow. That’s what I owed myself. Night had fallen and I still had forty miles ahead of me, some of it on gravel, most of it touted to be quite lonesome. Finally.
The tires made a lovely noise on the gravel when I pulled up to the cabin. Outside, the insects were at full tilt like the whole forest was a dive bar full of cosmic karaoke. I found the cabin a little musty– the bedding a little damp– and I savored it. There weren’t any lights in the place and my visions hadn’t included flash lights for some reason– something about rising and falling with the sun– so I found my way to bed by the glow of my phone.
In the morning I found that silence is deafening when it’s all you’ve got, and I focused on entering my vision fully, now that I was here. I tried to sit, but the cabin got hot. In yet another scene I was reading on the front porch with one leg crossed over to the other, as timeless as a person can be, but there was some sort of hornet’s nest underneath the porch that kept me on edge. I got up and crawled around, back and forth, probably studied it for a full hour. Then I went for a walk, and soon I was moving from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing.
Nature is like one of those pictures that changes meaning depending on what you make of it. One moment it’s a beautiful woman. The next a witch with a wart on the tip of her nose. It was all so flimsy. My sense of self was a loneliness like coating stones with plastic wrap and dropping them into the river. Do they get wet? What if I want to get one back? How could I do that? Now what have I done?
I drove into town that afternoon and bought some fish and vegetables and cooked them in cast iron pans on the propane stove inside the cabin. The place got hot as hell but somehow I’d shaken off the grime and the grind. Or maybe not that, but something else entirely. It just sneaks up on you. One breath I was telling myself to sink in to it. The next breath I was empty. The cooking would have been easier if I’d thought to bring pot holders, but I wouldn’t have had so much fun. I wouldn’t have started laughing so hard at myself. A little more than was merited, honestly.
I got up the next morning– the second one, marking the third day– before the sun, because I couldn’t sleep. I dozed and woke in fits all night. I got up to look at the stars and couldn’t figure out what time it was, so I went back and laid down. Then I woke up and it was just a little lighter than before, but still dark. I decided to follow the trail that wound down to the stream. There was a little pond there and a nice place to sit beneath some trees.
I didn’t even see her at first. We both just kind of surprised one another. Her head swung up, dipped and swung up again. She took a skitterish step or two backwards, turned sideways and stopped, looking back at me over her withers. Her haunches shivered like they were ready to bolt, but she waited.
What did it was the way her eyes couldn’t find mine because she couldn’t see me on my own. She could only see the whole thing, and sense that it was different. She dipped her head again, testing it. She inhaled a little pinch of the entire picture. She knew the difference, but the difference wasn’t me. The difference was all of it.
Then she leapt into the shadows and was gone. Periodic bursts of crunching leaves faded into the distance. I sat down and I didn’t move for hours. The sun rose. The sky spun. The gnats investigated. But they couldn’t find me, because I had stepped off the edge where there wasn’t any bottom, and I was gone.