I am walking on this small and winding path, through a field. We've decided that it's not an important field, it grows nothing. Animals may have eaten here, once, but they aren't right now. And the path seems well travelled. I'm taken back to something, in science class-- maybe. About letting the earth lie fallow, for a season? I'm trying to say that thoughts of tresspassing were furthest from our minds.
Sarah is carying her heavy bag on her back. I've offered to carry it, but Sarah is one of those people who will recognize their own mistakes and deal with them. I am feeling prudent for having brought only my small brown messenger bag. The sun is just setting, we've been walking for most of the day. We are not nature people. There was a lot of time spent in the city, some spent navigating the train network-- the crazy system of connections and missed schedules. Local and express trains, too. I am not one to ever complain. Sarah is content to swim with the current, and I admire her for this.
She asks me, "Do you think we're still going north?"
We are supposed to be somewhere. I would not rather be anywhere than here.
"I am not sure." I say. "I am having a hard time being worried about it."
"Okay.", she says.
The tall plants with purple bells on top are falling apart as we brush past them. It is maybe eight o'clock, but it is summer, and the world smells warm and eager to have us in it. If earth is a mother, she is reading us a bedtime story. I am very sore, conscious of my decision to wear sandals this morning. Sarah is impossible to read, but paint her content. Had a sheep or farmer come up and asked me, I would have said I were falling in love.
Because of this, I want to say something, one of those things that will mean a lot more because it is between the two of us. I am thinking, "There are a lot of stars.", but instead, I say, "Have you wondered why they call it the Test Path?"
"I hadn't really thought much on it. I suppose it could be for a lot of reasons. Or maybe just coincidence? I don't know.", she says.
"I am thinking that it has something to do with cartography.", I say. "Maybe when they were first deciding how the first maps would be put together, they call came out here and mapped this path. Oh! And the Test Creek!"
"What does that have to do with anything?", she asks.
"Well when they had completed it, and all of the backs had been patted, etc, etc, and they'd completed the map of the surrounding area too, perhaps they thought: what will we call that first path and creek? And maybe one of them said, 'It was our first test. Let us just leave it as Test Path and Test Creek'. And so they all exclaimed what a Jolly-Good-Time it was, and went off to do whatever they did in those days, and it's been that way ever since."
"I don't really know what to tell you. I guess it's possible. I wasn't there.", she said.
I am trying to explain myself to the stars, but it's hard to pick just one and stay focused on it. Sarah has light skin. She fits in well amongst the thatched houses and rain. I am darker, and I suspect that people notice it. Hostility has been bred away for generations, here, but I can still feel eyes on me; the outsider. I want to fight these people, each of them, with my fists. I would love the chance to prove myself to them, and be taken into the tribe. Dear watchful ones: I can learn your language, your customs. I am young! Vibrant! Adaptable! But they will hear none of it. Sarah would, I think, fight them too, but she has nothing to prove to them. My attempts to read her leave me thinking she is longing to do something different with herself. She doesn't know what that is. If she did, she might not be here with me. I am both hopeful for her, and wishing she'll fail.
There is supposed to be a monestary around here. We are walking to the left of a deep forest, the creek lies between us. The occasional overturned tree would make a good bridge, but it is dark at this point, and we've decided that the monks would prefer to be left alone. Everything is colorless, but still full of life. At night, in the winter, in the city were we both used to live, everything died. We would sometimes walk along the short paths that lined the escarpment, and I would keep my knife in my hand. I think Sarah understood that it is a dangerous thing to be alive among the dead and dying; one must be careful. She never said anything about it, but Sarah is a poet on occasion, and so I assume she understands most everything. But here, there was noise, life. We come across a patch of ground riddled with holes the size of Coke cans. Deep holes.
"Do you ever wonder what they might be up to down there?", I say.
"I've thought about it, some,", she says, "but I imagine if they did anything really spectacular, we'd have heard about it."
"Did you see that special they aired on one of the science channels? They took some ant colony... in Africa. A certain type of ants. And they flooded the whole underground complex with this watery type of cement--"
"What about the ants? *******."
"Well they all died, I guess. But it's for the sake of science. Anyway. They flooded the whole complex with cement, and it took like... six months to dry. But when it did, they excavated around the whole thing."
"And what was it like?", she says.
"Amazing. I don't remember the statistic. Something like, 'The ants had moved four tons of earth, the eqivalent on a human scale of--' or other. But the point was that these little tiny bugs made this system, hundreds of feet wide and dozens of feet deep. All hidden under a pile of dirt! It was unbelievable!"
"That is pretty cool.", she says.
"Then imagine if these creatures were doing the same thing-- on the same scale. Kilometers of tunnels! Cisterns and cemetaries and maybe even churches, tiny factories, thermonuclear generation stations! All under this field!"
"I think that you give them too much credit. But I don't know. You could be right. Though I think if I were one of those things, I'd be happy just being one of those things, and not get caught up in industrialization and all of that."
And I ask, "Are you happy being one of whatever-you-are?"
We talk like this, for an hour or so. Nothing is really said, but I am secretly hoping that the world is listening to us. There must be sheep here, somewhere, and they will go home and tell their little sheep children about us. I also think about the nature of sound waves. That everything we say is receeding away from us, infinitely, and somewhere out there our words are being rendered into an alien language for a baby's bedtime story. I'm wondering why the greatest thing I hope for in life is to be the words that put someone to sleep.
We stop. It is very late now. The house I'd hoped to get to has not appeared. Though if we ended up going south instead of north, we've only added another day onto our trip. I'm not really concerned though, which is unusual for me. It is warm out, the bugs are singing lullibies. It is dark enough to be private, yet not so dark as to be frightening. We walk off the path, and sit down in the cavity left by the massive root structure of an old-man of a fallen tree. Sarah pulls out her sleeping bag, and I lie down in the grass nearby, and stare up. It is itchy, but I'm oddly not bothered. Not bothered anymore by much. I don't plan to sleep, not for a while. I want to hear Sarah sleeping. I've decided that I want my thoughts to become a bedtime story to her, and I begin to tell them to her, in no real order.
I wanted my words to be a christmas present, boxed and beautiful. Or a chocolate bar. Or something. They come out jambled, as I fall in and out of meter, gesturing at the sky and making grand generalizations. I tell her about my childhood on the farm. About the way my uncle, reaching for a rope in the hay loft, fell and broke his neck three summers back. It was the first time I'd seen a dead body. I tell her about moving to the city. The brick and stone, and my initial fascination at the way things could always be in motion. After a time, she comes to lie next to me, wordlessly, and places her head on my chest.
I am no more now than I have ever been, but I am tied off at the end. I am not in danger of fraying. I won't sleep tonight. I will run through the house, switching off the lights and straightening all of the picture frames, while Sarah is sleeping. This is something I will defend to the death. I will fight off the wolves and gypsies and try my best not to wake her with the slashing motions of my right arm. I am feeling like no one has ever deserved more to rest, and that I will give my life so that she will have it. I kiss, softly, the top of her head. The sheep watch quiety, and hold their children close. This is what it's like to be at rest.
Jan 28, 2009