One of the greatest joys of my life has been the two years of my life I devoted to doing national service after college. I could write books about the experiences, the stories, and the knowledge that I learned. Having the opportunity to go to some of the world’s most remote nature preserves and do physical work on a team of individuals all around the same age, teaches you a lot about yourself and others. It also changed my relationship to nature. I always loved nature, but when you spend months living in a tent, miles away from any city, you begin to really know nature in a way you could not any other way. You depend on it. You also learn we are animals. Our basic needs for heat, food, shelter, come before all else. Without these things, our minds are too pre-occupied for much else. You also learn the feeling of being physically sore and tired from your body working the earth all day and how different and amazing that sleep feels compared to the ‘mental tiredness,’ most of us deal with on a daily basis. There is something about being on the cycle of the earth. You get up when the sun comes up and you go to bed just after it sets, that is surprisingly natural. I have been a terrible sleeper my whole life, but during those two years, I slept better than I ever have in tents in the middle of nowhere. You learn to get excited about things like seeing the sky at night, hiking trails, and jumping in a lake or river to bathe at the end of a long day. As the summer heat peaks, it reminds me of the long summer days and nights of those times. The joy of really feeling wild and free. It seems too good to be true looking back on it. This a poem I wrote when we were working in the John Day Forest in Oregon. At night, we’d often retreat to our tents to draw, journal, write poems. Sometimes we’d share them with each other and other times we’d keep them to ourselves. I wrote this poem about a teammate and good friend, who is still the biggest supporter of my writing, Suzanne. This morning, as I went for a walk, I was reminded of those summer mornings, often cool for an hour or two, as the heat slowly rose. This one is for her. I hope you enjoy it.
Weeding (For Suzanne)
We spent all morning trying to rid the yard
of invasive Morning Glories, who threaten to choke
the native grass of this sweet forest.
Drenched with sweat and the fresh spritz of morning dew,
blades of wet green grass cling to our skin.
We sit together on the porch, enjoying
the harmonics of the breeze.
The termite nibbled screen door with white chipped paint,
wobbles and squeaks in the easy soft breezes.
We are buoyed afloat by smallest syllable.
The pitch of restless hearts quelled.
A recess from the need to be young and loved.
We both know these condensation memories
will find themselves glued to the milk bottle walls of time.
“People dream of having a time in life like this” you tell me.
“I mean, in the process of learning how to really breathe.”
I look at you and know you’re talking about
the ability to get up, do hard physical labor,
lost for hours in the silence of our heads
doing simple work, living with unity with nature.
Time feels like the smallest thing to think about.
There’s something that led us here,
like the elderly to the their attics.
“If only every one had the ability to know the earth this intimately…”
The broken radio we have been trying to fix for days
suddenly erupts into a country song.
We stare into the speakers as if
They hold the vocal cords of some higher power.
The woman on the radio is singing
about coming to a window
to look for ‘him.’ There is infidelity fiddling
In her pupils. We laugh and create a backstory to the song.
There is no loss between us that this moment
will never exist again.We will never see how birds rest,
blue poured into the summer blue,
the lisps of small worms, the fanning of butterfly wings.
I stare off into the afternoon,
The blades of wet grasp
now crisp and clinging to my skin.
It feels like we are living in a silent movie,
like fish under water, we’ve turned off the sound.
Before us, a whole field of morning glories picked.
I put one behind your ear and one behind mine.
We smile, as, I think we both understand,
it’s not the grass that is breathing a bit more free.