I have written before about my time after college, where I did two years of volunteer work. I’ve written about how much of that time was spent living out of tents. Months in tents. Camping for a week or weekend is one thing. Living with a backpack out of a tent for months is another. There’s a lot that can happen. It snows late into the early summer, if you’re high enough in the mountains. It can be incredibly hot. It can be incredibly cold. Rain, snow, thunderstorms, etc. I spent my first year stationed on the West Coast. There were some challenging conditions, but my second year I was stationed in the Southeastern United States. This brings camping to a whole new level. Welcome to fire ants and their nests, to poisonous spiders, bathing in water brought aggressive Water Moccasins. It was a whole new game and the weather was far more unpredictable. Still, I found great peace during my years camping in the middle of nowhere. This poem was written after I saw one of the first Oregon/Montana type rivers that are perfect for fly fishing and are just crystal clear. Growing up in the industrial midwest, rivers were murky, brown, typically polluted. They were deep and often had strong currents that ran through them. Seeing a meandering river where you could wade in, see the fish, was quite an exciting thing for me. I remember writing this poem in a tent. It was so cold, I literally thought about peeing myself to feel warm. Still, I was really, really content and happy. The title of the poem is “Joy.” I thought about changing it because it seems like something I just slapped on it, but I decided to keep it. There are few moments in life where you’re writing about something and you decide to call it “Joy,” simply because that’s what you’re feeling. So, here’s a peak at what ‘joy’ felt like for me on that night years ago. As July comes to a close, summer at it’s peak, it’s the quiet, simplicity of those nights that I dream about.
I lay quietly through the hours of night
bundled in a thermal sleeping bag
the exertion of energy it takes to keep myself warm,
keeps me from anything I might need to dream about.
It is strange to speak of “joy” here. Nights
cold enough you contemplate pissing yourself
for a momentary sensation of warmth.
But to have no home, to drift, to wander
to exist in the absence of human noise,
hearing just my own human breath and the noise of a nocturnal planet,
I feel protected here. I feel protective
of things I could once crush without thought,
now instrumental to the night’s symphony.
I think of the fish in the river nearby,
protected by big rocks and cold water.
Survival is hard work, I think.
Still, I envy the fish that know
the peace as the water quiets
that comes every evening when the gnats come out.
The moment the fast rapids move slower, less hungry,
when all the small rocks picked up during the day are deposited,
as the water shallows and quiets.