shelter

Written and published 2017
Exclusive to bobjudeferrante.com.

Seven AM brings a particular kind of low-angled, warm yet morning-cool sun; a distinctive odor of fresh moss and rotting logs. A light and clear breeze capers off the roof of this tiny hut.

I sit in a shaft of sunlight coming in the skylight. In this place of — what? Of perfect peace. In sight of solitude. Without measure.

Yea, let me step back.

It was, at the exact center-point (in time) of existence, and I’m itching for something. You could say the same about me anytime. I always wanted something. Carried Desire with me, as if you could see it. Shadowing my features. As if it were a satchel. That I could always methodically produce. And ritually fold open. To reveal small hidden pockets. In this pouch, a wandering sole. Desperate to be covered by new dust. In this netted carrier, a secret gallery. Of small folded newsprint snatches. In this zippered… thingy, a cache of candies with flavors bordering on nauseating: brewer’s yeast, violet flower, Thai basil, cayenne, salmon skin, bezoar. And then, as my friends know. You must add to this truckload of anomie. A thick laminate of fatigue. And not actually fatigue. But Fatigue. Fatigue. With. It. All.

… With immersion in the electronic economy of sharing ourselves. Of building reputation and relationship. Of being immersed in pictures of weddings, job changes, new houses, family reunions, restaurant dishes, painted toes facing the remains of a deck chair and inevitably the ocean. Inevitably perfect and posed. Completely composed. Absent any signs of drunkenness, of sneezes, of surreptitious farts, of lies, of ill-feeling, of moments resenting, of snores, of slight shoves, of whispered threats, of abandonment complaints, of lame excuses. They stand encasing us in cybernetic amber. Finally designed, defined, your reputation always safe. In its perfection. In its simulated perfection. Airbrushed by algorithms, smoothed by semantic analysis, and reduced to the red. And not the blue. Buttons of sentiment. We waver ever so slightly in this eternal fountain of pixels.

… With life a massive and diffidently-organized New Year’s Event. Framed by barricades and pylons and by glass and by steel. In some region designated a metropolis. Built over land long ago stolen, then stolen again, then stolen again. Amongst the towers as they mostly stay up. Eyes always forward, ever ahead, never stopping, amongst these slabs of walkways punctuated by openings of subterranean garages and terminals that vomit vehicles and people and luggage carts. And surrounded by bundles of humanity and cloth and carts descended of the original owners of the land, now laying cardboard and blankets and keeping a watchful eye out for blue.

… With consuming paper-wrapped food items designed to burst-attack our lizard brains with a shock and awe of perfectly-measured fats and aminos, bearing a computer generated flavor profile with enormous heritage, a profile providing perfect stimulus to the brain. Even as it turns our bodies into symbiotes for the contoured chairs in a media room.

… With the crush of humanity pressing up, air recycled too many times. And too mechanically, we crave the scent of what people call. For want of a better word. Nature. We long for that Original Country, the one beneath our country. That Personal Kingdom. Of Nature. Though we know in the purest sense of it, that cities obey the laws of Nature just as the Forest does. But knowing is not always living. So we insist on simplifying Nature as very simple. Magnificently simple. Nature means you feel the heat and the cold, you see and smell the mud, the sap, the blood. Or it means, it makes the cover of Nature. Either way. Simple, see?

And then…

… And then I read, via a friend’s Facebook page, following a link to a post responding to an article that appeared four months ago in Vanity Fair, which was an expansion of an interview the author did with James Franco, where James says that as a solution to the simultaneous over-crowdedness of the world, where we feel ourselves simultaneously vastly constricted and enormously alone, crushed by the crowd and yet somehow in a desert flat of affect and of company…

… That we crave the authentic not-made-by-humans environment that might still be out there somewhere; that we look for the truly random and capricious law of Nature. That we must, by any means necessary, escape this ever careening track of inevitable but yet somehow voluntary existence, and finally and utterly do something original and never done before.

.. That we must, we simply must. Take the side exit. Glide down a long tunnel that somehow is ours. That is only ours. And be ejected. Ejected safe and sound mind you. And yet filled with a sense of adventure and potential. To the woods. Not the woods but actually The Woods. There to live. To live in The Woods, to live like a swallow or a fern or like a stink bug. To live surrounded by The Woods with its ebb and flow of temperature, with its sinuous perturbations of tide, with its birth and survival and predation and decay. In The Woods. To live surrounded by the smells and the tastes, of the reality, of the actuality, of The Woods.

… That we must, we simply must. Find ourselves a small patch of land surrounded by trees and a stream filled with youngling trout. Where marmots timidly climb the rough hides of oaks. We must hear the incessant rush of leaves falling, nuts falling, rain falling around us. Each making its distinct report into the otherwise silence of our canopy. We must taste the loamy and dull flavor of stream water, and look upstream to see a bobcat also drinking. We must taste corn popped on a handmade fire. We must drink coffee from a tin shenanigan. And only when it’s dangerously cold, will we break out the bag of heat packs.

… That we must, we simply must.  Stick booted foot deep in a bog. We must struggle to climb and surmount a small peak. We must get an eyeful of coarse pollen. We must, without actually meaning to, slide down a moss covered hill into a sharp glacial rockpile . We must long for too much heat, too much cold, too much stink, too much damp. Too much pain.

… And then to retreat to the small lean-to shelter we have built. Which we enjoy for some time. Some indeterminate time. And after that time, we then do a little work. Just a few things. A little more space in here. So we add a pitched roof and a few more wall units. And now we have a very small cabin. It’s still really very minimalist. Which we again enjoy for some period of time. But that time is no doubt shorter than the first. And then to which we add a small electric heater, with thermostatic control. And for that we need a generator and a battery backup. I mean, sometimes the generator goes out, and you can freeze your ass off. So while we’re at it, it’s kind of damp too, so we splurge and carefully wrap and seal up good and well in Tyvek. That was a good idea, because now it’s dry in here. How am I supposed to achieve peaceful oneness with Nature with all these distractions? So yet again, I enjoy, my tighter and frankly more hygienic cabin. And then there is an even shorter passage of time, after which I say, come on, we need some upgrades. So we add a triple-glazed picture window (it does get pretty damned cold here), a photovoltaic array with battery backup, a small electric range, an electric pump-driven water purifier and composting toilet. And finally, the aforementioned skylight, to provide the inspiration for my sun salutation. And yes, yes, jeez, finally, the necessary inbound IP connections so our hermetically sealed shelter is finally porous to the ever-present, the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-bowing network, which grants our shelter voice control and smartphone integration. And with that a panoply of flat screened, keyboard and pointer-bearing termini of the Great Panopticon, our digital octopus.

… And then as we tell our home voice control to adjust the temperature and dim the LED lights (a settings group we have named oneness) in our small mini-mansion of Nature, that this entire experience is all the more precious because this is a temporary joy, a privilege on a knife-edge. Because we know the area our time capsule of a cabin occupies is currently protected land, but that it might, at any given moment, with the practiced flip of a lovely pen (or twelve pens, to be handed out to each official involved in the regulatory relaxation) suddenly lose its sheltered state, and fall headlong into the ever-consuming, ever wanting entropy of the machine state, of the sharing economy’s maw, there to be ground up and consumed in a manner far more efficient than unassisted biological processes could ever creatively destroy.

And seeing that, and reading of that and dreaming of that sometimes, so that after an evening of a slightly larger than normal number of glasses of single malt I knew that I saw it all. And that bleak heart of desire, that satchel carried by the wanderer, it opened and whispered these words in my waiting, in fact expectant, ear: You want this, you really, really want this.

And now… stepping again into the present, you know my fate.

… Now, I wake up every morning in my cabin nestled in the heart of The Woods.

… Now I live in a state of Nature.

… Now I inhabit an Original Country.

… Now I exist in my Personal Kingdom.

And it is my curse, and my balm.

And it is my question, and my answer.

And it is my ultimate solution, and my last problem.

Because it dissolves my problems. With ease. They all dissolve in simple, in fact in the simplest, of ease.

art: The Hills are Alive by bob jude ferrante [copyright 2017]

Story: Copyright © 2018 Bob Jude Ferrante