50 years left. 4 more hours until sunset. Still I'm gonna take my time getting there. Get lost in eddying moments. Fall into my unconscious, into sleep-walking, weaving in-and-out throughout.
"We are the same person," I had said, smiling. I was very touchy last night.
Ace talking about sending postcards that never arrive.
"I love that they get lost in the ether," she had said.
Saying everything we longed to say, everything they longed to hear. It was in that letter.
Alicia is telling me about the sheep tattoo Josh just got. A little box with three holes poked in it.
"Dessinez-moi une mouton svp," il dis.
The letter that never arrives, the sheep in the box.
When we all kissed it felt like theater of love. Maybe just for me. Everyone seemed grounded in their bodies. Arriving to the moment, lips and tongue and saliva. Chapstick making its rounds. Kennel full of cats with no one washing their hands in-between pets. Tension unraveling. Big bottle spinning between us. Remembering I hadn't been kissed since, June? And, even then, was that kissing? Was this kissing? Kissing being love, and love being something trickling out in myriad ways. Part of it.
Love for me is that oneness, that agreement of oneness. There's this big love I'm in right now, my body like one of those blow-up turkey decorations in the front-lawn. Cumbersome and lofty. I carry them with me. I don't feel separate. I wrote a list of those people, but even then, it feels bigger. The way you're dreaming of your mom but it's also your best friend and boss and the barista and the kid in the second grade.
We're peeling potatoes and I want to go instagram live. I love the things that take time, and I want to capture them. I want others to see them, and I want others to make them. It's like that Norwegian slow-tv movement. The shipping barge along the sound. Slowly moving by people dancing on the shore. We're peeling potatoes talking shit about mean children we've met in out time. Camera pans out. Taking in the entire picture. The roof. The clouds. Slow-life. Staying grounded, undemanding. Peeling the potatoes over the same bowl felt more intimate than the kissing.
It's the theory-of-forms, glimmers of shadow in the torchlight and I actually don't need to see any clearer. Blinding light of the sun beyond the clammy walls. The implications are sufficient. What's that thing they say in the spy-movies? "Enhance, ENHANCE." Until you can see the license plate and the blood type and the ovarian cyst and the first heartbreak and the perfect strand of silver hair.
For some reason I squint to unfocus my eyes. I want to see less, feel more. I'm still collecting data, just a as vigilant as the nerd in the white van hunkered over a laptop.
Josh sent me an mp3 through text yesterday.
I never tear into packages. Three holes sufficient to peek in on the perfect sheep. Existing in the cool shadows, "look he's fallen asleep."
He's been sending me poems and I absolutely cherish them, and listen to them over and over and over.
"Love beginning means return." A tidal pool, a "querying wave," a nebulous gesture we don't probe or ask why. It's exactly what I want to hear. It's the next clue. It's announces the next act.
I have four hours until sunset and I'm still gonna take my time. I've got forty years until, what? Sunset?
"One day," you said to me, "i watched the sunset forty-four times!"
When you die, you can't see sunsets," Hayao Miyazaki had said.
"Maybe you BE sunsets," Kim had said, "And enjoying the sunsets in this body with this spirit on this day is *emoji of chef's kiss*"
I turn to you while the sun sets. It's not the sunset, it's your face watching the sunset I wanted to see. I wanted to see your thoughts quiet, lost in nostalgia of some other sunsets you've woven together throughout your time. We haven't been counting, haven't been keeping score. Your softness and serenity. Another day getting lost in the myriad.
"Name three memories," I would never interrupt. We stay quiet. I want to ask you something, but don't.
An unopened package. A vague shape. Whatever I am, it's the myriad. It's all the kisses. It's all the unsaid words. Letters that don't arrive.
"You still doing pages?" I text Tyler.
"Yeah! Missed one day cause of work super early but going strong. You?"
October 6th we started. I've been doing them longer I guess. Little morning exercises laid out by Julia Cameron. They're sweet. Sometimes I write about nothing, usually coming from a place of ascending from the unconscious. Dream echos. Trace of spaces moments before inhabited. And I write about what I want without overthinking it. Not quite in the place to remember limitations. Embraced by the possibilities of the morning. Reminding myself of the story, the rhythm, the narrative. Where we left on the character arc, what plot-point are we exploring today? I'll get unrealistic. Things I couldn't think at the end of day rife with a million small disappointments. My morning-self so optimistic, lulled.
I yawned at work the other day. "Don't do that," my coworker Josh told me, "are you tired?"
I told him I was calm. That I yawn when I'm calm. Later another coworker told me I looked tired.
"This is just how my face looks now. I'm older. I'm not tired, I'm just settled."
The sleepy morning writing grounds me in something I haven't been able to put into words. It follows me throughout the day.
I mull long, drawn-out fantasies, sleep-walking, keeping to myself. I don't wind up as easily, an uncomfortable feeling, so I'm grateful. On a run to the top of Pilot Butte yesterday I counted by breaths, not my steps. Steps were too fast, it was making me anxious. As labored as my breathing was becoming it was more relaxing to count my inhales and exhales. We're working in longer units now, as a means of survival.
We're taking things page by page.
My brother reminded me today, "Champagne My Game is a good game. You're just gonna find people playing it one day. I'm convinced I came up with drinking jenga..."
"I'm looking it up, 'Champagne My Game.'"
"No, don't," he said, "AI will steal it."
"It's ok if they do," I reply, "I just need a time stamp on when it wasn't a google-able term. To make sure it hasn't been already circulating in the cultural zeitgeist."
I do not say that last part. But I want you to believe that I did.
What comes up is a cheugy t-shirt and a romance game that's actually sounds similar to our game.
On the website it reads:
"Players may be asked to:
Give an opinion,
Discuss their inner feelings,
Perform small acts of love,
Examine their likes and dislikes,
This game is a powerful recipe for a romantic makeover, guaranteed to keep that spark glowing bright...."
Ok, so it pretty much already is a thing.
Our version goes like this:
You're in a group, a full champagne bottle between everyone.
Someone is holding it, presumably the person who brought it or the person who opened it.
Whoever is holding the bottle starts.
The person can ask a trivia question.
The person can ask a personal trivia question.
The person can ask what they are thinking (i.e. "what color am I thinking of?)
The question or challenge can be whatever the champagne bearer wants it be.
Everyone in the group yells an answer. Sometimes there is a lot of intensity.
The person with the champagne bottle can make any challenge or question.
The reward is the champagne.
The person who gets the right or best answer is handed the champagne bottle and can drink from it if they choose.
This is a germ-sharing game.
Ideally you play it with people that you don't mind sharing germs with.
The rules of Champagne-My-Game are whatever you make of it. It's supposed to be low-stakes. And drinking champagne is treated as a reward rather than a punishment like in other games.
Examples of Champagne-My-Game questions can be:
What color am I thinking of?
What is the capital of Nebraska?
What is everyone's love languages?
When was the last time everyone got laid?
The person with the champagne also has the power to simply guide the conversation for the moment. The gathered may take a moment to discuss the capital of Nebraska or love languages or the abundance or lack of being laid. The champagne bearer has the responsibility suddenly of being the host, guiding the flow, and potentially interrupting the conversation with a question or challenge.
It's one of those choppy yell-over-each-other party opportunities.
My brother says having the champagne is like having "the talking stick," that crucial tool of democratizing a space with allowing everyone to have a moment to take stage and speak.
Social intelligence check, if someone is "losing" at Champagne-My-Game, recognize, and shoot a question or challenge they can succeed at.
There aren't points, and those who have had the champagne passed to them often should acquiesce to players who haven't in a gesture of grace and social awareness.
This isn't competitive, it's cooperative.
The intention isn't too dominate, it's to share.
Shooting a oddly specific question to a person who hasn't gotten it passed is essential. You want to make everyone feel shiny for a moment. If they don't want it passed you let everyone struggle with the question.
What is the French word for "purr?"
What was the color of the hat Ben Franklin wore when he lost his hair to syphilis?
What killed Socrates?
"We gotta figure out what to do with the bottle when the game is over," Gary says.
"I mean, it's not to pay with the family but ideally the game turns into spin-the-bottle," I respond.
"When the sun comes out,"
in voices tinged with
violet and yellow
My fingers blood-tipped
tearing my inside skin out
red poppies against a
Alleyway walks at midnight
balmy, we could've been naked
writing ourselves into
cautionary tales of
hags who steal the lilies
unless offered cool broth
Sylvia Plath spinning words
"these dreaming houses"
murmured spells as we take
the streets from the winter
Admitting we aren't brave -
"Sweet summer child"
you had said wryly,
we only fight our battles
Sticks and pine cones and
beesnest and honeycomb
Winter is no time for war
No time for playing
"Promise me we'll go to the river
one hundred times this year,"
Hold me to it.
I want to immerse and emerge
until I know no death
Until the cracks of ice have
softened into bitter
dandelion stalk -
Into tulips silky butter.
Divinely commissioned to liberate France from England's clutches, Joan of Arc left her country home in search of horse, sword, and a suit of armor. At nineteen, guided by saints, she accomplished her mission, then was betrayed and burned at the stake. On her birthday, we are reminded of the principled and ardent fervor of youth.
-from Patti Smith's, Book of Days
More than 5000 feet of salt accumulated as a restricted seaway evaporated and refilled 29 times. As the nearby mountains eroded, their debris washed into the basin, put pressure on the salt below, and forced the salt towards the sea.
Uplift and Collapse
The flowing salt hit a long, deep fault and formed a "salt wall" two miles high, three miles wide, and 70 miles long. Later, it was buried by more than a mile of sediments that eventually became rock. Regional uplifts then wrinkled some of these overlying rock layers, creating long parallel cracks. The mile of rock eroded, exposing the cracks near the surface. Water seeped through the cracks and dissolved the salt below. Without support, the overlying rock collapsed, forming today's Salt Valley.
Fractures and Fins
Closely-spaced cracks along the edge of Salt Valley continue to erode. As they widen, thin walls of sandstone, or fins, are left behind. Many of the arches form in these fins.
There is no single or simple way that arches form. Like most things in nature, it takes a combination of processes.
Cracks in fins and the contact layer between different layers of rock are good places for arches to begin. Both mechanical and chemical forces attack these weaker spots, and begin the processes which form the arches.
Water enters the cracks, freezes and expands, relieving inherent stretches in the rock. Gravity pulls out loosened pieces of rock, enlarging the opening.
Slightly acidic rainwater saturates sand that accumulates between fins. The calcium carbonate "glue" that holds sandstone together is dissolved, rocks fall, and fins get thinner. Eventually an opening forms.
-some plaque you sent me
"The number of variations that occurs naturally, and the things that are formed are absolutely incredible, and beyond human imagining. Imagine what a 2 mile tall "salt wall" must have been like to see. George RR Martin thought he was being creative with a 700ft tall wall." - something you said
Going to my mom's later, to dig up my journal when I was 17 in France, read my reflections on being in Rouen, the place Joan of Arc was burned. There's a photograph in mind, taken by a disposable camera, of Emily and I in a throng of ten-year-olds. I don't know how are why we made this happen. This limited memory is fine, but I'm looking forward to record.
How do we tell our stories?
Megan wrote me the other day. "I do not have eloquent words that have been thought over the Atlantic Ocean like C. My words are twisted and paused like a bird trying to fly in the winter wind." She investigates the land. Brushes over the bones and hand morphed things with a soft brush. She comes to Redmond from time to time I hear when there isn't snow. I wonder what it would be to examine the land, spend time with it.
Cari left me rose quartz dice in exchange for letting the dogs out this morning. I licked them, hoping they were salt.
Looking through the photos on my phone, you'd think I never look up.
This one is borrowed. A stolen sunset. Tyler sent it to me, maybe a year ago. Maybe farther back.
But I'm not thinking of sunsets. I'm thinking of girls.
There has always been Rachels, there has always been Kellys. Nellas. Esmes. Hannas.
It's the unfortunate state of the matriarchy we find ourselves in. Compromised. Working in cycles on limited resources.
I do look up, but not with my phone. And it's not something I know how to share. It's not something I have context for.
Spaces. Vast spaces.
I can examine what's close. What I can hold in my hands, in my arms. I don't know what to do with the length of miles between here and there. I don't know what it means. It it makes me feel dumb.
I don't want to compete. I don't want to fight. I don't want anyone to go home alone.
I examine things I've brought in from the walk: a damp headlamp, a stick, pine needles. They are laid out on the table. Treasures. Things don't stay for long. Clutter happens easily in a small house. I'm a gnome in this way, though more of a halfling. "By going far; my looks leash.." Sylvia Plath.
I'd rather have the world before me within 12 inches of my face.
A phone, a laptop, a book, some objects I must organize.
These cycles are exhausting. Man chasing cycles. Man winning cycles. Dancing to be desired. Doing the tricks to be noticed. My phone fell in the chili soaking pot this afternoon. I was filming myself wearing a space helmet full of flowers. The phone was leaned against some books on the kitchen altar. It fell right into the sink and I fished it out, greasy. Wet. It seems fine, but won't charge.
The space between my phone and I is making me deliberate my simple existence. It's not much space, but it's enough.
I can't stop thinking of the Year of the Rabbit, a 12 year cycle. I'm thinking of the dissolution of Esme's marriage to James Ryan around this time. Esme's and I meeting at her birthday in March. Meeting James Ryan at the Easter party over bike croquette. That ensuring summer in that house. Thunderstorm running with Boy Casey. Having my heart shredded by my own stupidity, friendships rise and erode. I had birthed myself again the following Spring but never let myself feel that way again. It was so stupid. I beat the shit out of myself for trusting anyone during that time. For showing softness in any way. For being anything but sharp and aware and angry.
And I feel better now. 2022 was a good year. I was in love and someone loved me back and we had said it. And then I found I loved myself more and left and that felt good too. There was balance in the year of the Tiger. There was healing. There was softening. There were female relationships unmarred by betrayal and pain. There were male friendships that were romantic but nonsexual.
The question in the cycle is, did you learn? Can you stay soft? Can you see the prophecy of betrayal and love anyway? Can you see the omens in the migration patterns, the way the leaves grip the inside of the tea cup, the writing on the walls, the cards on the shawl and say, "I learned. I can do better."
It's one of those emotional hangover days.
Last night, talking to Tyler, him working on his ego death, encouraging me to meditate.
"You're not your thoughts."
I'm not sold on meditation. I like working. I like moving. I like crafting. I like emotional richness. Messiness. He's doing his thing. I told him about the psychic biome, vibe basically. He's been working on his. I'm not one for deprivation, unless it's fasting. I like going with the flow, being in league with the Divine. I like getting caught up and pulled along or run alongside. I don't want to make a ton of choices. I don't want to blame myself for too much when things go awry.
They always go awry.
I'm going with the flow, I'm staying calm. My ego is my homebase. I don't understand the ego death. I am buoyed by my memories. I define myself by many things and those definitions are foundational. I define myself by my relationships. I define myself by looking in the mirror a thousand times a day.
I was reading the Ram Daas Be Here Now writer's LSD caused ego death.
"What a luxury," I had thought. I couldn't get excited. A man giving up everything in a world that doesn't threaten his existence. What brave. How courage.
I told Tyler about last year's experimentation in meditation and how I'd be in conversations with nothing to say. I was so fucking boring. The usual cadence I could bring into social scenarios was gone. I just listened, was present, and it wasn't interesting or helpful to the person I was attempting to connect with. Maybe relinquishing that responsibility and seeing what's beyond that is the purpose.
Yet here I am a cacophony of invasive manic repetitive thoughts that feel like music playing in three different rooms. I'm going after myself, unpacking how I showed up in the last few days, examining the dip in my approval ratings. Realizing how on edge so much of the time, vibrating so fast. I found myself just making shit up when I'd speak out loud sourcing information from a unthethered disconnected self. I just wanted to play the role everyone wanted me to play because when I played my own part it was so gross.
I'm never doing enough. It will never be enough. I need to draw back. Accept the not enoughness and sleep for three days. Really disappoint. Withdraw.
I think that's the thing about the ego I can examine critically. It's need for outcome, it's wish for continuous approval. Validation. I could do without. I could have this time of free to recoup the extensions. Pull back. Gather my personal power back into my arms. Reclaim. Try not to spend the time in memory during these states..
Maybe all that's a nudge to meditate I guess. Random.
Or rest. Read. Lay around. Not make plans. Stop lying.
The way the light comes in, right before solstice, it cuts.
Horizon skirting, a broad brimmed hat won't keep it out. Dust particles in the air, every grit on surfaces cast shadows revealing the delusion of cleanliness. The space around us full of particulates, the air in the Kokiri Forest village. Full of magic, swirling. You can see someone move through the space, the magic opening up for them. Perhaps catch ghosts this way.
Even though there is less light in the day everything is revealed.
I almost texted Tyler the other day, "I never miss you. I always feel connected."
We go awhile without talking, then we have some back-and-forth.
Glorified pen-pals is what I've been calling it. These identifiers are important. These labels are important. It's important for me to be creative. I'm trying to escape the mundane, but we need to communicate. I tossed around the word soulmate today. It fit in the way it was nebulous, not beholden to physical proximity. Idealized. That didn't seem fair.
Along the margins of the dance floor I watched E figure her place out in the world. She was in her body, yet her body was also forming questions and answering them.
"Are we ok?" it asked, "Yes," it responded.
Over and over.
"It" being the non-gendered objectified third person between her fears and her reassurance. A somatic entity. An elder. Internal counsel.
Her lover danced with another lover. And she was working through her feelings. She was hurt, and the pangs came over her again and again. She wasn't openly retracting though maybe she had wanted to.
Her lover danced with another lover. Her lover danced with her. Her lover danced alone. She danced alone. Her lover danced with another lover. She danced with her lover. She danced alone. He danced alone. His lover danced with him. His lover danced alone. He danced alone. She danced alone. She danced with him. She danced alone. He danced with his lover. He danced alone. His lover danced with another. She danced with him. He danced with her. She danced alone. She came up to me, "I'm leaving." She smiled. "Bye," I said.
Love is a contract. It's a feeling. It's an agreement. It can be put into writing. Sometimes I want to put it into writing. Put all the words down. All the mess of words. Made up words. Real words. Maybe some words sit between asterisks because they are movements. Maybe it can all be explained in movements.
She was free, that was their agreement. She was free and he was free. They gave this to each other, the freedom to love other people. To be with other people. It was a very important agreement. But it wasn't always easy. It was very tricky. A thing that probably can't be put into words.
I remember being in bed with B and K. He had played a show the night before. I knew they were being cute, a term I use that means kissing/fucking without clear definitions.
Being cute is a contract, an agreement. I think using diminutive terms is important in these labels. Girlfriend/Boyfriend. Kissing friend.
I had wanted to be cute too, so we had all slept in my bed. Nothing happened, just sleeping I mean. In the morning I made coffee. Because they were in a place of being cute it wasn't my time to be cute.
It's tricky. B had been careful about that balance. I knew he had been in a weird position. We all played our cards close. We didn't need words.
I danced around some pang. I wanted to be distracted by E working through her questions. But in my own cyclone of movement, I had my own questions to answer. The questions were basically the same.
We exist in relation to one another. I read that our sense of self has been defined beyond our body. Our sense of self is in our space, direct and distant. I think of dusty copies of my zine existing in strange corners of the world. I think of the cooling tea on the kitchen counter. All humming with a semblance of self. The way the dust parts as I walk through it, the vacuum behind me. All transient. All in various stages of entropy. Possible growth. We exist so we shape. It's like that Octavia Butler bit,
"All the you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth is Change.
God is Change."
The light cuts in sideways, revealing every choice. Every nuanced crumb on the countertop.
Maybe it's cold so we move like molasses.
We can't move quickly. We must be methodical. There's also an element of survival in our movement. Be careful. It is winter. We walk carefully on ice. We move carefully with one another's feelings.
"Are you ok?"
Everyone is necessary. Staying warm is necessary. Keep the burrow safe. Insulated.
Even though it gets dark so early the way of seeing things is magnified. The sharp degree of light cast through between the power-lines and the fence sharper than the gaudy generous summer sun.
I just had a deja vu. I was writing my blog. You were fifteen minutes away, headed my direction. In fifteen minutes you are going to knock on my door. I thought about texting you. "Are you coming over?" And in the deja vu, you texted back "No, I'm home. I passed your house but knew you were working." In the deja vu you are coming over and at the time I know you are home. But I can't test any of these theories. And I was in two time-lines at once. This one and another
Everyone is exactly where they need to be right now. Everyone's place in this timeline is determined.
I'm watching it all play itself out. The movement between bodies. Bodies alone. Bodies in burrows. Bodies nervous of their survival. Bodies together. Bodies separate.
I disassociate and play the part of the watcher.
But my body tells me it's a lie. I'm a mover.
A changer. A shaper.
I move carefully.
None of it came true. I waited the fifteen minutes.
I'm in this timeline, not the other.
I made it back here. I'm exactly where I need to be.
Today I woke up curious about energy. Someone once pointed out to me firewood, logs, are potential energy, carbon, that is useful when burned, creating heat. Trapped life, potential heat. Stasis. I don't have the words to explore these concepts.. is it essential to have the words? I felt the sun on my face while pouring the hot coffee grounds into the compost. The heat of both came from the same source. The heat of the coffee grounds coming from the water heater, the water heater connected to a power grid, the power station, what? Towers of sizzling wires and spirals and cords and poles, metal fortress at the edge of town? And that power station, where is the burning of fossil fuels, and fossil fuels, carbon trapped in the heart of the earth once organic life compressed into a sludge. Millions of years of sun gifted life turned over in the enormous compost pile of the earth? I started texting someone these thoughts, Danny, because he had been in physics and chemistry classes and liked these things. I just wanted more words to explore these concepts. I'm not looking for answers... I'm looking for exploration. Tools to unlock. Feeling the heat of the sun on my face, knowing every motion on this earth sources it's movement from this source. There's a plant in my bathroom slowly dying. It can't go outside because the cold. I should put it near a window. Do humans need sun? Like, if we had all our needs met me but existed Inside (a word indicating separation from the sun I suppose) what would happen? Would we flake away? Melt away? Become hardened, softened?
The sun comes through the window in increments. The cat soaks it up. What kind of exchange is this? A softening?
When I was going hard for Lent a few years back Tyler had told me how the premise of the 40-days of fasting was a Babylonian pagan commemoration of a sun-god. 40 days for the 40 years he was alive it is said. A 40-year-god is fascinating but I understand the sun-worship element. Religion, faith? Collective worship, sacrifice around the elements, came from agrarian cultures I was told. A fact devoid of a named source, so perhaps made up. Why don't we worship the sun anymore? Deities as well have been extracted and converted from their original source into something else. The source of all things is the sun, but from that source comes all the lore. And the lore is so much more interesting. Nick pointed out once the Bible is just a series of recommendations around agriculture. More of a guide to growing that extends to a guide to living. I truly only love the mustard seed quote, which was reiterated by Peeter and made into a theme at one point. "If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Matthew 17:20
My gaze moves over to the tapered candles on the dining room table, almost spend, their frail black wicks emerging from the white. What is wax? Is it oil? The roses in the vase, do their leaves still photosynthesize? The bulb inside the lamp, a careful unwavering flame, is it the light of the sun? A replication? An abomination? Is a bulb or a candle or the firewood a false god, having the ability to defy the night, the darkness, the Inside? The sun does not feel for us.. yet we feel for it. We pull at the strands of her long hair, forever braiding the alchemy of her light into something of use. We fight and fuck by her command. We form relationships completely one-sided and honestly who fucking cares. Why not? Us, the humming surface alive, competing for her attention. Even in our depths, acting as potential fuel, flares in the Kuwaiti oil fields. Volcanoes? Are volcanoes an exception? Does the earth produce it's own heat devoid of organic life, devoid of the suns contribution. Finding plot-holes in my own curiosity... other gods emerge, which is to indicate separation. Magma, as a source of the earth's hearth - Fuel, trapped carbon? As a source of the sun's hearth.
As I type my hands are losing circulation. Yesterday they turned yellow with brief exposure to the winter. What was doing that required exposure? I'm an indoor cat. I don't like being cold. I was walking around the property of a house I was cat-sitting for and holding my journal. I know I have to remember to move, to curate circulation, to be exposed. Practice exposure. Get acclimated. I have not risen to the challenge yet this winter. Will I become a husk? Or a blob? The heating unit in my apartment exhales its white nose, keeping me soft. Trapped energy converted into circulation. I don't have the words for it, but it doesn't matter.
I visited the chestnut trees yesterday. Nick had been obsessed with them in autumn a thousand years ago. He told me chestnut trees work in pairs by cross-pollinating. In order to have viable chestnuts they must at least be downwind from one another. I go to this spot and see spiky chestnut husks littering the ground. There are shiny chestnut shapes but their bellies are sunken in, empty, infertile. "Perhaps I'm too late," I think, or "perhaps the tree has become cursed.." My black boots wade through the roughage, at least looking for the half-chewed bits dropped by squirrels. I turn on my ears. Rain lightly hits the almond-shaped saw-tooth leaves above. Droplets condense and drop onto the earth in thick patters. I try and listen past this white-noise. I'm listening for something else. A big patter. It happens. Something is crashing from the trees. The leaves make way with a thrush. The quarry hits the ground and I have visual. I run over, black coat swaying with my leaps. A gaping demogorgon face stares back at me when I reach my destination. A shining pregnant chestnut caught in it's splayed mouth with another nearby. I pluck it out and hold it in my palm: is this what Nick loved so much? Is this the "right" kind? When we'd gather under the canopy he would do the procuring. I would eat the squirrel chewed remnants and draw pictures in my journal while he listened and turned over husks. I hadn't paid enough attention.. I'd have to look up how to process these later. Above me a squirrel chitters. Pissed. It has a chestnut in its mouth. It too heard the chestnut fall and sought to swoop it up. "Do you want it?" I ask as it curses me, "come and get it!" It scurries down a low-hanging branch to get closer. I walk over to meet it. It scurries back up, anxious, leery. I gaze up into the canopy. It's enormous. A squirrel village of gathering, preparing, hibernating invisible to my eye. Nick had told me once why some trees have points and other trees are bushy. It has to do with deer eating their tree tips when they're saplings. Conifers have points because they shoot up faster and grow faster than the deer can eat their tips. Deciduous trees are bushy because they grow slower and the deer have nibbled their tips making them branch out. And from an evolutionary standpoint they inherent hormones that make them do this with or without deer nibblings. But this is all based on my memory. Unreliable. And I won't text him for the answers because he's getting married this week. I pocket the chestnuts and keep my ears open. Back then I timed it. When the chestnut would drop. It's like shooting stars during the meteor shower times. One every two minutes I'd say. It's a rush in the same way. You sharpen your senses the best we can be being mostly phone addicted and indoor oriented. Perhaps I'm just speaking for myself. My partially gloved hands crammed in my pockets, my stupidly chosen synthetic socks doing nothing to stave moisture or cold from reaching my core. Stupidly dressed, even for a brief foray into the "outside." Always abysmally prepared, always mildly uncomfortable. Still, inside me I harness my inner wolf and keep my ears perked for the sounds of chestnuts falling. Another. Another. By the time I see three people headed to the chestnut tree with soft bags I have captured five. "It's their turn now," I think, and begin to depart. One of the people headed towards the chestnut tree says to me, "I will be a monkey and climb in the trees to get them." I show them I caught three. I wonder if they are disappointed seeing a white woman clamoring under this spot. An indication that the secrets of the chestnut tree will be exploited in the wider white woman world of over-harvesting, colonization, and commodification. I write this knowing I participate in a wave of white woman bullshit. I want to keep the secrets of the chestnut tree.
It is another day. I break the thick leathery skin of the chestnut with a paring knife. I put the chestnuts in water and let it boil. The skin opens up. I drain the water. Let the chestnuts cool. I pull the soft meaty chestnuts from the skin. I pop one in my mouth. It's soft and slightly nutty and delicious. I wonder if my face will break out because of my food sensitivity to tree nuts. I have another half one. I do little chores around the house. I wonder what the difference is between horse chestnuts and these chestnuts. I look it up online and don't feel satisfied. My stomach hurts. I feel nauseous. I look this up as well. Horse chestnuts are toxic and can make you nauseous, make you vomit. Maybe I'm being psychosomatic. I drink water. I eat a salad. I feel better. "Isn't there only horse chestnuts in the US?" Cazo asked. "Edible chestnuts belong to the genus Castanea and are enclosed in sharp, spine-covered burs. The toxic, inedible horse chestnuts have a fleshy, bumpy husk with a wart-covered appearance. Both horse chestnut and edible chestnuts produce a brown nut, but edible chestnuts always have a tassel or point on the nut," the internet tells me. The chest-nuts I have came from the spiky cased ones, not warty ones. I take this as a positive sign of not being poisoned for now. Who fucking knows though. Smarter people know, I remind myself. This is knowledge that is well-known in certain circles. I'm reminded of the wolf berry alleyway I lived near, and the delicious berries that came from the bush that was carved back constantly. What white people don't know fucks everything up. What white people know and exploit fucks everything up. Wolf berries, goji berries grew in the alleyway, creeping out from someone's backyard. They look like the kind of berries parents slap out of their kid's hands screaming "THAT'S POISON!" as little birds skirt about the bushes stuffing themselves. During times of particular ripeness and abundance someone would take a hack and cut the bushes down. It was disheartening to have a superfood carelessly removed from the ecosystem. It's whatever. Who knows about the secret of the chestnut? Will one be carelessly cut one day to make room for another baseball field thereby losing it's pollination partner? How did these chestnut trees get here? Were they planted? Who willed them? How old are they? Whose stories of gathering are held under their boughs?
I learn by touching. By listening and tasting. I don't know any other way. I worry about my impact. I take from the squirrels. I take from other gathers with greater histories than mine. I must be careful. I poison myself a little every time being curious. I don't have a people of this place. I don't have anyone to tell me the stories. I ask the wind. I ask the internet. I make stuff up. My stomach hurts. My face is breaking out. I am a person experiencing incremental bits of the world and have lived this long to tell about it. Nick is getting married this week and I'm happy for him. Legacy work. I occupy my own small space, my own small story. I tread through memory, I accumulate, I live another day. It's just how it is. How it's gonna be. I wonder if anyone checks up on me. Sees if I'm getting married. Believes one thing or another about where we're at and what it means. We survive another day. We're doing it. I don't know what it means but I'll keep wondering.