It was October. I was 17. I was Alone.
This is not the kind of alone you normally think of. I wasn't off in my room, I wasn't in the backyard, I didn't just slink off. This was my therapy, my escape. The grail I sought three or four times a year, depending on the weather. This was Alone. When you can look up at a forming contrail and think, "Those are most likely the closest people to me right now," then you are Alone. Another thing to inspire.
I had set up camp by a small stream, as much for the aesthetics as for the ready water supply. The slope of the hills and the nature of the rock had forced the stream to cut an arc through the soil and stone, leaving a soft, flat area amongst some bushes; just right for a bedroll. After dinner, I hoisted the bear bag and stretched out on a large rock by the stream, gazing, losing myself in the view above.
You never realize just how many stars there are until you are Alone. You can get lost in them, and I did. Another thing to inspire awe: How the hell did our ancestors pick out any constellations? They have to be the product of the earliest autistic; I have no idea how anyone could pick a pattern out of that sea of light. I don't see why anyone would want to. Better to just lose yourself in the sea of light, to accept its gift of humility without trying to exercise some meaningless power over it.
The moonrise finally pulled me from my reverie, and I moved to my temporary bed.
The nights are cool, but not cold; there is no need for a thick bedroll or a tent, but the tarp fastened between the brush and a few stakes is a necessity. Dewfall can be heavy this time of year, and although 50F is not that cold, 50F, fresh out of bed, and wet can ruin your whole day. I fell asleep under my tarp under the stars, the gurgle of the creek and the rattling of the wind in the trees.
This is what I come here for: Peace. As a teenager, you feel so many things pressing in on you. Friends, school, the future, expectations, potential, desires, demands. The rollercoaster of the dawn of adulthood. Parents don't help much. They see the real problems of their world; rent, bills, promotions, health care, politics, crime. The troubles of a seventeen year old are a pittance, his very real complaints a mockery of the problems of the real world. But we forget. We all forget.
It's all a matter of context. And this was my context. The enormity of it all; This was my real world. Problems I can address. Situations that are my responsibility. Pushing through the uncontrollable, the thrill of the responsibility and the very real threat of the consequence of failure.
This makes the bills look like a mockery. I know it's artificial. It's not as though I'm a tribesman getting food for the village. I don't have to be here, it's not for the greater good. There is no imperative. At least, that's what my rational mind says. But there is another voice, a primitive voice that lives in the nuclei clustered around my brainstem. It says I do have to be here. It says this is home. It says that we all need to come here to recharge, that the world I live in every day is the artificial one, that this is reality. This is the world as it really is, in all its terrible beauty.
Now that I think about it, it wasn't the reflected light from the hills to the west that woke me. It never woke me this early, it was only a spear of light at the very summit of the next hill. It wasn't a sound he made, either. Even in the unlikely event he made a sound at all, it would have been the same as the other sounds of the forest. It would not have woken me by itself. I think it was those little clusters of gray matter huddled around the brainstem for security and warmth. However I came to be awake, it was sudden. I was no longer Alone. A voice went off in some part of my mind that predates the Homo in my species name -
My eyes snapped open, but instinct prevented any further movement.
Adrenaline enforced the command, but left room for a little rebellion. I looked. In the gray, a slightly darker shadow was moving towards the stream. One paw raised, sniffing.
It's okay, he's upwind. Slowly now, prepare. Arm yourself.
I had a machete I used to chop kindling, and my fingers slowly moved towards it, my eyes locked on the coyote moving to drink from the stream. -Our stream!- The anger in the statement woke something else in my mind..
What's going on- hey, cool, a coyote!
Quiet! Be still! Predator! Arm yourself! Prepare!
Oh, shut up. What's he going to do, eat us? Just shout real loud and if the fright-induced heart attack doesn't kill him, he'll run faster than anything you've ever seen.
Silence! Predator! Danger! Prepare!
For better or worse, might makes right. The larger mass of gray won the battle, and my fingers instead moved to the bag with the camera
Nah...he'll hear and he'll run. Just enjoy it.
So I did.
Of course, this whole exchange ran at the speed of thought, it was over in less than a second, physically manifested only by my hand moving towards the machete, then my pack, and then stopping. And I watched him.
He was only there a moment. I imagined that he had already hunted and was on his way to bed down for the day, just stopping for a drink and honoring me with his presence before moving on. He walked to the stream and lapped; it was the only sound he made.
When he was done, he crossed the stream and merged into the bushes with a backwards glance. I would swear he looked right at me, and his eyes smiled. At that moment, I understood why the Old Natives called him a god.
Oh, it was just the sun glinting off his cornea. If he had seen you, he would have bolted.
Quiet. Some things are best left unmolested by examination.