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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Memory: Seduction

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I was already convinced this was the sky I wanted to sleep under, having met him that autumn on the mountain, walking back from the library to the house where my roommates were studying. My eyes had been down, my Clarks scrambling the gravel of the drive. I had been thinking about Hopi Indians who lived in the valley, and the paper I was writing. We do that, attach pen to paper after reading, sure that we know. That’s when he, the sky, pulled my gaze up like a hand and he was a Hopi dancer wearing indigo who’d just tossed his white feathers over his shoulder. He stomped his foot and said, Look: The sky was covered with a cloud of stardust.

Weeks later grounds keeper Bob dropped me off in a wilderness forest in the dark indigo of night miles away from our small campus. That term I was the only student taking the professors up on the offer of extra credit for a solo campout. With a flashlight Bob helped me find a tree, and in a couple of minutes I heard his truck drive away. I mummified in a sleeping bag under a low pine bow. I shivered with fright and human loneliness. I listened to sounds I knew nothing of. How far I was from being a daughter of the earth, lying there on top of the ground.

The night passed slowly. I never once heard the Hopi dancer stomp his foot. In truth, I hid from him under the arm of the Ponderosa pine.

In the morning light, I saw where I had slept. A forest red with pine needles, and fifty feet away, a lookout to the valley, which I hadn’t seen in the darkness. I pulled on my sweatshirt, dug into my pack for a jar of instant coffee, bottle of water, tin coffee pot, mug, and matches. I picked up sticks and walked to the edge of the valley. I built a fire in the dirt.

Before me, across the valley was Mt. Shasta, and what do you know, I saw where the Hopi dancer had tossed his white feathers, and I thought, where is he now. Asleep. Naked. Me forgotten.



Creative Commons photo of Mt. Shasta shared by renedrivers
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63 comments:

missing moments said...

Oh Ruth ... you were so brave! I don't think I could have done such a thing. As a kid in the country, I would sleep outside under the stars but always knew I had the house only yards away.
So beautifully written and expressed, as always!

Jeanie said...

Wow, Ruth. I don't camp with people I know, much less just me, the bag and the ground... This is simply magical -- a lovely piece of writing, one that takes me to that very spot with you, staring at that sky, waiting for the Hopi dancer.

hedgewitch said...

You spin a fine tale of memories. The ending is perfect, very reflective of the way things are when we're young--flashes that illuminate and then puzzle.

The only time I've ever camped out solo was in Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin, a very bleak, unsettled place scooped out by glacial activity in aeons past. I swear I saw lights all night,from ghosts or axe-murderers(or rampant paranoia)flickering in the other hollows. I hightailed it out of there as soon as the park gates opened in the morning.

George said...

Very interesting, Ruth, and I am impressed that you were the only one in your class to take up the challenge for a solo camping trip. You probably learned more about yourself on that lonely night that your learned from your classes the entire semester.

Terresa said...

Beautiful post, it sticks in my throat (in a good way) - - especially this week as I'm living half-unplugged, mountain high (9,200 feet of it) and mosquitoed.

I'm reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Her communion with nature, her heart on the page reminds me of you.

erin said...

so much we thought we knew. it humbles me now to think that perhaps i still do not know anything. afterall, what is forty-one years in the course of a world?

you're inspiring me constantly. what might i do now knowing you have done this? i imagine taking my children to the woods this summer, not in the safety of a park, but in the wilderness. i wonder...

and what a revelation to wake to. how much lays unseen only fifty feet from where we lay?

xo
erin

California Girl said...

Wonderful imagery. My husband went to summer camp beneath Mt. Shasta for 7 years. I'm sending this to him.

rosaria said...

Oh, you were brave, are brave, and your resolve made you stronger and more confident.

Loring Wirbel said...

Wow, the last time I saw Shasta was 1989, but I never had the solo overnight experience you did, what a story.

annell said...

I think you are brave... I don't think I could do it. When it comes to survival, I probably wouldn't last long.

steven said...

ruth - what a learning. i was taken well-inside your awakening by your words. steven

Louise Gallagher said...

Solo camping -- wow! I am unlearning my fear of night -- the first step is to stand out in the garden at 3am for five minutes, lengthen it to 10 until eventually, I shall walk around the block.

Fear of the dark, I'm discovering is unfounded. It is a remnant from childhood that serves no purpose than to clutter up my mind with what I want less of in my life -- fear.

Your courage that night is commendable -- I love how Steven said it -- taken well-inside your awakening.

Thanks for taking me along -- I'll carry you with me into the night.

Susan said...

Now that's camping!!! You courageous woman (girl), you!

The Hopi's feathers look gorgeous fluttered down over Mt. Shasta.

Beautiful story, masterfully told.

ds said...

Oh brave you! Close to the earth, seeking the sky. Stardust, feathers, longing, beauty of vision and of word. I smell a poem...

Babs-beetle said...

You are far braver than I would ever have been, and you get less brave as the years roll by. I've camped out many a time, but with others, under canvas and on a camp site!

C.M. Jackson said...

you write about a subject so close to my heart--your ability to weave a memory into a story and an image of a hopi dancer and nature is breathtaking--that must have been an amazing morning...pure magic!!

ellen abbott said...

never camped alone, not even for one night. but I have slept many a night under the sky when I was river camping. spent 10 days in utter wilderness, no shelter (well, a tent but only for inclement weather), no permanent shelter. amazing how fast you adapt, how fast you lose track of the days, date, day of the week. coming back to civilization, to indoors was such a shock. culture shock.

rauf said...

sore throat in the morning made me stop sleeping under the sky Ruth. Got used to sleeping in the caves during Himalayan treks with shepherds and their sheep. The experience was not a pleasant one.

Marja said...

A very intriguing story. I've been a scouting leader for years but stopped because I didn't like camping at all.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Reena. Yes, I think I was brave, because I had a terrible fear of the dark in those days, but I had a wild and prideful determination to do something that sounded so romantic and that no one else was doing.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, thanks. I think hotels are awfully nice too, with clean white sheets. But I do love camping, especially sleeping under an open sky, at least for a while. I don't relish the dew that covers you in the morning, which is why I slept under the tree bow. That sky in Ashland, Oregon, up at 7,000 feet, really was magic, and I was utterly smitten by it.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Hedge. Your morning in Kettle Moraine sounds about right. (What a great name and so descriptive for a place dug out by a glacier.)

If I'd had my own car, I probably would have fled myself. But I'm quite glad I had to wait for Bob to pick me up so I could experience that morning, which was worth the misery of the night.

Now I think of it, maybe I should have stayed a second night. I never sleep too well in a new place the first night. ;-)

Ruth said...

Hi, George. I recall deciding to do the campout out of romantic notions of being in the great outdoors on my own, and being the only one of 22 students brave enough. It was a pretty great semester out in Oregon, away from our Chicago campus, with five professors, not a bad ratio. My viewpoint on many things changed. I had a tremendous experience studying Whitehead one of the three-week sessions for one thing, which I'll tell you about sometime. But all in all, I think that you're probably right about this night, and morning, teaching me things about myself. Funny how a sleepless night in fear is endless and your senses are utterly alive.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Terresa. That is quite an image you have shared of your dear forest trees, I'm so sorry to hear about it. I hope your time at high altitudes was good though. And thank you very kindly for such a welcome (though undeserved) likening to Dillard's work.

Ruth said...

Erin, if only we were to know at least what lies outside our close perimeters. This is my challenge, always, to see what can be seen as I move along. There is also much joy at the surprise of finding in the morning what couldn't be seen in the night. And night is a time of worry, all the senses seem alert to danger, even when it isn't really a threat the way we thought. I have twisted many things into monsters over the years, at night.

Do go out in the woods, in the wilderness, and stay the night. Especially with your kids, there will be wonders of bonding all around, with the woods, and with each other.

Tell me about it.

Ruth said...

California Girl, wonderful! I was in Ashland, Oregon one semester. That and northern California is country I could stay in, I felt quite at home. I could have done more nights in the woods, and maybe I would have gotten used to it, who knows.

Ruth said...

Rosaria, I admit to being very proud of having done this. Maybe I'll write it up into a little home made book for my grandchild (as yet unborn, but very much alive at 10 weeks in utero).

Ruth said...

Loring, it's funny how many experiences in life look harrowing while in them, and amusing and pleasant looking back. I was so afraid! And I had nothing to be afraid of, in actuality.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Annell. I bet you could do what you had to do. This was an artificial situation, but I think when we're forced to fend for ourselves, new and wonderful instincts kick in.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Steven. This semester in Oregon was the peak of my college experience, in many ways.

Friko said...

A night under the stars, in the company of a mountain wrapped in the silver foil coat of white feathers, a head full of poetry, the spirit world keeping watch over you: an experience to carry in your heart forever.

Perhaps this was the birthplace of the Ruth I am getting to know a little?


I am sorry for not being a good visitor at the moment, soon my labours in the garden will go back to normal and I shall have the pleasure of immersing myself in your wise words again.

Ruth said...

Louise! We are so alike. I was plagued with fear of the dark (unfounded, yes) most of my life, all the way up until just a few years ago. I don't talk much here about my spiritual journey, but I am utterly convinced that I had to get outside Christianity and its fear-inducing culture to finally get rid of this fear. The way I experienced the teaching about demons and all that was to be constantly afraid when I was alone. When I began finding spirituality beneath religion, all that fear just slipped away without even trying. I have only been afraid for an instant two or three times in the last six or seven years.

I admire your perseverance, because I truly understand.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Susie. I so appreciate you seeing and feeling the images here, from a time in my past that means a lot to me.

Ruth said...

ds, as I've already told you, Colette Labouff Atkinson's prose poem "Space Race" inspired me at a time when I was utterly uninspired. Once again, thank you.

Ruth said...

Babs, you know I've even been terrified with others, under a tent, after watching the stupid "Blair Witch Project." It tapped into my fears and provided one very bad camping experience. Silly movie! But our minds, and the fears in them, are so powerful.

Ruth said...

C.M., thank you so much. It's one of those pivotal moments that I return to for pleasure and satisfaction.

Ruth said...

Ellen, that's just extraordinary, and something not too many in western cultures have ever done. I'm impressed. I've spent five days like that, half of what you did. Funny how a daily bath seems irrelevant, and almost anything cooked over an open fire tastes good.

Ruth said...

rauf, it may not have been pleasant, but what an amazing thing to say you did that, any of it: hiking in the Himalayas, sleeping under the sky, sleeping in caves with shepherds and their sheep. It's beautiful, even if unpleasant.

I know about the sore throat. That dew is not very healthy. That's why I slept under the bow of the tree. Maybe in a few nights I would have been more relaxed.

Ruth said...

Marja, it sounds as though you sacrificed comfort to give some kids great experiences. That's admirable.

Ruth said...

Hi, Friko! I've missed visiting with you, at both our places, and that is as much my fault and loss as yours. I will be over to your UK place in a bit (figuratively, bloggishly).

You're keen to see Ruth the sapling here. This term in Oregon was profoundly important in who I have become, though there were many intervening years and detours between then and now. I'll recall some of them here now and then, no doubt.

See you soon ...

Brendan said...

As it was said in the Grail romances, the questors had to enter the forest alone, where the thicket was most dense: that, I think, is metaphor for how much we must leave behind and go naked into wilderness, exposed to the elements, so vulnerable, prey almost, but also virgin offered to the greenland god, here a Hopi seducer. Fine scrimshaw here of memoir and its latter mysteries, a bildungrsoman of a heart and song wed to nature on a solo camping trip. Hedgewitch's forest poem from yesterday is a fine, though mediated, accompaniment. - Brendan

Dutchbaby said...

Your confidence is impressive, Ruth. I imagine that it would have been difficult to quiet the inner conversation of doubt and fear. I do know what you mean about the sky becoming your companion. I think I already told you once about the time we spent in Schull, Ireland where the blanket of stars was so dense that our two-year-old daughter was too afraid to cast her eyes upward.

Bob was a genius to give you the gift of Mount Shasta. She is a gorgeous mountain. We used to see her every summer, since my little one was in diapers, before we turned left to go to Trinity Alps. We always cheered when she came in view. I used to tell the kids that she was an ice cream cone, at first plausible, then impossibly massive.

I enjoyed reading about your brilliantly-told inner journey.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thanks for your attentions here, and yes, I did love reading Hedge's forest poem after this, that she had been working on hers previously. Such a lovely write it is.

I was afraid of a lot then, though I wasn't conscious of all of it. The fear of darkness, solitude, and that forest was all that I was aware of, but it did represent much metaphorically. I've come to realize that fear is the basis of a lot of emotions that I have wrongfully ascribed to something else.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, what an image of your daughter and that blanket of stars! Oh my. Where I lived in Michigan, I only knew the major/visible constellations and stars, in a big black sky. To see it covered with those pindot stars was just startling.

The Shasta ice cream cone, perfect! By the way, we spent one of our between-session breaks in San Francisco, what a great time we had. I've only been twice and need to go back.

Dutchbaby said...

Yes you do need to go back - soon!

Oliag said...

I like to think that I would have done this extra credit too...I think I would have...Just the fact that your professor had this as an extra credit amazes me!

...and of course I love the way you have shared this memory...

OceanoAzul.Sonhos said...

Ruth i enjoyed reading you, a great sensitivity and courage.
oa.s

Amy@Souldipper said...

Well done, Ruth. That would take an enormous amount of courage. Your success no doubt built THE base upon which you perch - the strong woman you have been ever since.

Montag said...

There are a number of reasons why this is impressive. The thing which most strikes me at present is the contrast between the Hopi figure (a being not too dependent on written symbols) and the Student (who is very much dependent on written symbols).

I mean, it reminds me forcefully of so many things: Rousseau, Huxley's "Brave New World" savage, etc.

The contrast is most strongly stated in the last line, where the Student is forgotten, but the Hopi is still the object of our writings.

who said...

the snow covered parts of the mountain look like an abstract eagle, or maybe a firebird swooping down with it's claws extended. Positioned like it is about to nab something

Ginnie said...

Why don't I remember this experience of yours, sister? We should compare notes from when I was on my survival hike at jungle camp years ago. I bet we had similar experiences, excep there was no mountain like this welcoming me in the morning!

Margaret said...

...tossed his white feathers over his shoulder... I LOVE that!

Ruth said...

Oliag, yay!

We could have done a solo campout — together! :-)

Ruth said...

OA.S, thank you, that's lovely.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Amy. I do think I stepped out of the forest that day with a stronger self image!

Ruth said...

Montag, I love your comment. I felt what you describe very keenly that term in Oregon. I was enamored with the Hopi Indians, but even they, the ones who lived there locally, were not as connected with nature and its rhythms, any more than I was. What a semester it was, a life changer. I'd love to talk with you about it all.

Ruth said...

Dusti, it's extraordinary, isn't it?

Ruth said...

Boots, I would love to hear more about your survival hike. Maybe this weekend!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Margaret! I was stunned when I realized how much the snow on that mountain looks like feathers.

Montag said...

I think it is important that you identify your footwear, " my Clarks...".

It certainly makes a difference from just saying "my boots".

However, it is not clear exactly what it indicates. I have a pair of Clarks, which I call "my sandals", but when originally tried them on, I actually danced because I had never had any footwear that had felt so good.

Well, people do not believe that story, but it is true. So what's in a name?
My old sandals were Tevas, which I called my "milkman shoes" or "milchiger schuen"... after Tevia in Fiddler On The Roof.

Ruth said...

Montag, I toyed with this specificity in many variations. They were Clark Treks. I actually had a sentence or two of description, in which I talked about how worn they were, showing the outline of my toes. I ended up leaving it out because it didn't seem relevant. So as you say, I just used the brand, but then it feels a little ambiguous, especially if a person doesn't know of them.

I adored those shoes, the way a person adores nature, or something about your body that feels so good and right, even if it doesn't always look aesthetically pleasing to anyone but yourself.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the red tab straight leg button-fly Levis I wore then, and these Clark Treks, and how it feels like a 'uniform' I want back. It represents such comfort, both physically and spiritually (weird, huh), that I want it.

I just bought a new pair of Levis, and they had a red tab, but they are nothing like the 501s. I think I need to get some of those again, pure and dark indigo.

Montag said...

Somehow a brand is iconic in our minds... and it is the interplay of icons - shoes, jeans, mountains, forests, quests - that is interesting.

And there are other icons, too. I woke up this morning thinking that I wanted to dress like The Big Lebowski! (A cleaned-up Big Lebowski).
What's up with that?
So I put on a "clean" Hawaiian shirt and long pockety shorts, and I am The Dude. Can't say that I ever, ever did this before.

Ruth said...

Oh, well maybe you're right, maybe the Levi red tabs and Clarks Treks won't mean the same or feel the same now. I have been feeling so young, ageless, now that a grandbaby is coming. Makes me reminiscent of those college days when I thought I wouldn't age. Maybe the jeans and shoes can take a new trek, toward a new life with poppy seed (the unborn babe).

Big Lebowski! Does 'cleaned up' mean you'll forget the robe?