It’s not all sunshine and pretty flowers. There are definitely days when I wonder what the hell I’m doing out here. If I’m going to succeed before the bugs rip me to shreds. If I’m going to have enough water to drink. If I’m going to be able to find nourishment, start my garden, or really get anything rolling other than a tiny 96 square foot cabin in the middle of nowhere. I have my doubts just like anyone else.
As I’m writing this (hopefully it will be posted the next time I get to town for Internet stuff) there’s a small oil lamp hanging over my head, turned down to the point where I can barely see. More light means more heat, and I’m not exactly having cool nights. My body is riddled with scars and bug bites. There’s a roach in here crawling along the wall, somewhere. Ticks are searching my body for a spot to take hold where I won’t be able to brush them free.
My tiny space is about ¼ storage shelving, ¼ wood stove which is not in use at the moment, and ¼ plywood slab with a ½ inch covering of foam to sleep on. There’s no space to walk, just a common area where I can stand up and hang my lamp. My bed doubles as a nightstand, and it’s loaded with the contents of my pockets, and a drink, as well as some other day-to-day necessities. Outside, rats and armadillos who know I’m in for the night are rummaging around my stuff.
The wildlife has more or less acclimated to my presence. They know my hours and daily habits, and they’ve learned where they can creep around and when. Spiders are building webs in my walking paths tonight, which I’ll meet in the morning. Everywhere outside, there are tree stumps to trip over and tall grass just starting on the dew collection for the night, so I can have a wet morning. The night-birds will start singing just outside my door any minute, like alerts to let the other animals know that it’s time to come out and play. Add a little poison ivy, and that pretty well completes the picture.
But there’s something else out there in the darkness. Something I would never encounter in a summer in Louisiana: a clear sky filled with a million stars. If you’ve been following for a while, you might know that I’m a bit of a space nut-pause to slap a mosquito.
Where was I? Oh yes, the heavens. There are tiny clusters of stars that I know well, but only through a telescope. Faint fuzzies can be spotted with the naked eye, and a shooting star streaked to the south from Jupiter earlier, nearly as bright as the distant planet. When I look up, time stops. The bug bites cease to itch, the ticks can crawl over me freely, and there’s nothing else in the world except me and that sky.
The darkness rating for this location is near black, rivaled only by certain places out west, or on the open ocean. Dusk every night is a bit of a game, watching each one begin to shine as it grows darker. Jupiter is the first to show itself, then Arcturus (hope I spelled that right), then Spica, and the handle of the big dipper. Then the North Star. And when it gets darker, lights shine from the heavens nearly bright enough to cast shadows.
When I look up, and I see that nearly unadulterated sky, I know why I’m here. I remember why I put up with the biting insects, the lack of refrigeration (at least for the moment), and the absence of artificial light. I remember why I sleep on this hard board every night. I know instantly. It’s a reconnection with my humanity. Not in some hands-across-America sense, but rather a connection with my primal ancestors, who looked up at that same sky, and knew there was something out there bigger than themselves. People who had no choice but to put up with the mites and bugs, and had to forage and hunt daily for something to eat, who could get sick and die simply by drinking from the wrong river at the wrong time.
Not everyone can experience that sky, and I’m doing this for those who can’t. It’s truly a gift, only for those brave enough to venture into the darkest parts of the wild. I’m doing this to prove to myself that humans can be part of the landscape, and that shaping it a certain way doesn’t have to mean raping the natural world of all it’s bounties. Earlier today the itching got so bad that I sought relieve, not from a bottle of lotion from some unnamed lab, but from a wad of plantain leaves, partially chewed and moistened, and a special little mint that is disappearing in the summer heat. (Now I have to find another miracle plant for the hot summer)
Anytime the chainsaw throws a chain, or the water system isn’t working the way I want, or a locust tree branch falls the wrong way and slaps me in the face, ouch, I just need to remember that sky. I swear I could sit here and stare into the heavens until the first rays of sunlight. They’re absolutely captivating. There’s even a silver lining of part of the Milky way that I never see. In Louisiana, star-gazing in the summertime is pretty much out of the question. Here, it’s a nightly blessing, unless it’s raining, which is a blessing of its own. Doesn’t matter what happens during the day. I see that sky every night, in all its glory, and I know why I’m here, instantly refreshed by the light of the heavens and the glow of embers from my nightly campfire.
It’s primal, it’s uncomfortable, it’s filthy, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.