Meeting Edward Abbey in the Rain

by on July 9, 2022 :: 0 comments

photo "Life on the (Easy) Streets" by Tyler Malone

we need the possibility of escape

as surely as we need


Three days hiking, relentlessly setting up tiny tent in the rain, taking down in the nonstop rain. Nothing ever dries. Crawling into a damp sleeping bag, rain thrumming against the fly. Coffee never hot enough to defeat the chill. Climbing miles, and miles back down. All the scenic overlooks shrouded gray. Slopes more slippery than metaphor.

Perfect. I came to wallow, and after Sarah said she found someone better, nothing is going to cheer me up.

Sold more-broken-down-than-not Bug to buy a bus ticket to the middle of nowhere. Driver said he would drop me off at nearest town, no extra charge because it looked like some weather’s blowing in.  But dark clouds call, and an hour later the rain. Buckets of rain. Slogging through the mud until boots weigh as much as pack, until I’m too tired to care. Finish the day with reconstituted gruel, handful of aspirin, enough green-label to sleep.

Good thing I don’t have any destination in mind because half-way through day two, I am right and truly lost. Not that I care. I am on a trail, and it probably leads somewhere. Or not. Maybe it will peter out in the middle of the forest and laugh.

in the depths of solitude

beyond wilderness and freedom

lay the trap of madness

Looking to setup camp, I spot a decrepit shack just off the trail— maybe reclaimed then forgotten slave shack.  Possible refuge except ramshackled often means leaky with critters in residence. Spiders wouldn’t bother me, but racoons and snakes worse than rain.

Wooden latch, no lock, so stepping over crumbling stairs, I peek in. Headlamp lights up a patchwork quilt topping perfectly made bed. And I am the only wet thing inside. Bigger surprise when I flip the switch and lights come on.

Most furniture looks handmade. Lots of white pine. A mystery how floor, walls, and ceiling form perfect cube within the listing structure. Large pantry with fluffy towels. Shelves with hotplate and percolator. Desk, recliner, and goose-neck floor lamp. Bookcase with paperbacks, old Pioneer all-in-one stereo, and a stack of jazz albums: Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Mingus Ah Um. Ellington at Newport, and Ella Sings Gershwin.

No running water, so I dash naked into the rain and do my business. Then dry at last, dry at last, no thought of how or why, I crawl beneath the quilt expecting to fall asleep to a scratchy Porkpie Hat.

But there, Desert Solitaire on the bedstand, folded open as if the reader expected to return momentarily. I accept the invitation and read, where there is no joy, there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. I do not notice when the rain stops, am still reading when the sun makes this world new again, one final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am– a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight…

a giant thirst

is a great joy

when quenched in time

Following Abbey’s example for living alone, the first thing I did was take off my pants, naturally. Outside, I drink coffee with a bowl of gorp and oatmeal. Unconcerned, doe and fawn nibble at the oatgrass; cardinals and titmice sing. Around back, I find a one-holer outhouse, fire pit, and clawfoot tub.   In a tight-sealed bin, I discover a store of tools, two by sixes, cement and sand. I run a line, hang soaked gear out to dry, carry water from the creek, build a fire in the pit.

Once when I complained about being hungry, Mama told me to make a pot of chili and serve it to hobos living by the tracks, and if I was feeling dirty, I could clean the windows. If broken, I should wrench on the lawnmower until it cranks. So six hours later, a set of sturdy new steps grace the front door. Covered in sweat, sawdust, and flecks of polyurethane, I hope unknown benefactor approves of my improvised design.

Using largest pots, I heat water for a bath. Climbing in, I feel every muscle exhale, all the bile dissipated, and I am once again ready to give and receive. I go inside at last to sleep.

may your trails be crooked

winding lonesome dangerous

leading to the most amazing views

editors note:

In the end, or maybe all the time, we want a room of our own to live and to die as we see fit. ~ Tyler Malone

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