November 4th, 2013
My hands fall in and out of numbness as they dunk into the icy stream water and back out again. It’s a cold day and the sun has already dipped behind the high peaks creating the edge of this valley. I pull my hands out of the stream and start to feel them come back to life as they scrub the surface of the large chunk of meat they’re holding. Little bits of leaves and dirt stick to the fat and they are almost impossible to get off. I plunge the dirty flesh back in for the seventh time now to make one last attempt at cleanliness. I have to recognize that this will be eaten by the lowest-maintenance group of people I’ve ever met so I’m not worried about complaints.
I pull the leg out one final time, accepting the imperfections. I look around the quiet woods to see if any animal might have been watching with hungry eyes. I’m alone down here and have always had a certain amount of fear for the unknown of the wilderness. With one hand on the ankle and the other supporting the bulk of the awkward weight I begin the hike back up to the others. I hurry uphill with the dead weight along the trail to keep warm and to finish processing this animal by sundown. This must be the fourth time I’ve run up and down this trail today with different body parts and I’m starting to feel the wear.
A few minutes later I’m back on the tucked away property we are temporarily residing on. Before me is the mobile home trailer on stilts, expanded out to a full house concealing it’s past as a standardized manufactured product. A wooden porch extends the side facing the river with a couple of people sitting on it. One is playing banjo while the other seems to be sewing something. To my left is what they call the hobbit hole here; a humble dwelling half underground, made of stone and mortar with a wooden roof. In front of it lies a huge pile of books, exposed to the elements. To the right is the large dug-out fire pit whose warmth a few people are huddling around. In front of me, before the house, the deer hangs, tied up by his antlers who support the weight of what is left of his body. Just his head and torso remain. To the side, his hide is draped over a branch along with sinew and smaller pieces of flesh. A bucket below holds the heart and liver which is saved for eating.
I see Colas walking by and call over to him for help in hanging up the washed leg so that no other scavenging animals will get to it tonight. Colas ties a complicated knot that doesn’t seem efficient nor has any rhyme or reason to it but feels strong and will surely hold. I love the way Colas goes about doing things; no right or wrong way as long as it works. I feel better about all the amateur cuts I’ve made today.
Once again I find myself staring at this carcass trying to figure out how to cut it up in the best way. I’ve never done this before and have no direction. Earlier today I volunteered to help with the butchering but after an hour I found myself alone for the remainder of the task. I spin around what’s left of this road killed creature to size up how I will detach the torso from the head with this knife. My mind drifts from the logistics of the cut to questioning why I offered to help in the first place. I look over to the right and see everyone standing around the fire talking while a faint banjo is heard from the porch. I’m cold and tired with blood on my hands and clothes, perplexed as to how I’ll be able to cut through bone with this little knife. I arrived here just last night and am leaving tomorrow morning, having had spent my whole day with a carcass instead of people, music and warmth. I try my best to not complain, to accept the situation and to remember that no matter what I do I’ll be missing out on something more exciting.
I study the fibers on the muscles, how they connect to ligaments, joints and bone. An intimate time with a being I never met in his living state. I begin to make sloppy incisions through tissue and cartilage that reveal the spinal cord in the neck. Using just my hands, I twist and pull with all my force until I manage to separate the torso, leaving behind the twirling head, swinging back and forth on the rope.
Earlier today he was seeing through those eyes and thinking through that brain. I wonder what it was that was doing the thinking and seeing and if that entity has died along with the body. Is this just a hunk of food or does it carry an energy, a stored memory whose remnants can be subtly passed along through ingestion. I awkwardly fumble around the large piece of possibly energy-carrying meat, leaning it against my chest to distribute the weight evenly. I pass a longing look to the cozy fire and social circle but quickly turn away. “If I was meant to be there I’d be there” I tell myself. It feels good to earn my place in the tribe as well as get this experience. I run down the quarter-mile trail to the stream and repeat the process I’ve been doing the last few hours.
Numbness and feeling, dirt and clean running water, peacefulness of the forest and fear of the unknown, fatigue and an energizing eagerness to get this done with.
When I make it back again, I see that an assembly line has been created from the hobbit hole to the fire pit. Some are carrying boxes while others are pushing wheel barrows full of books. When I get the meat hung up and clean my hands, I walk over to see what’s going on.
Brian tells me there will be a book burning tonight. I associate the combination of words with Nazis and futuristic dystopian societies where books are prohibited. I try to not show my astonishment at the idea and ask what kind of books they are. A bunch of romance novels and high school text books that were found left on the street to be given away. “Is this for some kind of statement or deeper significance than fire fuel?” I ask, trying not to sound judgmental.
“Well, we just happened to come across these books but at the same time it has a significance; to destroy a part of mainstream culture we disagree with.” Brian says in a humble way , not trying to defend or persuade.
“Oh. Well I’ll lend a hand.” I want to help to be helpful even though I don’t really know how I feel about the idea of burning any kind of literature that someone may have enjoyed or learned from. I grab an empty wheel barrow and wheel it over to the hobbit hole where I meet Desert who is loading people’s boxes and barrows to carry these books to their fiery finalization. Romance novels with sexy illustrations of women, hair blowing in the wind, backgrounds of exotic destinations, exposed skin, cleavage directing the viewer’s focus to below the passionate facial expressions.
I’m blown away by the sheer number of unique titles in the pile and wonder who reads them and how those readers are affected. Are people happier with their lives after they read these? What kind of values do they subliminally instill in one? Is it innocent entertainment or an unhealthy distraction that distances readers from life’s realities?
The wheel barrow is heavy and a challenge to navigate the narrow uphill dirt path to the fire pit. It’s nice to feel the warmth of the fire as I approach. A few people are standing around talking and each looks up to greet me. I’ve known some for a few weeks and some for a couple of days but I feel very accepted being in their world out here in the middle of nowhere. No cell phones, internet, fancy clothing or status comparisons. A group of people whose intention it is to rid themselves of the technologies that distract us from being present with one another. To unlearn the values that cultivate imperialistic, individualistic tendencies and replace them with a compassionate communication that cuts out the bullshit and goes straight to the heart. I feel I am accepted easily but am also hesitant to let be known my doubts about the burning of these books.
I dump the books into the new pile and take a moment to browse the other titles. Among the hundreds of romance novels, I find a pile of identical books entitled “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. I notice the uniform stamp “Happy Camp High School” on the thin sides of the pages opposite the spine of the books. I’ve never read this but if I remember right, I’ve heard it is about a dystopian futuristic society where learning is prohibited or controlled. I find it ironic that they as well should be burned tonight. I grab a copy and leave it off to the side to read later.
As the night creeps up, the warmth and glow given from the fire replaces the incoming darkness with artificial dayness. Even though people are conversing, I remain quiet and think. Why did I arrive in this little world? A conscious body in this miniature solar system fed by the fuel of empty literature. My mind orbits around new ideas and viewpoints in hopes to gravitate toward some center of truth. Am I meant to be here, is it possible to be meant to be somewhere I’m not?
The number of planets in our little solar system increase as people come out from inside the house or get back from walking the goats. A large metal grate is laid over the fire where Juniper places one of the legs I cleaned earlier. Fifteen or so bodies are fed by the heat of our little burning star and the fallen deer. Juniper cooks one chunk at a time and it is passed from hand to hand around the circle, each taking a bite. Everybody eating the same piece of meat, no individual plates or portions, each taking what they need.
Somebody suggests that for fun, Colas read random passages from the books. He happens to open to the most seductive and intimate scene and begins to narrate theatrically. Just as the juicy foreplay begins to heat up he suddenly tosses the book into the flames ending in a crescendo of melting cleavage and group laughter. Somehow Colas manages to keep finding the funniest passages, ending them all in an uproar of flame and laughter. In the few weeks I’ve known Colas, he’s never been the type of person to be the center of attention. It makes me happy to see him just being himself and hilarious in the process.
After a few laughs the circle quiets down to let be heard the tiny cracklings of the fire. I look around and see everybody’s faces, filled up with deer and afterlaugh release, they look deep into the light source. When there is nothing to be said, no surface conversation is needed. Room is left for contemplation and soaking.
The silence is softly interrupted by a gentle melody on the banjo. I look up to see Colas once again taking the stage. Just by reading his body language and knowing how he is, it is not his ego driving him to perform but a natural inspiration that he refuses to ignore. Everybody’s eyes stay calmly focused on the flickering light as Colas plays. Beautiful melodic passages that never repeat, take us along a journey into uncharted territory. It is hard to attach a label to the combinations of harmonies or melodies, it is just feeling manifested into sound. Just as he tied the knots earlier with no rhyme or reason, the music flowing through him makes no sense but it works.
I feel my orbit slowing to a less-erratic, steadier pace, not floating away but held by the gravity of the music. Every body in our mini-universe is held in the same pull, time feeling irrelevant. Just as the banjo is simply a medium by which an energy passes through, Colas himself is also a vessel for that same energy whose source is unknown. All the bodies surrounding this fire now carry it in some form or another, later to be expressed in an unknown way. I think about how everything is made of the same stuff, how the same electron will eventually orbit around many different nuclei, every molecule will change its structure and be a part of several different larger structures, organisms turned to dirt, to plant-form, to food for a deer, to food for a group of humans, to music, written word, read word, inspiration…
There is no saying how much time has passed before Colas lets the sound of the fire fade back into our minds. Thoughts printed on fallen trees reach the end of their lives meeting the beginning of new ones. Romantic ashes rise to the sky where they will fall in a new place, becoming some other body’s food one day. Can this destruction be wrong? Isn’t every birth but a destruction of a previous form? I could be back home, or any other place in the world, but the possibility of those paths have been destroyed. Everything I should or could have done is ash. I know I’m missing out on something more exciting and feel good.