Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Return to the Familiar

Upon entering the field I felt unease. At that time in my life I had an overabundance of time off and spent some of that hiking in the mountains and foothills of the Huachucas. That day I was stalking deer. I carried a camera, not a gun. I had pursued this hobby semi-successfully for a year. My first attempt, called in a buck to within twenty feet, but I waited too long to trip the shutter, and the shy thing darted away like a silent flash of lightning. It comes as a wake-up call to see a creature move so swiftly, and makes us look like the distant, decadent relations of the animal world we truly are.

Upon entering the field there is a mental adjustment to be made. We have neatly parted the world of man from the world of creepy, crawly nature. There is their world and then there is ours; theirs and ours and seldom does the twain meet. I estimate that you would need to spend a good half of your time in the field, camping, hunting, hiking to really feel one with nature. My life-style came nowhere close to that; I spent at very best only a dozen hours a week in "the field." But, the field is an inadequate phrase to mark the separation between man and nature.

A better way would be to describe the uncertainty and trepidation one feels upon entering “the field.” I left my truck parked on the side of a dirt road and with only a camera and a canteen, proceeded to walk through the dry, high grasses, toward the scrub oak of the foothills. Dryness is a constant with southern Arizona and even after fifty plus years it's still a wonder to me that anything can survive here much less thrive. My feet felt unnatural on the irregular ground. I walked far enough to thoroughly hide from me the sight of my vehicle, and stopped in a dry “stream” bed. I knew I'd have to wait quite a while to let the echo of my arrival to settle, as if with the dust that rose in my truck's wake. I had torn the peace of nature. It takes time for peace to be restored.

So, I sat me down in a comfortable spot and shortly, my tailbone proceeded to hurt. I shifted to hurt some other part. It isn’t the physical adjustment that is difficult, but rather it’s the mental. My mind felt out of sync with all about me. While I knew the names of the things and understood them through that human lens, the labels that I applied to these bits and pieces of nature were insufficient. I knew I needed time to adapt to them. And so I sat.

I felt restless, disturbed and unnatural. I felt as if my mere presence in spite of my absolute silence was sending out waves, perturbing all about me. All would align with time; I just needed to give it time. The thing that disturbed me most was the seeming infinitude of minute details in virtually everything I cast my gaze upon. There was the sand in the dry stream bed, the grasses, and the minutia of an oak branch’s bark; there was layer upon layer of details suggestive of Rocco ornamentation. Unnerved and trying to adjust, I closed my eyes for a while and saw in the blackness behind my closed lids a grainy swarm of motes reminiscent of the scene I was evading. I opened my lids and found my gaze settled on an insect wing lying at my feet.

I lifted it and held it to the light. Again there was the blizzard of details assaulting my eyes. Holding it close, I turned the delicate thing in my fingers allowing it to catch the light from different angles and finally in such a way that it threw interference fringes of many colors. It would exist for a brief while, an artifact of some flying insect, the remnant of some decayed life, and then it too would crumble into an infinitude if even finer details of dust.

I relaxed, and I adjusted, and I aligned myself with nature at last. I tooted on my game call and waited for the deer to stroll near. Waiting and waiting, I sat and sat, until I could sit still no longer as the day was closing. By now, all seemed natural and every leaf on every twig and every twig on every branch was in its place; the order of nature was at last, natural.

After many hours of this I was done, and so I lifted myself and proceeded to my vehicle. My feet seemed to fall with a new grace, and the grasses snapping under foot had a natural tone. My truck patiently waited on the road, its blueness unreal among the browns and grays of the surrounding field. It appeared odd and odder still as I drew closer, until at a stones throw I stopped and looked in wonder and awe at this familiar artifact from my life that appeared, now, disturbingly unfamiliar and very unnatural.

It was an early Ford Bronco of the metal box and functional breed. It was powder blue with a cream top, white wheels and jet black tires. The windshield and windows were absolutely flat and unnaturally pure and transparent. Its appearance halted me in my tracks. I stood looking at the thing with trepidation. It appeared very unfamiliar, weirdly toy-like and outlandish. Slowly I approached it as if it was a wild creature, as if my movement might startle it and send it fleeing. The paint was pure and its surfaces unblemished and unnaturally, predictably shaped. There was none of the blizzard of details found in “nature”. What I saw was as unnatural as unnatural could be.

Nearly laughing at its toy-like appearance, I looked closely into the light blue surface and wondered at its pureness. In it I saw, superimposed, a swarm of transparent and transient tadpole like images of the details I had previously found so disturbing in the bark of the tree branches. It was as if my mind was straining to find details in the hyper-simplicity of the unblemished surface before my eyes. The glass was even more transcending. I could see through it! And stranger still were, on its surface, the reflections of the sky, the mountains, and the field about.

Opening the door, I climbed into the contraption and closed it behind me with a resounding, clang! The early Broncos had little in the way of sound dampening. I had heard that sound a thousand times before but now it seemed very weird. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I gazed in wonder at the interior and again with wonder through the surface of the glass. What was once familiar now seemed foreign. Attempting to re-adjust to this new old-reality I began to giggle at its preposterous existence. I asked myself, "If this thing could be, then what next could be brought into being?"

My hand reached out and turned the key and the machine buzzed to life disturbing the universe with its metallically pure pulsing, clanking regularity. I placed my hands on the steering wheel and dared myself to drive this “thing” under the influence of my near hallucinatory state of mind. I engaged the first gear and it lurched to life and proceeded to bounce along the washboard road. I giggled and grinned and laughed and slowly adjusted…slowly but surely returned… to the normalcy of… the familiar.

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