Tuesday, October 31, 2017
A Walk in the Woods
For a long time, I've wanted to write a poem about an experience that was very vivid in my imagination, but which I've never quite figured out how to do.
As anyone who has ever camped in the outback (or wilderness) knows, when there are no "facilities" you just have to find a private place to relieve yourself.
I can still recall, as a boy going camping, the eerie sense of isolation and spookiness I had when I walked some way out of camp, far enough away that I'd have privacy, a sufficient distance away that I wouldn't disturb others and stink up the place. In the forest, you don't have to walk very far to feel totally "lost"--away from civilization and the comforting sense of protection.
This is naturally an experience that our ancestors undoubtedly were very familiar with, before the invention of technology. For tens of thousands of years, people have been finding a convenient tree or shrub, some distance away from camp or settlement.
People rarely talk about this, but it's something humans and animals have done for a very long time, but which we now hardly ever experience or think about.
I remember peeing onto the forest floor, or against a tree trunk, where my stream hissed among a carpet of pine needles or mossy detritus.
But what I most remember is the silence, the strange listening calm that pervades a stand of timber in the wild. It can be a little frightening.
For eons, people have been venturing out into the unknown, where predators or strangers may be lurking. Animals share this same foreboding, the sense of vulnerability, of being subject to surprise or attack.
Our world once was an immense place, largely untracked, unexplored, unsurveyed, unknown. Out of such unknown-ness grows apprehension, and superstition.
When I was teaching once years ago, I had a student who had recently returned from soldiering in Vietnam. He'd been a radioman, who went on patrols with his platoon, often in dense jungle. He told me once about an experience he'd had. He'd needed to take a crap, and had walked a short distance from the bivouac. Squatting beside a downed log, he heard the approach of enemy soldiers--Viet Cong soldiers--just a few yards away. "I dove right into my own shit," he recounted, and he lay there, as quiet as he could, his heart pounding, his breath pumping, as the enemy patrol passed by. They never saw him.
The poem I'd want to write would capture the sense of silence, isolation, and vulnerability which must be a common experience for millions and millions of people in our ancient history, but also the beauty of being in nature, attuned to its sounds, shapes, relationships; the way Indians once must have felt it, knowing its familiar keys, recognizing its signs, the aliveness of inanimate things--rocks, trees, water, wind, creatures. The title might be "going out into the woods to pee" rather in the way an ancient Chinese poet might describe it.
There is sometimes an "entry" into a poem, that allows you to carry it through. But I haven't found it yet. I may never--one of the ideas for poems that may simply never happen. It's a little frustrating. But on the other hand, it's a "poem" in my head, one which I have the experience of, even if I haven't found the words, the sequence of statements to capture it yet.
How many unwritten poems have mellowed or ripened in the minds of men, without ever having been captured? Before writing was invented, they may simply have been stories told around the fire. Or perhaps only known as memories.