Deep inside the mountain, the black river ran, deep in the gorge, toward the Earth's heart. It ran as it had for millions of years, carrying its dark load back to the source, a great cataract of silt and waste, ore and energy, in a natural cycle of renewal sealed within rock, unceasing and uninterrupted. And its terrible guardian slept, ceaselessly rolling in the gelid mud.
Ted, February 1987
The snowshoe hare sat underneath the low juniper, in the dark space where the wind had hollowed and cleared the snow away. The hare was uneasy and had stopped chewing, so it could hear whatever was out there. Its big ears swiveled, trying to catch the tiniest hint of anything out of place, screening out the wind sighing through the firs. The hare was motionless, with an ageless dread telling it to keep still, at least until it knew where to run. Finally, it decided to take another chew and swallow, and then my bullet took out its eye as the brain disappeared in a pink mist.
I smiled and congratulated myself on the nice shot, and adjusted my hooded sweatshirt and surplus army jacket before I strode through the knee-deep snow to claim my prize. I examined it fondly, taking special note of the bullet's effect. Then I pulled out the notebook and pencil from my pack and wrote carefully: "Feb. 23. Well-placed single shot using standard .22 longrifle cartridge. Right through the eye into the brain of a large male snowshoe in apparent good health. Approximately 7 lbs. of meat. A wonderful silent day with overcast skies on Mount Baldy."
I folded the notebook shut and put it and the pencil away in the side pocket of the pack, and then pulled out the knife to dress the hare. As I performed the well-practiced ritual, I noted the health of the animal as I skinned it, the heart, lungs, and intestines that I tossed to the side. I wanted to make sure the hare had no sign of disease. I could not afford to be sick. I walked over to the hollowed place by the low juniper, and found enough kindling to start a small fire. I cut a green limb from a nearby fir, and broke off some dry branches from the dead tree that leaned against it. My belly rumbled in anticipation.
After I had arranged the rabbit on the green spit over the fire, I stood and looked out over the huddled shoulders of the mountains below Mount Baldy. The view was beautiful, with the dark fir and pine blanketing the slopes below, and stretching out to the far horizons. Here and there were the open stretches of white that spoke of meadows, and, unfortunately, clearcuts. Although I suddenly felt a twinge of anger (clearcutting fucks!), I made an effort and brushed it aside, and I carefully refocused my attention on the endless blanket of trees. Calm. Lost in the wisp.
The best part of the day was the silence, accentuated by the gentle breath of the wind through the firs, and the occasional muffled slump of snow from overburdened branches. This was the type of silence that eased the soul, that wiped the mind clean, that soothed the heart.
I sat patiently in peace and happiness as the hare slowly cooked. Time had no meaning, and was marked only by the changing hue of the cooking meat. When the meat was done, I ate slowly, relishing the taste and the feel of warmth in my belly. I rested there, and even dropped into a nap, full, wrapped in my wool blanket in the hollow place, with the banked fire before me. I needed the sleep, as I had walked perhaps ten miles last night in pitch darkness across many mountains on my way home. Above me the silence was unbroken, but for the croak of a passing raven that made me smile, half-asleep.
When I woke up, I felt refreshed and happy. I sat for a few minutes, while the peace of the place washed over me. Now it began to snow, the large flakes fluttering gently to earth like flat stones in water, the thickening snow hiding the view and wrapping me in a timeless, protective cocoon. I remembered feeling this way as a kid, when I pulled the blanket over me in bed, lifting it with my arm into a tent, the mattress with wrinkled sheets like the topography of mountain ranges and the blanket above, the vault of heaven, circumscribing my own small universe that was quiet and protected.
Again I felt the wisp calling me from across the dark treeline, something at once soothing and frightening. I did not know what to call it exactly, but this feeling, reminded me of the stories of the will o' the wisp, a bobbing light that led men deep into the wilds until they became lost and mad. But for me the madness was the rush and frantic need of the world out there, with its careers, and its deadlines, its stinking huddled masses of humans, and its servitude to the machinery it had created to serve, the slave become the master and the master the slave. The wisp promised forgetfulness and an ease into the mindlessness and peace of the deep dark firs.
I rose and put out the fire, and folded my blanket. Stretching, I walked through the snow, toward home that lay only a few hours away. I moved through the columns of trees, bark woven with lime green lichen, and once I saw a weasel in its winter coat pop its head up quickly through the snow before it raced away.
For an hour I walked through frosted thicket and icy meadow, the snow easing off, but the sky still overcast. Then, as I came out of a stand of lodgepole pine that I knew very well, having once killed a deer there (such sweet meat), I stopped, and felt the peace flee me like a startled grouse.
The area had been bulldozed only a few days ago. The boulders and smaller rock had been pushed into heaps along the sides of the leveled pad cut into the steep slope. The stakes with fluorescent ribbons and scribblings with black markers, with the name "Chimera Gold Corp." on the sides, told the tale. The octopus had put another tentacle out to strangle the silence and the life (and I counted myself among these creatures) that needed that silence once more.
I stood there, shaking in rage. And then I heard it. A different sound coming down through the clouds, an ebbing and rushing sound that moved across the sky.
"Evil pieces of fucking shit!" I growled as I pulled my rifle out and aimed at the noise of the invisible jet racing across the sky and fired once, symbolically. I knew how ridiculous and futile it was, but it made me feel better somehow.
The noise continued its echoing rush, and all I could do was hold my ears tightly against it, until it ebbed away. And the mutilated earth and shattered silence seemed to mock me and my flight from madness. THE madness, for I was not, and am not, mad.
I jumped about from stake to stake, gathering them all into a pile that I would take with me and use as kindling. My head began to ache again. Finally I pulled the last one, wrapped them up carefully together, and melted into the trees once more, making a beeline for the small shack slowly being swallowed by the noise. The noise. Such a demonic sound to that word. Noise. Noisome. Like the buzzing of saws clearing a quiet patch, of flies laying eggs in a festering carcass. Progress and rot marches on, announced by the newsreel of science and despair.
It took another hour and I was home, the small plywood shack that had once been my beacon, a scrabbled-together hope in a quiet place. And now I saw it for what it had always been: little more than a patched-together den for a troubled soul. I knew I was troubled, and I knew the source too. I had known for some time, and had been trying to confront it, like slinging a stone of hope against a giant of despair.
So in that small dark dwelling, the door open to cold light, I sat, unmoving in my rage and impotence. And then I pulled out my little notebook again. So ironic that the last entry had been so happy. Now I wrote carefully once more.
"I would like to kill a miner. Bit by bit I will cut off the tentacle tips until the tentacles stop their reaching and destroying. If I can find the time and the place, I will do it. I will shoot him in the belly first. And then as he lies writhing like a roadkill, I will walk up to him, and look him calmly in the face. And I will say, ‘I killed you.' And then I will kick him in the face. I will kick him hard. I will kick him over and over. And I will laugh and feed his eyes to a laughing raven." In time, I told myself. In time. And I began to feel better already.