The problem with stories is that they never tell the whole truth. For every god you invite to the feast, there’s a demon that needs to be driven out of the kitchen. I am reading a love story, a book about a woman with multiple personality syndrome and the therapist who treats her, and I’m thinking: this is how we should try to love the land, honoring each strand of myth. Wilderness might be the core personality, but there’s always a small piece of garden, too, beholden to its stern angel with flaming sword. After the wildfire, seeds dormant for a hundred years can have their brief day in the sun: blackberries, fireweed, fire cherries. A tree near timberline abandons its assault on the sky and goes crawling on multiple bellies, out of the wind. A plant or animal set down in a new land, freed of its former constraints, can be fruitful and multiply beyond all reason. Or one can find a sudden dearth of fossils, for example in the very stratum where my house sits: a story line cut short by some unimaginable horizon.
How to make one journey out of so many roads and trails, hikes cut short by thunderstorms or insufficient daylight? How to get past the chasms, the time lost in suspensions of disbelief? We climb as high as the land lets us, taking in as much as we can in a single glance. We fantasize about a sudden plunge, overtaking our shadows, following green rivers to their source. Charley Patton is singing on the car stereo, his hoarse voice deliberately slurring the words:
I see a river rollin’ like a log
I wade up Green River, rollin’ like a log
I wade up Green River, Lord, rollin’ like a log
Through the pops and hisses on the old recording we can barely make out the guitar’s crisp weave of voices, a three-minute fraction of a song that might’ve lasted half an hour live. On another track, Patton talks back to himself as the guitar plays all sides of a single chord: oh, that spoonful! Unspoken after the first line, the ——– hangs just out of reach. The next day, before we leave, we’ll stop along the road where the birthwort sends its runners into the oaks, and I’ll use a walking stick to knock down one of the fluted, green pods. It will take pride of place in the well in front of the gearshift, rolling like a log on the long ride home.