After quitting his job on public televison last year, David Grant decided to maintain a month of silence. This journal was wrillen during the last two weeks, when he travelled on foot, carrying a petition calling for military disarmament. His only companion was his goat, little Iowa, who carried provisions.
The petition, calling for all governments to “totally and unilaterally disarm,” wasn’t mailed to anybody because, David says, “I don’t feel like it’s finished. I might be off again. Besides, the act of assent is what really counts, not the supplication of the nation-state.”
Parts of the journal needed to be omitted because of space requirements.
The title is David’s own.
DAY ONE Morning
In Japan and Korea it is Buddha’s Day.
Hillwalking. Aries new moon, under-cover-of-darkness, wordlessly.
Deer manitou the first red-blooded being seen — off on the other side of our land cooperative.
Through the wild azalea blooming swamp, fearless. Deer my friend from long ago, totem power, protector and guide.
Unyielding dogwoods immodestly white, trees of crucifixion.
One simple-minded herd, its bovine flatulence silenced. Blumbering lummoxes, droopy headed and bloated, they frolic in Queen Iowa’s footsteps. They fling their heels high, twisting all that blubber and homaging her caprine independence.
Iowa traumatized but quiet, panting, too tired to eat. Still ruminating on this event’s significance. Looking back and back for her baby. Out now of her elemental home, my slave, and not so sassy!
(“Missy Miz Iowa, ah does fo’ you jes’ lak you needs. Yas’m!”)
Our little Iowa is so slow. Buck Lake Road, only half as far by this time as I had hoped. Weak from a year penned, she pants pitifully. I take heed, meander, nowhere but here.
She is learning to follow, perhaps in spite of my corrections. The rope stretches full length to her choke collar. She falters, I jerk. She falls behind less and less. Until panting, mind-wandering, more jerks, we stop just before she’s pooped.
Four cups of milk already from her today! A lot I am asking of her. She teaches patience. I teach her not to be afraid of, nor to shy from, drinking near the noisy waterfall sheen. When she begins bleating with wistful backward glances, I know she has rested long enough and it is time to move on.
Flashlight pen, “Nitewriter,” first use of my gaggle of gadgets.
Iowa, even doused with Oil of Citronella, keeps swatting mosquitoes. She has been as perfect as I could ask, keeping her rope’s distance. Here in this bramble field she is quiet and unafraid, just knowing I am next to her inside the tent.
Evening meal: hard boiled egg; couple of cups of Iowa’s sweet milk — with nutritional yeast added; Diann’s holy love gingerbread.
Fagged out! Just past Chaires.
Iowa remembers the way to return, scorns the march forward. Mournfully mutters with her face turned back.
The morning’s farmer, gathering his mail, “You’ve got your goat loaded down, same as yourself!”
There were two weak points in our system of which I knew before leaving. Both manifest immediately. A half-hour spent, a waste, looking for hand-rope this morning . . . hadn’t drilled a hole in the dogwood staff. Also: the night’s sleep on cool hard ground, deflated. Of course the air mattress had a hole, I knew it, but couldn’t find it in the rainbarrel back home. My raft for swimming the Apalachicola is, therefore, not. Repair must be ahead somewhere somehow.
These holes in my plan remind me: self-employed now, no longer within the safety of salary — that time has been torn; the order of the day is order; doing it right the first time, while insisting on not doing it, what they call, “right.”
Yesterday afternoon, first signature on disarmament petition! Young man pulled his car over, said, “I saw you walking . . . ” I handed him my note: I am silent, walking westward, carrying petition for military disarmament. He, as dumbstruck as I, then asked to sign it.
Oh what blessed relief to be inside this mosquito-proof tent with a steady high hum all around. Iowa, sitting silently outside, is swatting some. I massage her udder with repellent, and her face and her rear end, too. A few sand fleas inside . . . they had driven us away from the day’s last stop-and-rest place.
Iowa is giving over six cups a day and though I give her all the grain she wants, she nibbles less than half of what she would eat at home. She’s a kidless mother, lugubrious and despondent.
I eat the love-filled gingerbread over her dish so that, with the crumbs, she is infused as well as I.
Sleeping in the devastation of a clear-cut area. Before the packbags can plop, an immediate attack: a twinge of terror creeps in during the rush to drape mosquito netting over the hat.
(“Diann, I missed you with that first thundering step.”)
First person I met today; ex-Sheriff Raymond, recently deposed (the county is edging towards liberalization). There’s no denying this ole boy’s one-time shrewdness. But now, out to pasture with his big shiny roans and Appaloosa crosses, I really bamboozled him.
“Uh, hey, ah, you lost?” rushing out — was he walking straight? — from his house set a hundred feet back off the road.
I give him my note: I am silent. Walking westward. Carrying a petition for military disarmament.
A quick glance at my pack goat, a cockeyed twitch in his brow, “Well, uh, the pavement ends a couple miles on!” Before I can evince not a care, he catches himself, “Uh, can you read?” I can practically hear his mind add, “ . . . boy-ah?”
Dutifully I nod yes. Does he see, can’t he see, my smirking?
He takes my notebook and writes: Pavement ends, two miles.
So I write back: Tram Road West. I’m not really going west at that approaching intersection, but it will make “sense” to this good ole boy, and I do have some mercy.
He ingests this information, plots the coordinates and waves me on.
Dreams: Of a movie starlet explaining how many outfits of clothing she takes when filming on location.
I take note of my own clothes: T-shirt batiked by Sanjit with the big green letter “e”; the land co-op shirt we designed, sky blue, silk-screened by Glenn with a ferocious mosquito and the cryptic words “I Gave”; the stenciled T-shirt with the light-hearted deep blue sea dancers from “Blueberry Hill” by Linda; long-sleeve Army surplus green mosquito-proof overshirt, a size or two too big, from mama-in-law Janice; long tattered royal blue monk’s hooded sweatshirt for the cool shorthaired one from long ago at Notre Dame; summer straw Carribean wide-brimmed hat left behind at our house by unknown and unclaimed friends; mosquito net hat shield presently acting as hatband made in the last hours of rushing new moon duress by my long-suffering wife; wheat brown thank-god mosquito-proof getting dirty corduroy pants from TV money new two years ago; light seas green too thin Bargain Box thread bare corduroy pants now wonderfully pajamas clean cotton feel in nylon sleeping bag; one pair thin white inner cotton socks; two pair thick white outer cotton socks; one mismatched one blue one black “dress” cotton socks; one pair Yukon leather insulated recently black-gooped, dirty yellowed shoestringed, Vibram soled twelve years old, three inches over the ankle, waterproof and now black-brown, softly wrinkled, bought-in-Whitehorse, Hudson Bay Company take-me-anywhere-I-want-to-walk, my dear dear boots; not-yet-had-call-to-wear nylon strapped tan leather innersoled and cracking rubber therefore black-gooped outer soles, Rainbow Sandals, TV work shoes for the last year from the Tallahassee Taproot Juice Bar, my dress up (ha-ha) relaxation shoes and, also to be, fording-the-deep-rocky-bottomed stream walkers; not including the lightest weight sky blue nylon swimming trunks and the two pair of cotton boxer undershorts; but including the all-but-forgotten on these unceasingly sunny days and star-filled nights (three weeks now since rain) forest green nylon poncho and powderpuff blue nylon rain pants.
That makes seventeen various external apparel. In my dream I was mocking the actress for her six extra dresses!
Second Dream: Talking with Tanzanian president, Julius Nyere; observing his plans for pan-African socialism.
Been writing this sitting in the crotch of a tupelo tree in a small tupelo swamp. Stopped here to let Iowa drink. She’s traumatized still — though beginning, I think, to accept her fate. I can see her ponder, “Why me?” She refused all but a mouthful of grain this morning; hasn’t eaten much greenery; is now refusing to sit down and rest, been standing the whole time.
Not any mosquitoes or sand fleas here, curiously. Time to drink from the canteen of yesterday’s lake water. Move on.
Teeth rattling shepherd. Ex-urban density. Double slow time. All OK and fine.
Postcard request to Diann to mail food to one of three dots on the map — Scott’s Ferry, Gaskins or Broad Branch — all on the other side of the broad Apalachicola.
The message to her ends: “Picking up pace, strengthening, you take care. I love you.”
DAY FOUR Next morning
Bad blew the night away, whew.
Screaming dust spewing headlights.
Human shadows yelling “Go away!”
“Get on out of here!”
The two of us, Hulk and Cerebrus, despised.
Air mattress, Apalachicola ferry for backpack, leaking. Night on the cold hard ground.
No hairshirts for me yet, no thanks. Despite all good intentions to the contrary.
Iowa girl appears more and more camel- or lama-like, a beast of burden. Her drooping eyelids and dully bobbing head. Oh woe, oh woe! She is learning to heel well though — even in the faces of dogs, horses, motorcycles, sand fleas, horse flies, dark splotches in the pavement and all the other myriad capriverous creatures.
Dream: Climbing on and through the roof of Scotty’s huge hardware warehouse. There seemed to me to be no other way to get in. A store manager chastized me for my unorthodox entry, but because I was maintaining silence, I could do nothing but shrug, signifying that I knew no better.
The dream came straight out of last night’s confusion in finding a sleeping place.
There in the fast and dirty highway nightlights, I was looking for an air mattress patch. Entered Winn-Dixie and 7-11 neon everyday-everyday just folks. I retained my food chastity despite the allure of fresh carrot’s orange seductive glow. I am relying solely on what I have and can forage: dandelions, grape shoots, smilex, young blackberry leaves, cattails and on from there.
Ended up the night by befuddling three old beer drinkers and their yelping shepherd. Without their absent eyeglasses, none of the men could read my note, Where is two-sixty road west?
Throughout the slouching shrugs and confused silence, cricket masses screeched and scratched maniacally — caged in old freezers next to us, doomed to drown for lurking fish gullets.
Finally, in desperation, this choking town an unlocked maze, a note written while standing outside a humble shack: Do you mind if I put my tent up and sleep in your yard? Opening the ajar picket gate; to be met immediately with near hysterical cries, “Go away! Go on! Get out of here!” Me gesturing in the barely lit edge of darkness, (“I can’t speak.”) She, young, alone inside with her children, “No, no, you just go away.”
I leave immediately, slip sliding away, all deference and humility. (“I am so sorry to have frightened you, please forgive me.”) Bowing and scraping into the darkness. Soon thereafter to flop over a tree farm fence, sleeping in the soft sand of a plowed fire lane. No tent, just hat and mosquito netting. Sweet sleep solace.
The Dangers: Half dreamt I’d got amoebic dysentery. Scratched my itching rectum. Could even see the slimy worms crawling out, damn them.
I remembered the canteen, fully drunk, of untreated water from “Big Lake.” “Big Lake” Ha! Nothing but a Big Swamp. It was, however, deep enough to open its reed choked heart to the sky. Out there in the middle stood one lonely, stripped bare tree. Perched at its tip-top, immobile and glistening, a large pure white heron, guarding his waters. The bird said the water was safe.
Then yesterday afternoon, very thirsty and empty, drank clear but algae-filled ground water from a fifty foot wide pond. It looked like an occasional pond with grass still growing underwater. The pond was within a barbed-wire tree farm. Cattle had not been there recently. But then, again, I thought, what’s recently? Took some chances there.
Also remembered the qualms over potential dog shit bugs. Eating those dandelion greens at the church near Bradshaw’s on the first day out.
After briefly taste-testing a few, I washed a whole bunch. (“Mmmm! Hey, them was some good greens, too!”) Saw them next day in my own shit — a two inch length of gnarled greenish-brown, sort of like Iowa’s dainty pellets only bigger and all smashed together like twisted rope. All my other shit is light yellowing-tan, smooth and mushy — the fecal results of my dietetic simplicity: granola and “magma” (my personal concoction of dried fruits and nuts).
I prefer the stuff that drops out and hangs tight together. It’s picked clean and well-packed for delivery back to the source. I’m on the lookout for more dandelion greens.
The upshot of these scatalogical concerns coalesces in the decision to start using halazone tablets in my drinking water. Today I read on one of my plastic Wilderness Cards: “Tropics & Swamps: standing water generally unfit.”
This is all a bit of catch-up since I didn’t get to write in last night’s confusion. For the real clincher regarding sanitation, we need to backtrack to yesterday, midday.
Finally clouds! And a good breeze and me smelling myself, wafting funk to high heaven. I resolve to bathe and launder at the next opportunity.
Early in the day, we come to a stream, nice size, full up, waist deep, heading south under the highway. Oh water! Scrubbing salvation! No more stink-o me.
The stream is fifteen feet wide, shaded, with no mosquitoes to mention. As fast as I can, I put on blue nylon swim briefs. After all, what eyes linger from yonder jungle? From highway bridge? What mean little thoughts lurk shadowly therein? Perforce, a patrol car is the first mobile by.
I wade in, dragging Iowa along for her first swimming lesson. She swims well on this, her first time out. It’s not hard to see, however, that it may not be her favorite sport. She quickly gets her feet back on solid ground, drinks her fill and unceremoniously abandons me to my folly.
I begin laundering the clothers, amazed to find how the water alone cleanses. I use a little of the precious soap on the utterly dirty spots; the soaping is done up on the stream’s bank — no suds in the water.
As the water’s euphoria begins to wane, I notice a somewhat sickly odor from this stream. A vaguely familiar smell. Nonetheless, to be re-beginning again! To wash all the sad grime behind. Ahhh!
I begin wondering just what stream this is. Still dazzled by all this clean clothing, I lay out the patchwork flat. The dryed green grass, a frame for cloth colors catching a hide-and-seek sun.
The stream has a peculiar fetid odor, a negativity about it. Still, the water cleanses. I jump all in, jump out and soap up. Oh, the head gunk loosens, crotch lint fades, the arm pits dissolve wonderously clean .
Finally, I remember: our garden’s first free fertilizer, years ago, that smell so distinct and definite in the rain. This is Munson Slough, Tallahassee’s major cesspool outlet, running from only a few miles north, directly out of the only sewage treatment plant in town. Oh that familiar sewage sludge smell!
And so, water danger and water need. Water is food and water is clean.
As an addendum, perhaps as further warning, while finishing the last few sentences, a fast four-foot black snake slithered up to within three feet, checked me out and then slipped straight over to check out resting Iowa, fifteen feet away in the shade. The snake must have decided we were OK, but not being a friendly sort, headed back into the underbrush.
Yesterday afternoon, first signature on disarmament petition! Young man pulled his car over, said, “I saw you walking . . . ” I handed him my note. . . . He, as dumbstruck as I, then asked to sign it.
Using this flashlight pen gizmo that I bought for her Christmas present. My rampant gadgeteer greed.
Many self-referrents, correctors. Munson Slough debacle for one. Later today, another:
Walking up a quarter mile stretch of ferocious U.S. 319, heading for the dirt road into the National Forest. Am walking way over by the fencerow at the edge of the easement, nowhere near the road’s shoulder. Iowa is heeling nicely. She heels right side or left, depending upon which leg I slap before we walk. I also have a few non-verbal, non-voiced signals — whistles and whirrs. She “comes” now and recognizes her “name” as a three-note whistle. Anyway, there we are walking as usual AND . . .
Speeding shiny, somewhat souped-up, metallic blue pickup truck swerves way off the road, pulls up to us and the driver, all burly, gruff and indignant: “Hey, is that legal? I’m from the Humane Society!” He’s pointing to Iowa and her bulging packsack.
I look back at him, past his fat stupidly grinning daughter, I guess. Plaintively I place my hand over my mouth and shrug my shoulders.
“No speak English, hey? Well, mucho malo! Mucho malo!” again pointing at the goat.
I smile politely, somewhat obsequiously. I bend over, stooped down under the weight of my own truly heavy backpack. I point to my load, then at Iowa’s back and finally back and forth between us both.
Confounded, he sputters and fumes. With one vehement gust, “Aw shucks!”, he peels out, defeated.
Later, I considered notes I could have written to him: Is horseback riding illegal? Or, We both carry 20% of our weight, even-steven.
However, I’m glad I didn’t and glad that it happened the way it did. Made me reconsider my attitude toward Iowa girl.
He had a point because she’s not here of her own free will. It’s fine for a human like me to be as nutty as I want: carrying this heavy load, maintaining silence, eating weeds . . . and occasionally striking the poor little girl with my dogwood staff . . . yes, I am Iowa’s crucifier.
But (always buts), she does need to stay near under duress. Without me, she’s dogmeat or highway gore. I wish I knew a painless way to teach her, but I don’t. As it is, she is heeling near faultlessly after only two full days of training.
Nonetheless, she’s not here by choice and I am. The man’s concern was justified and instructive. My silence turned a potential encounter into a two-way learning street.
As a result, I make the following adjustments:
- From now on, at every rest, Iowa’s pack comes off before I remove my own. And as we leave again, hers goes on after I have mine all set and mounted;
- I remove half of the weight from her pack and place it in mine. I have stupidly made no allowances for her year of being penned. Will seek a weight ratio which is based on tiring us at about the same time, rather than one based strictly on percentage of bodyweight carried;
- I do whatever else I can to ease her trials. This evening it meant getting out of the tent — and opening the door to sand fleas and mosquitoes — to rub more citronella on her face and udder.
DAY FIVE Mottled overcast morning
Upon waking, decided that the man in the blue pick-up was actually BILLY GOAT GRUFF, also known as BILLY GOAT BLUE . . . the Great Protector of All Nanny Goats. I have known this character since my early childhood when my mother tells me of interminable listenings to the 78 r.p.m., “Song of Billy Goat Gruff.”
for the Handicapped
Why swim the Apalachicola?
Why climb Truchas Peak?
Why seek “Mountains and Rivers
Without End?” Why?
First bowl of popcorn
Hot cup of soup
State park rain shelter
Safe fast fire grill
Decent pasture, too.
Thank you, Lord
Thank you, Lord
I want to thank you, Lord
For helping me make good
On my chance!
DAY SIX Night, quarter moon
I hope Diann will hit “The Bargain Box” for a little rain hat for Iowa. That would be the crowning touch, the ne plus ultra of goat mod. If you think we’re a pair now, wait until then. Besides, she would really like something to keep the rain out of her eyes.
Rattlesnake I’ve eaten, fried alone in oil, shot by neighbors, tasted better than fine, lean white chicken meat. Wanting to live off the land as much as possible and to carry as little as necessary and to go for steadily longer periods without needing a mailstop “care” package of magma and granola from Diann. At the same time wanting to live according to the precepts of Buddha who abjured killing though did allow his monks to accept meat as long as it had not been killed specifically for them. Having one winter caught a baby rattlesnake at our homestead; having released it unharmed after three weeks of continued hibernation in the refrigerator, having encouraged its own venomous intentions towards rodents and others; having reenforced its natural harmlessness — or more probably its fear — towards humans. Knowing how easy it would be to club one to death with the dogwood staff; knowing that vegetable foraging usually costs more than it gives; knowing that lean unbled meat is the most efficient and complete source of metabolic wilderness energy. Considering that Buddha lived in a more southerly clime where meat spoilage is a more serious year round hazard and where vegetation is sufficient to provide all protein needs. Noting Buddhism’s ethical pluralism and the Right Perspective of eating from where you are. Wondering if rattlesnakes, then why not blue racers, kings, corals, armadillo, possum, wood lizards, turtles, grubs, stray children? Realizing that today at Lost Creek, upon casting this trip’s first fishing lure, I had become a hunter — and at that very moment listening to the ominous hoots of owls in the daytime. Reflecting upon the life of a nomad — its dull anti-romanticism, its meanness. Remembering the cloudy cruel eyes of the Greek shepherd I met in the grown-over ruins of a hilltop Turkish fort. Knowing full well what real red-blooded Americans think of panty-waists; cow-towing, perhaps, to the no-bullshit of he-man hunters. Visualizing the brutal violence the act would require and knowing how little courage it would take and how small a part of the potential violence in me that it would require. Trying to determine the implications of such an act relative to the petition for total and unilateral military disarmament which I am carrying and for which, partially, I am suffering. Considering the relation as well to the dogwood firestick that I burn little Iowa with — as corrections, of course, “for her own good.” Pondering whether to consider my nibbling of grape leaves, cattails, dandelions, smilex, partridge pea, blackberry leaves and all the food I carry on my back . . . whether that has anything to do with it or not. The same old questions of suffering. Wondering, finally, whether the native Americans, for example, weren’t simply fooling themselves in saying they only took from the animals what the animals gave of themselves.
Is there a question now (once there was): to walk softly or to tread?
. . . she’s not here of her own free will. It’s fine for a human like me to be as nutty as I want: carrying this heavy load, maintaining silence, eating weeds . . . and occasionally striking the poor little girl with my dogwood staff . . . yes, I am Iowa’s crucifier.
DAY SEVEN Friday Night Hoopla
“Chuck will’s widow! Check Will’s widow! Chuck will’s will! Chuck willow’s will! Chuck willow’s real! Chuck what is real! Check what is real!” First from a tree close to the left, then in the distance, then close to the left . . . temporarily competing with, but successfully ousting, an army helicopter droning eastward.
These metaphysical, and yet practical, not to say necrophilic or avaricious . . . No, simply to say: These gay Friday night bird blades out for a hot night on the ole national forest.
We’re in thick bear country now, set up about a quarter mile from an electric-fenced apiary, about the fifth we’ve seen. Tall pines interspersed with scrub oak and the dense ti-ti. Those hammocks are the daytime lay-up home of the black bear. Dense ti-ti a couple hundred yards from our tent site here.
This is our third night in the forest. No signs, no spoor, no prints of bear. But lots of smells and tracks of deer, possum, coon, some big birds. All the flowers are yellow! Is it the season or the soil?
While sitting in zazen today, I was given a blow to the head by an errant and be-zoomy enlightened grasshopper. I immediately awakened to the exquisite reality of a tiny hiding yellow flower. For fifteen minutes I had been staring without seeing.
Saw three vehicles all day: a National Forest truck-van; a road-grader (three times, back and forth) and a glimpse of a pick-up truck.
The road grader stopped on the third return as we were resting by the road. The man leaned back, took out a cigarette. Before lighting up he said, “Sure looks like it’s warming up today.”
So I smiled back as he stretched and loosened up in his high seat. I walked over and handed him my note. Either he was an extremely slow reader or he was just confused and sat there a long time, cogitating.
Then he looked at me kind of funny, sort of smiled and shook his head. From up high there on the throne of his Cat, he threw on the ignition and went bulldozing on down the road.
He never did get to light up that cigarette.
Because I am walking today mostly within a wildlife management area, I have not passed many clearcut areas. But walking back of Woodville on paper company land, I certainly witnessed the desolation.
Mile long three foot wide ruts as deep as my knee, every ten feet for hundreds, thousands, of acres. Struggling bits of green arms and legs, pitifully reaching from the graveyard to the sky. Bare gray sand, torn stripped limbs jutting grotesquely, never acceding finally to publishing’s tramp. The flattened mashed and soppy desert. Everywhere within it, sandflea heaven. Near a bit of marsh, mosquito nirvana. What price the daily news?
Halfmoon, full Swampnight
OK, baby, I’m ready for you to come get me now.
Sheer and utter exhaustion.
I’ve had my day in adventureland and, no thanks, no re-ride.
I couldn’t finish what was begun “In the Heat of the Fray.” There were too many mosquitoes and I was not resting, thoroughly dejected, on the wrong side of one more swampstream to cross.
So to continue from there . . .
All right, so the Ochlockonee is no big deal of a stream. Just some sort of stream of consciousness, about which more later.
I had decided to test our stream crossing abilities. There were unanswered questions: Can the sleeping bag’s air mattress effectively float our fifty or so pounds of gear? Will it capsize? How will Iowa handle swimming a river? What will the currents do?
So instead of heading south for the bridge, I go north to Pine Creek boat landing. A beautiful day, as I said.
We get to the landing about midday. The usual gawks from the dozen or so people there. I immediately head upstream into the woods to avoid the stares and impending questions. And to prepare.
Of course I’m worried that I’ll lose all my gear. Or that Iowa will give out in midstream. Or at the very least something will happen to make me look ridiculous to those people who will be onlookers as soon as I leave the riverbank.
I’m apprehensive and nervous, but thorough. I take my time, one step, one step.
I get the air mattress raft all loaded and tied and floating, say a brief prayer, pick up Iowa and cradle her into the water. We’re off!
The raft is a dream, buoyantly trailing about ten feet behind, tethered to my shoulder. Iowa paddles like Esther Williams and, but for my silence, I would let out a Johnny Weismuller yell. Ah, it was slick as a whistle!
Climbing out on the other side, I hear the kids who were fishing with their father finish exclamations of excitement and glee. As we’re beginning to dry off I hear the camper-tent fishermen’s words deflect across the water, “Yeah, but what’s he going to do on the other side? There’s nothing but mumble mumble mumble.” And another: “Yeah, well he sure did a good job!”
After the half-hour of putting everything back into walking order, I take out the Tao Te Ching and read my daily homily, today number eight. The first sentence is: “Goodness is like water.” How can I not smile and laugh in wonder! While gliding through the sunshine glimmer, I knew we could have kept swimming downstream forever.
But a few lines later, there’s a sentence of warning: “Water goes where men do not.” Oh, that old Ochlockonee of consciousness.
I know that there is a north-south highway only a few miles due west. So I takeout my compass just to double check direction (it still being midday) and face the dense tangle west.
Iowa becomes difficult to guide through the labyrinth of vines and
I soon find that the river’s not finished. No, not by a long shot. First I go west til I hit water, then I go north til I hit more water, then . . . I come finally to a big evil swamp lake. Jittery. Nobody knows where I am, me included.
Back at the river, with an audience, with boats and people nearby . . . a little nervous then, yes. But basically all fun and games.
Now, at this impassable 150’ wide swampstream lake, we must raft it again. Not fun. No game. Serious stuff.
Humbling virgin cypress, draped miles high with moss, motionless. Thin black bottomless soup. Moccasins?
I make three stupid decisions. First to try and swim with my sandals on. Second, I swim wearing my green “e” T-shirt. Third, I do not remove Iowa’s harness. (A catastrophic fourth decision would have been to leave her pack on — to use it as “water wings,” filled with empty plastic containers and inflated sleeping bag sack.)
Luckily, with the first two strokes the sandals come undone and float. I recover back to shore, but the mis-start adds to the confusion and worry.
The T-shirt is more leaden than I expect and the drag tires me into a mild panic.
Iowa nearly drowns. She goes under twice. I rescue her, towing her across with my hand under her head. The raft does OK. I’m weary and afraid. I begin silent cries of “Please God, no more water.” I put on my dry walking boots, hopefully.
Within a few feet, more water. Smaller swamps and streams, all wadeable — but Iowa hates even to wade. It was so sad to see her stand trembling after the near drowning, kneedeep in water. She stood there the whole half-hour I took to repack. She was so tired and shocked.
Just at dusk, we come to yet another deep swamp, though not as wide as the other. I rightly decided to swim it before dark. We can start the morning with at least the hope of heading upland.
So that’s where we are now, within easy earshot of the motorboats having their Saturday night fishing parties. At a much greater distance, but audible, an occasional muffled truck to the west.
We hear deep throated alligator growls; they sound like a couple hundred yards away. At the end of the day, we followed deer trails and that always makes us both feel better.
We’re about 5´ higher than the swamp we just crossed, sleeping under sweet gum.
We saw some fearfully big birds.
Iowa’s finally just laid down. She won’t lay down til she’s dry. I dryed her as much with the handkerchief as I could.
I hope we make it out of here alive.
(“I’m sorry, Mother Nature, I didn’t mean to challenge you. Hey, just a joke. All in fun, huh? . . . Now, how about letting us out of here?”)
Oh to be safe at home in my honey babe’s arms.
Twigs crack outside, strange growls, Iowa acts a little like something’s approaching.
I’m going to sleep. It’s the only way out.
DAY NINE Middle of Moonless Night
Intermittent sleep. Full-blown hemorrhoids. Hobbled to piss.
It’s the nervous tension. It’s all that dried fruit. It’s the lack of desire to drink the plastic-tasting halazone-treated swamp water I’m carrying. Besides, the halazone is two years past its expiration date.
All I can hope for is that, for some unforeseen reason, it should be this way.
Beginning to wonder why I left at home the emergency whistle I used to carry. If necessary, it could be heard by the boaters.
One of those laughing hyena birds overhead.
A woodpecker drumming on a thick dead tree — deep staccato bass, blazing away at twenty blows a second.
A ray of light through the eastern window. Motor boat drones. Numberless twitters, tweets and whistles.
What to do about this pain in my ass?
Dream: I am a prison guard. There is a minor but significant flare-up. I’m new on the job, so I write it up, not wanting to be seen as an easy mark. A few days later I am accosted by one of the inmates involved, a tall thin jet-black gleaming-eyed man: “Hey now, why did I get a negative report so bad? You know what that do to my record, jack.” I hem, haw and shuffle. I don’t know whether it’s my report to which he’s referring — it might not have gotten to him yet. Stalling for time, I telephone Central to see what report they’ve got out on him. While the operator puts me on hold, I ask the prisoner if he knows who wrote the report. “Yeah, you did, man!” implying, “Why you jivin’?” I hang up the phone and turn full face and say “Well it was a truthful report.” He responds “Yeah, it was honest, right on, but you know what it does to my record!” At that point I feel relieved.
I’ve only once had hemorrhoids so bad that I didn’t want to walk — during the mental hospital bit and then there wasn’t much cause to move around anyway. But two weeks ago, for the first time since then, they flared up enough to call in sick, one of my last TV working days. I attributed that flare-up to the stress of change.
Now again, here in this wondrous but severe backwater swamp.
I’ll tell you one thing. My experience yesterday convinces me that swimming the Apalachicola would be a snap.
The only reason Iowa nearly drowned on the second crossing, I discovered, was because I had not removed her harness. She hung up her front leg in a strap and panicked when she found it useless.
So swimming the Apalachicola would be no sweat. But crossing through the swamp forest on either side would be hell. Much worse than this. The flood plain is wider by far.
So I think I’m going to stick to the roads and bridges. I’ve had enough cross-country swamp experience. And have yet more to face this morning.
Still in this swamp. Same woodpeckers, same big owls, same noxious mosquitoes. A few false survey markers, old logging trails which disintegrate into deer trails, alligator mud holes, swampstreams forever. One more rafting swim, a couple of waist deep wades and lots of slogging. After a long quiet period at breakfast, we heard a big animal splashing behind us for a brief second, then no more. It was our rafting spot — and though I was so slow and careful, hard to believe that it is, I forgot to remove Iowa’s harness. Fortunately it was only a short 50’swim and no harm was done.
Whatever it was behind must have heard us and quieted for us to leave. I figure it was a deer manitou checking to see we were careful.
Hemorrhoids seem to be somewhat better — definitely better than last night. Never has the sound of the internal combustion engine been so appealing. I hardly can hear either boat or truck. Just heading west, I know there’s a road out there somewhere.
Lying here resting, head propped up on pack, covered with mosquitoes that, thank God, cannot bite through. A few extras are thrown in— tiny biting flies and some buzzbomber horseflies, too. Ah, the beauty of nature! Once again, technology protects via this long sleeve sweatshirt with hood and mosquito net hat.
I keep putting on my dry walking boots after these waist high slogs, hoping that I’ll not again need my wading sandals.
My granola and Iowa’s goat grain both ran out this morning. I fed her some sweet condensed nut and fruit magma. She gobbled it.
Iowa’s giving a solid five cups a day and, oh, so grateful am I.
Dusk just past
Well, if you’re reading this anywhere but as part of the deceased’s remains, I survived. But first, right here:
Tent pitched on a small ridge not far from “Yellow Creek.” The bombastic burps of bullfrogs; cricket’s clacking canopy; from the tree’s overhead: “What is real? What is real?” Frog songs sporadically punctuated with a streak in time — a long sucking gasp broken in mid-whine by thumpity-thump-thump, an automobile across the bridge a couple hundred yards east. The distant dog bark — I thought it was aimed at us. But it continues whether we’re silent or not — and we are now. The salve of this half-lit night’s symphony soothes even as it flows away.
After the last entry: We had just waded through one more disheartening swampstream, thigh-deep. Sodden and forlorn, despite the shining sun, faithful Iowa and I began once more to trudge west.
Onward and upward and up and up! and out! of that stinking slimy sluggish backwater goo. “Hey, Mr. Black Bear, Mr. Cottonmouth, Mr. Razorback, Mr. Gator! You all go on, you can have your never-quit skeets, your webs of jungle thorn, your creepy-crawly stingarees! This boy’s heading for high and dry.”
I first really knew I had it made when I stumbled onto a beatific bonanza of crumpled beer cans and “Posted” signs tacked on every tree. When we finally reached the road, we faced the blasted landscape of yet another paper company harvest. Even though we were out of the muck, we were still pretty low and depleted.
Out of the blue, an old man in a medium blue car pulls up. “You Puerto Rican? Cuban? Latin American? From right here, huh?” I’m handing him my little note as I notice on his windshield “Help America something-or-other” over a waving flag. So I guess he’s an American Legionnaire and I’m glad he’s obviously too feeble to hurt me, if that be his wont.
“Hell, I’m for doing away with all arms! You want me to sign this? Hey, I’m going down the road, be right back, see you then. You won’t take a ride, will you?” Forty-five minutes later, he returns, I’m resting. “Here, take all this feed for your goat. I’ve fed my hogs and calves, the rest is yours if you can carry it.”
Goat feed is the one thing I have concern for at the moment since I’m all out and there’s nothing but paper company land for at least another day.
“Sorry, I don’t have anything for you.” I hand him the petition; he signs as I’m taking the grain bag. It’s probably near 15 pounds. I fill the grain jar and empty granola container. How can it be? It all just fits, right to the brim.
That guy was some kind of saviour to me. He didn’t say much. Of course with me not talking they rarely do. He offered to drive down the road to a tiny store just barely in sight. Said he’d return with a bottle of soda for me to drink. I motioned not and thanked him with clasped hands for the goat grain.
When I got to that little teeny tiny store down the road, I met my grandma, Lyda. O, she was suspicious at first to be sure. Kept her hand on that screen door lock a full couple of minutes looking at Iowa and me.
But she warmed up quite a bit. In response to the last, recently added, line to my note — You are welcome to sign — she responded, “You know, I just don’t know what to think about that.”
I bought some sardines and crackers. Went out back to the spigot and drank a quart of water on the spot. Stood with her awhile admiring her azaleas and graybeard.
Filled up canteens with good well water and went on down the road.
North to Telogia, giving up on that Apalachicola swampland slog.
Last encounter of the day, two young rednecks brazenly blowing a joint. They zip past us going to opposite direction, nearly breaking their necks craning to look around. They throw a quick u-turn and skid on back. “Wha’ tha’?”
I hand over The Note, Driver, gruffly, “Well, no, I don’t think I want to sign that.” (“OK, OK, no need to huff.”) “Here, you want some of this?” (“No thanks.”) “Just walking around the country, huh? Can’t talk, huh. Well, that’s too bad, I’ll bet you’ve got some stories to tell.”
One goal of this walk — and of this life — is to learn to treat everyone fairly, equally. On the inside, I didn’t really do right by Sheriff Raymond; though on the outside I didn’t do wrong either. Silence increases a tendency to shun. As usual, there is a fear and a fright.
A newly discovered walking quota: one signature a day. I now have seven.
Self-criticism: An indulgent massage for my psyche? Cheap, lazy theatre? A trumped and trendy frivolous game? All of the above? Oh, I suppose. Yeah, some.
Dangerous? No, not really. People don’t want to harm. We are protected. Also in the stronger position. The less one has, the more.
We’re just a pebble-sized image, slung with a laugh between the eyes of Uncle Samson.
DAY TEN Here and There
“And God Said: ‘SHARE THE POPCORN!”
(“Aw, God, that damn goat! Shoot, all she ever wants to do is eat! Damn it all, look at all this green stuff here — grass and vines and brambles. Her favorites! Plus we’ve got all the water she wants here at this little nameless creek. Hey, man, this popcorn is only the second batch I’ve made on this trip. Naw, God, there ain’t no good reason in the world I got to share my popcorn with this walking belly. Or, maybe, you just don’t know how I feel about my popcorn.”)
So, having affirmed my decision — and having expertly popped a potful on the open fire — I pick up the pot with bare fingers and YEOOOW! Dropped the pot right there on the spot. Spilled half the kernels for guess who.
Moral is: God, too, is a Billy Goat.
Heading north on 67. Not too far to Telogia. Taking my time, long sunny days. Not going anywhere.
A plush Malibu Pontiac practically screeches to a halt. Two older ladies, both well-dressed, one with hair dyed red, the other streaked in silver.
“Where’d you get that cute little goat? How old is she? Where you heading? Ah . . . ???”
Before she can run out of questions, I hand her The Note.
Before I can brace myself for any kind of a response whatever: “Well, let me sign it!” the driver says. The passenger signs, too.
I’m probably more dazed than they are. They leave us with “That sure is a pretty little goat. Good Luck!”
Ten days ago, as Diann and I parted, I held up three fingers. She said, “Three months?” I shrugged (“Yeah.”) But as far as I’m concerned now, it could be three weeks or thirty days.
I’d like to help her put in the cistern, keep up the garden, be her helpmate.
“Tiger Rose, Tiger Rose, come in please. This is Peace Nigger calling Tiger Rose. Over.”
“Come on in, Peace Nigger, this is your sweet Tiger Rose.”
“Tiger baby, took our first flak today. Over.”
“M-m-m, what kind babe?”
Sitting in zazen barely in sight of road. Officer-of-the-Law pulls over, rushes up. Stentorianly: “Do you have identification!”
I pass The Note.
And I feel him crumble. It’s amazing what that note can do.
Regrouping somewhat: “Well, you can hear, can’t you? We’ve had complaints about you.”
(“Me?”) I gesture surprised, genuinely hurt.
“Yes, this is private property.”
We’re about 50’ off the road, no fencing, just dirt and pine trees, nothing much else. Oh, one little wood rat peeping out of a tree trunk hole as I slowly completed one yogic asana.
I write a note, You’ve had specific complaints about me?
He says yes, about being on private property.
All I can think of is that long half-day relaxing at the creek, laundering clothes, popping popcorn — and sharing it, however accidentally, with Iowa. Just lolled about there, even got self all spic ’n’ span clean, ready to go through Telogia.
Of course at that creek there wasn’t a house within a mile or more. We’ve been walking primarily through forest, some owned by paper companies, some of it national forest, some private. Nearly all of it unfenced.
But I do remember one custom pick-up truck which made a big point of cruising the bridge to see what we were doing there.
“You’ve been on this road for two days,” the Liberty County Sheriff’s Deputy says.
I’m not surprised that he knows that. There have been several vehicles I’ve seen three or four times.
But it is kind of interesting to know that Big Brother is watching.
Shoot, that’s no news. Everyone, all of life, is watching.
After perusing all the cards in my wallet, “Well, if we get anymore complaints, we’ll have to take you in.”
“So, Tiger Rose, baby, what you say to that? Over.”
“Well, big Peace Nigger, what’d you expect?! Over.”
So he gets on his radio, “Black male, license number —, blah blah blah . . . ”
No, I’m not wanted.
Yes, I was going to Telogia — which I overhear him report to the radio is only three miles north.
He tells me basically to get on through Telogia before dark.
I start on up the road, well aware that there is a potential darker side to all of this. But I do feel that the forest and swamp have honed me. Still, no need for useless confrontations.
So I go into evade and escape tactics. Instead of continuing on north, we head back into the National Forest, the public lands west.
I’d wanted to go to the post office in Telogia. It’s late enough now that it would have been closed anyway. I’ll take a “long cut” and get there on time tomorrow.
No big thing, this. But the private property issue opens a can of worms for me. I, too, am a landowner — as stewards, as well as others, are called these days. But now is not the time to go into it.
Sleeping in dense bush on national forest land, 100´ from the rails of the Apalachicola Northern. Will walk the tracks into town tomorrow.
Dealing with police as a neutral force becomes more difficult when they “attack.” All one can do is react with honesty and harmlessness.
Liberty County — halfway, I suppose, between Freedom and License.
At the Telogia Post Office.
Telogia, nothing more than a crossroads, a cinder block one-room post office and a general store.
The postmistress says she doesn’t know if there is a post office in Scott’s Ferry, Gaskins or Broad Branch.
I’m going to cross the Apalachicola on Highway 20 over to Blountstown where I know there’s a post office. Should take about three days. Will ask Diann to write me there. Would like to know what’s been happening with her. I miss her and, as I said, would be happy to be helping her with the cistern and the garden and life.
Our reception here in Telogia is revealing in that no one acts surprised at my silence. They seem to have been expecting us. At the post office, a sheriffs deputy’s only remark was, “Hmm, pretty goat.”
“Beating the edge too fine dulls the sword!” — Lao-Tse
A flat wet day.
Why do I beat Iowa so?
Why can’t she understand “please?”
Why doesn’t she know r-o-a-d spells death?
Why are all my clothes wet?
Thanks, God, that Iowa is dry.
Everything inside is scattered,
Soppy, sloppy as it always is
When water-water comes down.
Now for a cold clear windy night —
Good for our garden and good for our soul.
Nothing left, much.
Eating less than ever.
Still enough milk.
“Why you and that goat are the biggest thing to happen in Telogia since the helicopter landed in the woodlot!”
“Can’t talk, huh? Wanna beer? No, don’t drink beer, huh? Hmmm, milk only, huh? Hmmm, from Jacksonville? Tallahassee! How long’d it take? Long time, huh? Hmmm, goat’s pissin’. You’ve only walked one mile since eleven o’clock. Looks suspicious.”
While letter writing back at Telogia just outside the post office, an old man crouched over my shoulder for several minutes, squinting to read as I wrote. He seemed to think it was a note to him. I was too involved in the letter to write him the contrary.
While sitting in zazen today, I was given a blow to the head by an errant and bezoomy enlightened grasshopper. I immediately awakened to the exquisite reality of a tiny hiding yellow flower. For fifteen minutes I had been staring without seeing.
It is difficult to go into a post office, a store, anywhere. Left without me, Iowa starts bawling within a few seconds. I must keep returning to reassure her every minute or so. No one will do but me, she’s 100% specific. She doesn’t even care, particularly, for other people to pet her. Makes me feel right wanted.
Animal trainers must need to suppress guilt feelings. Parents must, too. Training involves the infliction of pain. This requires, at times, the trainer to urge in heart and mind, “Pain!” It doesn’t take long to figure out who the beast is.
Bought half-dozen eggs. Sleeping a quarter mile from county dump. Regroup tomorrow morn early.
DAY FOURTEEN By The River
Two weeks walking and a month now of silence. The “purpose” has manifested: retreat and regroup.
Time now to decide the next decision. Today.
The river’s unseen from here, in a pasture slightly beyond the bank. But the cool wet air and water birds flying tell me it’s there.
Iowa girl: short, stubby, invariably “cute” or “pretty.” Always preceded by “little.” Should call her “Little Cute and Pretty.” For days now, she’s been supplementing her browse with 40% protein hog rations. The stuff is primarily soybean meal. But it also contains fish meal and oxytetracycline. Not really the right stuff for a lactating ruminant.
Will call Diann tomorrow noon from Blountstown. Will break silence and telephone boycott at once. A full four weeks . . . Friday full moon noon.
Will ask her to come and get me. Mission accomplished.
Had to clear the slime from my receptors.
So now, clear road, which direction?
One day, one week, one month, one year, one decade?
Tomorrow: go home, rest, clean up, eat good, kiss and hug, look around.
Next week: a daily work schedule: one-third write; one-third homestead; one-third maintain.
A month: visit Koinonia; submit notes; mulch garden fully; build compost privy and drinking water cistern.
A year from now: more writing; livelihood of physical work outdoors; foreign work travel and language.
A decade hence: publishing, loving, parenting, boatbuilding, harvesting and sowing.
Last time I felt so high and clear and free . . . last place like this high cliff in the center of an oxbow bend, being eaten away as I write from under me; large trees torn below and with every breeze wondering if this earth here high will any minute give way; the predator birds — osprey, eagle? — twirling their way about the sun; the river itself, the roiling channel right at our toes, apex of the hairpin turn; fragile edge, windblown sky splayed and splattered, slobbering its beauty all over me . . .
The last time I felt so high and clear and free . . . was in the Yukon where the summer winds were colder still and the high sky was just as thin.
So why return home? Because this same sky is there, because my wife is there, because — having recovered this sense of beauty — I want to bring it home.
That little girl at the store, her look! Total innocence, unknowing of guile, no mask, without seeking. She was beaming at me: “Man, you’re beautiful! Goat, you’re beautiful! You two are beautiful!”
Beauty seeing beauty radiating beauty.
Diann’s first gift to me, Navajo Wildlands: “In beauty we walk!”
A fly of huge beautiful red eyes came walking here on this page, then flew to shirt, walked around a bit, and, for the first time I ever saw, shat on me!
An utterly appropriate last day first.
Tonight will sleep in Kerouac style — beneath the wheels of doom. Let God decide whether tonight is my night to die. If it rains heavy upstream tonight, this river cliff might cave. I’m sleeping right on the edge this last night. The view, the chance, is worth it.
Said I’d be gone three months. Damn straight, was too. A month in that swamp, two weeks in the rain, a couple weeks in innocence and a month walking. That makes three.
Silence — a sturdy tool, and surprise! a non-violent weapon.
Past Dusk Now
Looked like some kind of a weak cloud system coming in at sunset from the southwest. It engulfed the last of a red and billowy, smeary sky.
Thinking a lot about talking to Diann on the phone tomorrow. Hope this time has been as productive for her. Hope she wants me back.
Spent all day just watching the river run. Did move camp upstream a mile or so, much more secluded here. Higher cliff. Really can see well both up and down river.
The ionizing effect of all this running water must stimulate the magnetic field around an electric wire.
High here, wind all day and night, too.
Pray this cliff to hold one human, one goat and their gear.
The leaves whisper good night.
DAY FIFTEEN Dawn
In middle of night, I wake up to hear, “Ker-SPLOOSH!” The soft sound of earth sighing and heaving ho . . . part of the cliff not far upstream had given way. My heart leapt. I tremblingly rushed out of the tent to note that Iowa girl was no longer sleeping near the tent but was back out of harm’s way. I could hear God laughing out loud!
With due respect to Kerouac and humbled again to submission, in the full moonlight I move the tent landward twenty feet or so.
Besides, the sleeping bag’s air mattress raft had deflated and I don’t float in my sleep without it.
Of course, having moved, I did hope that the cliff would justify itself by crashing as my last footstep fell away. But alas, such an event did not occur. Just as well, I suppose, for who could stomach such melodrama?
Across the Apalachicola
Long long narrow bridge, the swamp four or five times wider than the river itself. The bridge, practically an overseas highway.
So why return home? Because this same sky is there, because my wife is there, because — having recovered this sense of beauty — I want to bring it home.
By a stroke of luck, or, as Allah would have it (always the last laugh), construction was underway and the bridge was one-laned. Much less danger from speeding cars.
Passing one of the work sites, a burly bronze black-haired worker grins at us in amazement. I stop, he pets Iowa, I hand him my note.
“He looks up, “Sorry, I can’t read. I’m Greek and . . . ” I smile, shrug and begin to walk on. Before I know it he has handed me a dollar bill, while flipping his other hand up with his thumb to his mouth. He signifies that I should go buy a drink!
So now I have been perceived as a mute beggar. That it should happen at a literal and figurative high point over and in the middle of the Apalachicola is more symbol and myth (and from a Greek no less) than this poor melodrama can stand.
As these two weeks have passed I have at once descended and ascended to that same status as the cruel-eyed but mystic brute of a shepherd I met in Greece. At the start of this trip, Iowa girl would never have been able to make such a run as we made across the bridge — not even without the goat pack. I goaded her much of the way, especially the last third when the traffic got faster and she had tired. In this context, “goading the goat” means to switch at and to thwack. Her rump was afire with the dogwood staff.
Waiting at the Wayside
Frightened myself walking through town next to big glass windows. Got a glimpse of self. Couldn’t stand to look . . . and didn’t.
No letter at post office. My silence is broken by a phone call contact with Diann. “I’m at your disposal.” “Disposable?” “I’d like to come home.” “Well, I’ll come and get you.”
Wild onion, garlic or chives by the side of the road.
Iowa’s milk off-flavor, from the fish meal in the hog rations.
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
Caught in silence. The only way to go on with the petition . . . the only way to go on at all, would be in silence. And silence is a cage as well as a shell.
Thoughts of “normal living” at home for a while.
She should be here within the hour. She sounded real good.
Would still like to walk to New Mexico and farther some day. But not alone. Perhaps with a goat.
The trip’s greatest personal failing revolved around Iowa’s discipline. After a certain point she should not have needed further corrections, especially on slowly widening away from my side. I didn’t know whether to persist in nearly constant minor corrections or only to inflict an occasional big thwack. In either case, she pulled down my mask.
I’m afraid I’d not like to hear her story.