When I was wilding with Bill Plotkin and Ganeen Hagan at the foot of the Tetons, our mission was to go out solo during the night. Seems straightforward, somewhat simple? Think again. Of course they let us know that we didn’t have to do this mission, which to me is like the gauntlet being thrown down. So much happened that I can give you but a dim account of it.
I wait for darkness and then wait a lot longer, a civil war ensuing, but the brave ones win. I come out of my warm-ish tent – it was August but damn cold, and start to stumble in the dark toward the Snake River. Noises of the night abound, somehow amplified in the dark. Branches snapping, Wind rustling the leaves on the trees. Things run past me. With each sound, I freeze. Ok, I’m terrified but determined.
I find my way to the river and crouch down to gaze down at the water, with the moon reflected on the surface, wavering and dancing. I stay for a long time, until my breath slows and my fear is gone and then it happens; I slip under the surface into the depths below. I’m surprised and then I’m not, that I can breathe underwater. There’s a feeling of lightness and freedom. I’m aware of my body dissolving and I continue to breaststroke, seemingly without arms. I take on the color of the water, inky black. I let myself stop swimming and sink and finally settle onto the bottom of the river. It’s both rocky and sandy. The rocks have been polished by the river and feel smooth and glossy. The sand is soft, thick, and takes the imprint of my body, which is odd because it’s gone. I wait, drifting into this present underworld, where knotted coils of rope unwind, where feathers floss by, and a few tenacious reeds bend and bow in the current. It’s quiet, with a different silence than one might think – it hums. After eons, there’s a calling, a thin strand of song like a thread that wraps around me many times and pulls me from the bottom. I hang from the thread, limp, motionless. The surfacing is shocking; painful, has me gasping for air. My limbs return and I swim to shore, dripping and exhausted. The cold becomes insistent and I have to move, crawling like a baby, then a bear and unrolling to stand. Somehow I know the direction to head and find my tent.
I curl into a little ball. I sleep. I dream of a line from John Ashbery, “..Yes, you are a secret and you must NEVER tell it – the vapor of the stars would quickly freeze you to death, like a tear-stiffened handkerchief.”