Monday, July 05, 2010
What if talking to the other side is like this?
At Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur, California there are 24 campsites that sit in a field on the ocean side of Highway 1. Quarter mile hike in, no reservations, first-come, first-served. On a busy holiday weekend, you and your husband are there texting back and forth – he racing around the field, vying with others doing the same, asking people if they are leaving to determine which site you can grab, you poised in the parking lot at the ranger station waiting to fill in the site number on the registration card. Cell service is unreliable, messages sometimes lost or inexplicably delayed. So four days after you arrive, stove, tent, camping chairs spread about site 15, your phone rings. “They took 17,” it says unhelpfully.
There is a boy of about ten running toward the climbing trees – two sprawling sycamores. His mother calls out to him from across the field: “Braaaaad- leyyyyy!” The boy hears her, pauses for the briefest moment, and runs further on, until he is completely out of her view before replying, “Yeah??”
At night, an animal skitters around outside the tent. Sometimes its form pushes against the nylon wall. You never see exactly what it is, and in the morning you aren't sure if you dreamed it.
After the third day without a mirror, you catch sight of a distorted reflection in the sunglasses of the guy at site 9 who lends you his can opener. You're startled by this image, like you don't remember it quite that way; it's unfamiliar, foreign, fleeting.
After all the fires are out and the beer is warm, people finally crawl into their tents and the quiet you'd hoped for arrives, though it takes a good while for you to relax into it because, conditioned as you are to a world of traffic and car alarms, you at first mistake the sound of the ocean waves for the white noise of the highway.
Your son explodes before you with excitement, his filthy fingers at his gums, the gap his first missing tooth has left glowing like the empty socket it is above his bottom lip. “I think my big tooth is coming in! I think I feel something!!” You look and look and can see no evidence of anything there, though you want to and he wants you to, so you lie and agree that, yes, you see it, you can see something.
Your husband feels a lump in his shoe and when he shakes out his hiking boot a live beetle emerges and walks away across the thick glaze of dirt. You see more of this kind of beetle over the course of your stay – shiny and large, their six sturdy legs steering them through tall grass, brown leaves, your tent. You don't know what their purpose might be in the grander scheme of things, but you are pretty sure they have one. You are unnerved by their confidence. You think about your college professor, the one who taught you about ancient Egypt - the stories of long-dead kings and queens popping to life in your mind as he spoke, as real as a daytime talk show but with more drama. You think about how the Egyptians revered the scarab beetle believing it capable of regeneration all by itself, how they carved it into amulets, wore it around their royal necks, laid it against the hearts of their dead, this unlikely messenger of the immortal.