Sunday, January 22, 2012

Letter from the mountains

Hey, man,

It's been a long time! I was glad to receive your letter. Mail doesn't often come up here in the mountains, and it leaves even less often! So this will reach you some time after your generous message. Sorry about that.

Yeah, I moved up here to become a mushroom hunter a few years ago. You shouldn't be so surprised! You know I've always searched for the things even when I didn't want to, and none were to be found anyway. They call to me, across the dark miles between us, until I am kept awake at night. I don't always know where to find them, but they call to me still, and I have to look for them.

No, it's not a brisk trade in mushrooms, you're right! There are eccentric chefs who come to me for my eccentric selection, but they are rare and don't always give much. I have a peppery variety that they all seek: I won't tell you my secret for finding them, but I have to hang off of steep cliffs and search for dark holes under the shadows of knotted pines. It's treacherous, but it has become indispensable to the local cuisine most recently; and it adds color, a deep blue with reddish orange. I found another variety only once, but its price was enough to keep me fed for a year. Yellow and curled, it looks much like a banana slug but its flavor and texture are distinctly... well, it reminds one of a woman I am told.

Most of my business is with the local folks, who are really just looking for some sort of fodder for their animals. Nothing grows well here, nothing but the mushrooms, and so I do well in volume: the big, white and beefy varieties get me enough to live on in trade, and the gratitude and trust of the herdsmen surpasses the rewards given by the rich chefs many times over.

Yes, it's a pretty solitary life, but I don't feel lonely except at times. At the peak there's a ring of white stones, oblong things tapering off at the top and carved hundreds, thousands of years ago, and they pose as if rising up to guard the sky. I talk to them, there on the peak, and though they do not answer I know they understand. They gather around, and I tell them all I have to say, and then I go away.

At the full moon I meet the tattooed woman. We meet there, among the stones, and then we pass the night in a mountain hut and I follow with my finger the many-colored whorls that cover her back, her stomach, her breasts and legs: the traces of men she has known before me. The most recent stands out red and inflamed. But I cannot rest when I am beside her, so I watch her sleep. And when her breathing slows and softens, the tattoos fade and disappear until she is bone white beneath the moon. And when she slowly wakens, they appear again, each in their place; and she is beautiful white, and she is beautiful colored with tattoos.

I don't know her age, but she remembers a time when there were oceans of ice. She will eat any mushrooms I give her, but does not seem to need them; I too eat sparingly. I have lost weight since I came here; the skin on my face sags a bit now. The way to the peak leads through a nest of spider ants. They are small, but the many tiny fangs, hundreds, thousands at a time, add to a terrible poison and I vomit and find it hard to keep down food for some time after. I tried after many of these attacks to find another way, but this path is so much faster, and I always seem to get lost among the trees when I go any other way. Besides, I don't really believe there is a path that doesn't lead through the spider ants. I can't imagine how their bites satisfy them, because the small amount of blood is nothing even compared to their tiny bodies. But I guess they need to feed themselves, and each other, somehow.

The tattooed woman has begun to write in my flesh now, and I'm afraid it is indelible. Fresh, it stands out on my skin. But the tattoo is magnificent, black and shades of green in a tight spiral near my navel, and by it I remember her. Once she felt all my body without preference, but now she begins there each time, touching the tattoo like a groove worn from marble.

As I watch her at night I listen to the mountains: their solidity is so heavy on the heart that it makes me gasp; and yet I keep listening, I want to hear. They are protecting me, all of us, from some terrible fate. The world might fly apart or something, without them. So I listen and I feel better, safer, for it.

I hope you and your family are well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A letter from earth [take two]

Sorry, sometimes the best and most romantic stories we can make up don't end the way we might hope.


Hello, I received your pigeon. An amazing bird of rainbow colors; so few I have known know where to go. I will return him to you; I hope that he will find his way.

I wandered on to your camp the other day, and I was so glad, my heart flooded for the mere promise of a world other than mine. And then I saw you, your raw flesh pink in the darkness and your long, black hair a net with trailing threads, waving in the wind but always centered on your small head. I saw your smile flash now and again behind that eddy, and your teeth were brilliant in a small mouth.

You were enjoying the snow.

I guess you don't know what a snow drift means to me, who have for so many years waded through the darkness of ice and longed for the brilliance of the sun.

I was there, next to you, and I was pleased with your joy, but did you think what it means to me to look at the cold, the everyday, that is constant and unchanging in my life? If I have seen snow, I have seen it piled over my life: I have seen the smallest flake on my textbooks for school and I have seen it rising in drifts when I went to a funeral. A wedding is dug out of the banks, and the few green trees I have seen in my life were pushing only the most pitiful, shriveled buds out from behind hard ice. That cold ice is everywhere: we build our houses in it.

I admit I have taken a feather from your pigeon, or more than one: the green that is familiar from those striving trees, and orange, that I only see as the sun sets. It only flinched a little, and a single drop of blood fell on the snow.

So I have a calendar that advances. It tells me from a history unknown to me that I will always see this world. I will dig, and I will dig, and you wonder why I might want to rise above it into the clouds that are made of small drops of water; they melt in the sun, but nothing melts here. My stomach, like the ice, is one hard, twisting space, without release.

But you beckon to me. You beckon to me with your beautiful vision of what great expanse, a world of emptiness that is warmed by the sun, where the beginning becomes the end over and over.

Your birds are dirty, and you ride naked. I will cut into my dark expanse of ice and go to sleep, but never forgive that you thought you were better.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A letter in flight

This is dedicated to Grace Jones, an eagle Operation Wildlife attempted to save after she got lead poisoning. I didn't meet her myself, but a friend who volunteers there held her when she was first brought in, and I followed her story on FB. She was a beautiful bird, but unfortunately she didn't make it.

They do good things at OWL, check them out.


Hello again,

I'm high atop the clouds, my tribe a black cloud of feathers against the sun. From up here I see your ice and frozen trees, glittering and glinting in that same sun. The wind is so cold up here, in my imagination it is warmer where you are if only because there is no wind. But here the sun heats the black and gray wings of our birds, and I think it must be warmer than under the ice.

When I met you I was thinking of the snow. Snow may fall on us, on the run, flying through the streams of wind, but it never collects. Only once a year do we camp so close to the ground as where you and I met: usually we are in eyries high and precarious, and the snow only piles into small fingers. But I think I was smiling when you found me; there, so near the ground and on a wide plain, the snow rose majestic in great drifts, far over my head. My tribe and our birds slept on a windswept cliff, and I smiled at those drifts, and you came.

You said you dreamt of those heights, of flying. That all you land-dwellers, in your pillars of ice, dream of flying. I didn't tell you that I dream of the land, the snow and ice, where I can stop and trace the movement of time. We circle, round and around the world, always escaping the horror that chases us, and hoping at the same time that we don't overtake it from behind. Every day is much the same, and the sun is always ahead, always ahead. But you see the sun cross over you, and you count the seasons. I envy that peace.

And so I say I beckoned to you not for you to live a life of comfort, or even to live the best life you might, but because I wanted you with me, and because you never beckoned to me to come with you.

I will send this letter by pigeon; he will await your response before returning to me. He is most faithful. We fly in a circle, of course, and so he will fly the other way to find me. I hope he will escape what follows, and we may meet again.