Reports from the North

For years the curious reversals ensued: inside out, outside in. The word existential

swarmed every phrase, like a horde of insects that strips a carcass bare, and then,

massing, adopts the skeletal form—for a moment, before it disperses. You can see

the complications here, self-loathing attempting to exit the earth,

gracefully, somehow, gracefully.

The self-examination looms, cumulus the size of cities, yet all this indicates, really,

is summer, and barometric pressure. The summer tanagers dart through the trees.

A cord of wood sits disheveled in the heat. I had to dismiss most of my contemporaries:

the slick, the proud, the careerist. But who am I to be dismissive? I, too, favor

the lee side of death.

The way light infuses leaves: what allows them life illumines them. This is no

metaphor; it’s chlorophyll and sun interacting. Chemicals and an ordinary star.

I plan to present myself to you that way—permeated—upon my return from these

hinterlands. I’ll have changed beyond recognition. Still,

you’ll know me by my silence.

Birds, staccato or fluid, tease me with their utter frankness. They urge me towards joy,

though they have no such tendencies themselves. All day I walk, a vague destination

in mind, lured from my rote despair, from all my interior noise. Today, their calls

frame my arrival, so that my journal reads simply:




Waning summer. Grasses nod and die. The leaves are brittle, brown and drifting,

as the hawthorns and oaks abandon them. Jays and squirrels and the wild pigs rummage.

Life scrapes against death. It may be time to return to you—but then again, autumn

holds its own dry promise, an enticing stagnation. Where else but here could I enjoy

such a temporary death?

Transformation: slow, painstaking. If I could only find a niche, a kink in the bland

continuum. Sunlight falls on bare trees differently. People lost to me visit in dreams.

The soil slips into a chemical trance. The volcano here is no longer impressive—flame

and chaos give way to soot. To ash. Soon the crater, the afterimage, is all that’s left me.

Absence is all I crave.


This life in nature is mostly illusion, no more or less false than the cities, the pixels,

all the arcane social signals—but mistaking fact for romance here, you see, can be

deadly. The few potent moments when nature pierces my blindness: these can’t be

denied, or turned away, or tethered to moods or cultural norms. They shred the centuries;

they flash with the certainty of sun.

The sky, laden with versions of  wind and water, becomes a copious self. The autumn

rains drench dead vegetation. Boat-like leaves soften and breach. They drift. They sink.

In our youth, we’d voyage into one another, encounter new lands, and new species.

It’s like that now—I’m reeling under the clouds, drunk on a pungent liquor

distilled from the local grain.


Gray as background, as foreground also, as both light and shadow. Gray as figurative,

gray as still-life. Gray as landscape on the grandest scale. When the glacier shines in the

predawn light, it emits a most peculiar gray. A sheen that refuses the world, and yet

is the world as well. Even now, a big grizzly sow is making her way, seeking her winter

lodge. And yes: she’s gray.

I too require a range, a foraging ambit. I seek the crook where the river pauses, the ripples

slowing to ice. As still as it seems, the landscape flexes. Winter is of course an embrace.

So I trace the edges, the cuts, the folds. I slip into fissures, into subjectivities. I lose any

sense of sequence. The earth presents only itself. A mound of dirt by a badger’s den

exhales into the sky.

The light is ruined, is all the more gorgeous. At the river, one last spot of deep low sun,

one last hatch of stoneflies. Salmon amass, bruised by the spawn. There are traces of frost

in the little caves among the old lava flow. Above, an osprey’s nest, abandoned, massive,

tilts in a snag. O lopsided, regal, dead: it won’t withstand

the oncoming storms.

If only the insidious fog would clear: I crave an up-thrust sky. A blue bucolic void.

Here—no catch in the voice, no cough. No traffic crawl, no signage. No institutional

slag. Here—only motion, as air shifts and separates out, then sweeps back on itself.

And blackbird flocks that diagram the air, that move in their medium as the medium itself

moves, and then disappear.


Layers of absurdity stack, debris in a winter flood. Winter floods my ears and mouth.

My sinus cavities fill. World is mute, distorted. I see there are tendons of ice. Fields

of waste-grain. There’s the old unknowing wind, and the cawing of laggard birds.

My love, the distance between us implodes, seeps into the air between my body

and the wool I gather around me.

I’m against the cold philosophies; for me they’re a bed of stone. Still, I sleep.

Arrogance, aggression, angst: necessities of the moment. I sleep, but each morning

gather my bones and rise. Each small resurrection edges me towards freedom—

not separation, but the will to weep, to claim my fellows, magnificent or crude,

as one-in-the-same, as my own.

Genius loci means: cusp of storms. Hunkered down on eroded banks, unquestioning.

Upslope to aspen draws. At the base of palisades. Edge of snowfields. Matchstick

trees. Hiking among the burnt black snags, among the tan and dormant hills, I recall

shakuhachi and koto music: a certain stark wasting away, and yet a persistence.

I sidle into the carbon cycle.

There is the urge to live a-historically, subject to no era, apart from political whims,

arbitrary power—the desire to edge back into the woods, “deliberately,” and “dwell”

there like a foraging insect, among the furrows in the tree bark, amid the torrent of age-

old silences. But the urge to live a-historically cancels itself even as it’s enunciated:

romanticism up in flames.


I emerge from my cedar-log cabin and blink in the sharp sunlight. My house is cold,

composed, and yet it smolders in the sodden woods. I have to announce something,

in public. Today of all days, just when my star is gleaming, there at my feet, in the lime-

green moss. Scale dissolves. Pale fungi droop. Origins dissipate. Empires decay. Yet

the earth slick with ice still excites.

Clumps of snow in the branches, white blots, each a node where sky, tree, and water

intersect. What we’ve forgotten: wonder, neither bucolic nor piercingly abstract, not

innocent, but a gauze that reveals by thinly veiling. How strange we’ve become to one

another—each with his secret path of fascination, while the whole field withers

under god’s draughty gaze.

Rosehips glower among the brown canes, against accumulated snow. They signal,

not passion or remorse, but starch and protein for stray winter birds. Assume the loss

of the most basic privileges—return to your house tonight, and see if the key still fits.

Food? All gone. Warmth? Dispersed. The mountain grasses, dead, exposed. The secret

hoard of chlorophyll, spent.

Earth, as ever, is pockmarked and scored. Snow in clefts, and a row of slumped cedars,

trace the contours of autonomous nature, the comings-and-goings through the corridors

of time. (Curved corridors, to be sure: circulatory, fine.) Edged with minerals,

suffused with thinning oxygen and ice—the mountain itself

a splinter of existence.