After sleeping in a warehouse for three weeks after my 5 month hike on the PCT, I find myself driving to Eugene one sunny fall afternoon to look at a home. I found it on a whim on Craigslist while dreading reintroduction back into "regular world." The people who lived on the property liked me immediately and in our email changes we communicated with a familiar language.
I am greeted by M, who shakes my hand and the shirt he is wearing tells me I am with my people. Local environmental activism. We walk around the property and he picks up acorns which he will dry, leach and grind into flour later. We talk about lichen and fungi dyes.
My heart breaks when I enter the main central building on the property. Filled with skylights, wood panels and that smell. Why is it that us more feral folk have that smell? A large wood stove anchors the room together and the walls on the southeast facing part of the building are just windows. A nuthatch crawls on the oak outside the window, chickens peck in the yard and a bobtailed cat suns itself on the couch.
I leave with my heart pounding and my fingers crossed as I drive back to my warehouse couch.
I move in a month later.
And, I sit. I sit and I stare out the window of my small yurt dwelling, perched up on a hill, surrounded by oak, pine and swaying usnea. I make a small altar at my own southeast facing window, where I watch the glow of the sun come up over the far hill. Sometimes, it lights the lichen up in the canopy first. Setting the whole place aglow, with brilliant shimmering mossy light reflected out of billions of dew droplets.
I pull out my old friends one by one, my crow bones, my squirrel bones and fox from a box labeled "WITCH SHIT". They feel cold, as we haven't seen each other for almost 9 months. My bone throwing set feels coldest of all, I breathe on them and they stir a little. They need fire, warmth, touch.
And so I make fires, as it's my only source of heat. I set the newspaper up, the kindling and wait and watch. "A watched fire will never lite correctly," I tell myself.
I track mud into my room, lichen finds its way in and into my hair, alder sticks in my bed.
At night the rain hits the oculus skylight in the center of my roof. I panic, my trail mind going into survival mode. The drops sound like a leaking tent wall, and it takes me a little while to find the rain soothing during cold times. But isn't that for the domesticated? I ask myself.
How to I keep my feral creature awake?
The deer family, a small herd of doe and their young, greet me on my dimly lit morning walks down to the main house for coffee. Fine mist swirls in the air and fills my lungs. I hear them bounding off in their elegant leeps thunk! thunk! thunk! Hearing the ground bear the weight of their lithe prancing bodies, they look back at me with caution. My favorite is a young buck, the cutest of all.
I brew coffee and watch him out the window eating the usnea and the fallen lichen. His fur is thick and ruffled in some spots. He turns away and follows his mother up the hill and into the forest. My landmates wake and they make bird calls to each other in the morning, while coffee brews and eggs turn white in bacon fat and well conditioned cast iron.
The anxiety of the rain never leaves me, I still wake sometimes at night and panic a little.
Going To Town becomes an ordeal of maintaining my anxiety levels. I can breathe right when I finally get home again. But the town holds me better than Portland did. I see the usnea hanging from rearview mirrors. At the small grocery store, I buy dried pineapple and the old man behind the counter wishes me a happy solstice, instead of happy holidays.
Eugene was an old bastion of green anarchism and radical environmentalism, since gone silent. Much that is wild and feral seems to be going silent as time passes. You can see see it though persisting like dormant seeds in the soil: in the bathroom graffiti, on the street corner, in quiet passing conversations, back patches and zines left to be seen.
On the solstice night, coming up from the house after a shower a wren flies into my room - in the pitch black dark. I try and try to shoo it away, but instead it roosts in my oculus and blinks at me. I shrug and eventually put myself to sleep. All night the little wren sleeps quietly. We wake at the same time, right as the sky begins to shift into light. I open my door and it flies away like nothing has happened. I feel it was an omen, but of what I have no clue.
I keep sitting, for a month. I cry a little, I develop a romance with someone to distract me, I try to write but I cannot, I sit in hot springs and see the decaying leaves of Aralia californica, drooping weeping, my body aching for warmth and I stroke the lines the sun made on my body, remembering. Nothing can come out. Nothing wants to come out.
Every night I dream about being on the PCT. Sometimes, it's snowing and I am still out there. Waiting in some warm building wondering to myself why am I waiting? It's done. I did it. Go home. Then I am filled with sadness and the deepest longing.
Sometimes I accept and refuse my post trail depression. Mostly, the sitting was deep metabolization of... everything that happened. And I loved it, I swam in it, drank deeply from it.
In those last cold Washington days, as I approached the Canadian border I knew, I was going to find my witch hovel in the woods. Where I would incubate myself with plants and spirit and fire.
And they must have agreed, because here I am.
My mornings now filled with incense and water in offering to the spirits of this land, to my own spirits that watch over me and walk with me, and to my ancestors. I write my dreams down and pray for more rain, as our winter so far has been so dry. It makes my nerve endings feel sapped and brittle. Like usnea left to dry.
I snap dried alder twigs for tincture and pour pine pitch salves, I set the florida water out under that Cancer full moon. I find my flow. I let myself sink into the difference of now vs. then. I manage to find ways to make myself suffer for my pleasures. For the goodness I have.
Funny, how for some of us, we feel we must suffer to have good things and so we create this ourselves. "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven," I mock to myself. "So the John Milton says." Sometimes I tip my head back and cackle at myself.
I find my plant allies that will help me with my mind and they soothe me.
A wind rattles through the trees one night, leaving piles of usnea glowing on the ground. They mesmerize me. If I am so attracted to them, they must be attracted to me. So I collect them, they fill all corners of my room. Leaving the scent of air, the trees, the wild.
Which I try so hard to keep within me.