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The Life Pastoral

I’ve been feeling lately as if I should be (or should have been) evolving. Not in the literal sense, although some kind of spontaneous flash mutation like growing gills or supernumerary phalanges or toxin-secreting glands might be fun, and of course being the launch point of the age of Novo Homo would satisfy that need to have Done Something Meaningful, but just not only acquiring but actually applying some wisdom to this accidental brush-fire I call my life. One believes one should extract lessons from one’s mistakes and act accordingly to not only not repeat them but to perforce forge new and more productive and salubrious paths as one ambles aimlessly toward death, and yet one continues, quite mysteriously and utterly without reason, to go a-strolling through minefields blindfolded.

Not that I’m actively firebombing my serenity at the moment, but I can certainly feel the weight of the Imp of the Perverse on my shoulder and hear his seductive whispers as he goads me toward blissful ruin.

I am drug-free, for the nonce, well-fed, decently housed, and living the life pastoral that so many have waxed rhapsodic about in prose and prosody, song and script, but I’m afraid I’m not exactly deriving any Walden-esque benefit from it. I’m pretty sure Thoreau was about 90% full of it anyway and regularly imported hookers and hooch in from Concord on the weekends to break up the monotony of cavorting loons and cricket-chirping.

For one thing, living on a large piece of rural property means constantly beating Nature back as she insistently reclaims her territory. She may be out-gunned and outmanned in the city and only gratuitously manifested through pocket parks, scraggly trees, pigeons, and rats, but out here she’s the boss bitch and not shy about letting you know it. Flora, fauna, and all their aggregate detritus vie aggressively for space, food, resources, sunlight, and blood. My blood. 

I don’t know what the mosquitoes out here are eating besides me, but it’s probably on the banned list of every sports-sanctioning body in the country. These pesky little (compared to, say, a barn owl) hemophages are the size of sparrows and two or three working in concert at advantageously placed arterial positions could desanguinate a slim specimen like myself in nothing flat.

Then there’s the spiders. I have always been the guy who scoops them up and puts them outside, but those are the small, polite house spiders one encounters in civilization. Out here they feast on puppies and construct their webs faster than I can tear them down. I saw one carrying a weapon (thorn) to augment his fangs and poison which struck me as overkillish, but for all I know he was participating in some type of crusade. I don’t know what the spiders are up to beyond what’s visible, but for all I know they may have rich and complex inner lives and societies rife with contention and strife. 

They’re nothing, though, compared to the centipede I uncovered under a pile of logs that made me want to climb inside an airtight lead container and never come out. Knowing that that beast, and surely his family and social circle, occupies the same acreage as me has given me a permanent case of the heebie-jeebies.

What there are none of, though, is free-range tweakers skulking around the grounds seeking saleable merch, nor wet-brained sots muttering incomprehensibly, and in six weeks I haven’t seen a single cop. Might there be a connection between the two conspicuous absences? I’m no sociologist, but I’m thinking maybe. The population out here is pretty well armed, though — and by pretty well I mean an invasion would meet some pretty stiff, Red Dawn-style resistance — and I expect the dirtbag population as a whole would prefer to take their chances with the constabulary, with a slight chance of terminal summary punishment, over the militia, from whom it’s guaranteed. 

I’ve already heard stories of unfortunates coming out to raid growers or steal equipment and leaving… well, and not leaving. Returning to the soil whence they came. Distasteful as prison is, and I assure you it is unmatched experientially in embodying that adjective, it beats being holed out by an overzealous farmer looking to justify the Second Amendment and hold the spotlight for a few days over at the diner.

Might’nt all this bucolic splendor be contributing to my devolution, though? Up at dawn, feed the chickens, beat away Sisyphus-like at Ma’s encroachment into the crops and grounds, fix this, maintain that, kill the other thing, wake up and do it all over again. It’s no wonder farmers are so famously dour, a la American Gothic. 

Looking as if a smile would actually kill you is a critical part of the farmer’s repertoire, like their crackpot sentimentality about dirt. Do not get a farmer talking about dirt, and I don’t mean nitrogen levels and clay content. That’s fine. Practical knowledge about your substrate is critical to successful agriculture, but when they start sifting it between their fingers and saying things like “this soil is in the marrow of my bones,” it’s “Check, please.” 

Dirt is dirt, and I’m mainly concerned with how to get it out of my clothes, which appears beyond the reach of commercial laundry detergents once you start fucking around in dirt-intensive environments like this one. The plain white t-shirt is an integral part of my wardrobe, like Brando’s, and mine are now all richly patterned in permanently ground-in earth. I suppose if you’re a “son of the soil” this is all very dernier cri but I claim no kinship with the land. I am a child of concrete and steel, dope houses and delicatessens, sound and fury, movement and transformation, action and information.

Then again, as I write this, sitting outside late-dawn, the sun is being pleasantly filtered through the leaves of a massive oak and dappling the powdery feathers of a mourning dove waddling by a few feet away. The constant underlying soundtrack is of the river rushing by, not traffic, which is soothing and agreeable, not to mention unbelievably invigorating to jump into after a few hours toiling in the hot sun. 

Scoring a bag out here would involve the kind of planning and logistics that I’m just too lazy to even contemplate, so there’s that. And it could be argued that every day spent not poisoning my body and brain represents (and is) a step forward in my personal evolution. So there are surely benefits to this life, although in the matter of my sobriety it feels a little like cheating. 

It’s like when I got out of prison. No way was I going to go into a meeting and collect a seven-year chip for my years inside, which is why I went ahead and went on a tear. Clear the slate and forestall any discussion of asterisks.

I will say this, though, in defense of the life pastoral. Last week I made the decision to have a brief recreational relapse, because of course I have the self-control to terminate my usage whenever I want. I was going to meet my parole officer on Tuesday morning, give him a clean sample and glowing report, get a small sack of the ol’ ringading, buzz merrily about for a day or so and be freshly flushed for the following week’s inspection. 

Because when that imp alights and begins that enticing sales pitch, I generally just shrug my shoulders and say, “You’re the boss!”, and it’s a wrap. This time, though, I actually did some thinking and the thing that I thought was, maybe he’s not the boss. Maybe I’m the boss. I can count the times on one finger that I actually resisted a fully thought-out plan to reinstate my active addiction and it happened here. 

Coincidence? Maybe. Spider venom? Possibly. Personal growth? Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

One Comment

  1. Volt Voort June 18, 2019

    Can’t Bruce use his heft to win you a book deal? I have The Letters of Wanda Tinasky on my bookshelf; you long ago surpassed ‘her’ as the AVA’s all-time most interesting and erudite contributor. As well, you are by far the funniest chronicler of the vicissitudes of the ‘old ringading’ life since the first batch of that stuff was cooked up for the Luftwaffe back in the day. Of course, I can’t readily identify who your competitors might be in that regard.

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