Images & writing from 2016, when I rode a bike from Spokane, Washington to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho to work on a farm for the summer
In an Amish-built cabin on the side of a forested hill in Northern Idaho, near the border of Canada, Anna lays on the bed, breathing softly in sleep. Earlier she had been ill due to a bad headache that had lasted most of the day. I soaked a towel with water from the plastic tank because there is no running water here, took it outside and spun it fast to cool the water through evaporation, then dotted it with lavender oil. I put it on her forehead, but it did not help that much. But now she is asleep, and quiet. I find it a strange place to come back to myself. I have been away for a long time, almost two years, since I left home and then no longer had a home. Even today I have no home, when all I want is one room to myself—a place that feels like I could stay there for a long time. I am done with searching. I want a place to call home, where I can store jars of spices, have an herb garden, make tsukemono, stare out the window at a scene that changes only with the seasons. I am not a wanderer but I am forced to wander, because I have not found the place yet that feels right. I know the work that feels right, and I know about the work I want to make. I know where to go to make it, and I know how to make it and what it takes, and I have what it takes. But I do not have a place to live. Everything else is frail without that. Beyond a month from now, I don’t know where I’ll be. I spend many hours thinking, figuring. But outside I cannot sit because there are mosquitos there. The hill behind me rises, pine covered, and then falls a little to a valley that runs to the base of a mountain. Below, further in front of the cabin, is a little pond where the mosquitos come from. There is no wi-fi, cell service, and to have neither where I sleep leaves me disconnected from everything that is not a few miles away. So I ponder and walk the paths that run around the cabin, up into the forest and down into a field where I pitched my tent to watch the sunset today.
Along the trail to the cabin we placed speckled rocks, and one large granite chunk I found further down the hill. Across the path by the pasture, below where my cabin is, and below the rock, an old road cuts down towards the pond, which lies to the right. Across the road is an endless stream of red ants, always moving to their knee-high pine needle covered mound by the pasture fence. Up the slope, next to the cabin I saw a confluence of ant trails, a meeting on the flat space of the human-made trail. They were all gathered around a rock, and many were coming from further up the slope, further into the forest. They all were carrying things, the ones coming along, but the ones around the rock had nothing. Some jerked around in alert-mode, ceaselessly moving, while some others were still, and still the endless stream of ants carrying things—an earwig, a piece of bark, a pine needle—swept by. They were moving downhill to a grassy area. The grass was thick, and I lost the trail. But here and there I’d see an ant struggling by with a plant stem, or nothing at all over dense grass. The trail entered a copse and I lost it. The knee-high mound some other ants had made, it couldn’t have been these, was some hundreds of feet further down the slope. But could these have made it? It would have taken them twenty minutes to go from where I stood to the mound. I did not see any groups or ant hills around in any other direction. Maybe they had traveled all that way. Anna and I thought aloud about why. Maybe, she said, they did it so the area around the mound wouldn’t be too exposed. Or too depleted, I put in. They’re smarter than humans, who cut all the trees down and then wonder why all the soil is washing away.
Life here allows things like ant-trails and ant-mounds, and beautiful sunsets and blue sky, and deer along the trail in the morning, and the scent of warm pine needles in noon day sun. Pulling fresh orange carrots straight from the soft soil and the scent of them, it allows that too. I weed on hands and knees, rows and rows of carrots, and it allows the time to pass by. But I am not being paid for this work, in dollars. And dollars are necessary to do anything in the real world. I am being paid in moments of reflection, moments of work, trying times and good ones, being paid overmuch in those ways. But it’s hard to see it that way, when the real world that normal people with houses, cars, things, and stability live in looks so out of reach, the world that part of me wishes to belong to, but another part of me isn’t so sure about. I remain skeptical of society, but not of human connection. Yet far away from towns, far away from society, connections are hard to find apart from the deer, and turkeys, and trees. I wonder what I am doing by trying to live some way that makes sense only right now. I am happy with the present, though, if I can find a way to let go of what’s next. One thing leads to the next, I try to tell myself. Be patient, and walk the path, I think. Like the ants do. They go into the forest, and forage. They know the sizes of sticks to bring, the width and weight needed. They know about other insects, how to hunt and kill them, and drag them back. They know how to avoid danger, to survive, to be back by dark or in a sheltered place. They find their way, through the grass, through the trees, to their home far off away in the distance, to their city, to bring back what they found out away from it all.