With rosy fish scales between his teeth, he calls this making love. The ax beside the bed, the room wet with chiseled glints of my skin. A rough cut hole in my black ice. He holds my sandy waist, kisses my shoulders, presses his temples between my breasts. I am deep underwater, watching him fuck the coat of a dead woman. His lips like thin mint, chilling my desperate fever. I have loved too many fishermans’ hooks. I can no longer hear my roar in the sea, I only see myself in its spit, the scum on the open mouth of storm waves.
Two-hundred feet away from my campsite rests the grave of John W. Hodges, 1905-1980. Beside him is another grave, with an identification that I can’t make out, except for the signature of a funeral home in Blowing Rock. Both graves have trees for headstones. Following a downy deer trail with Allens’ three black dogs, Annie, Bentley, and Mr. B (whom I call Grandpa Bear), we trek under a soggy hunter’s stand, creaking up in the top of an ash tree, and find a beautiful hiking stick, with a thick vine clenched in a spiral around the upper half. I use it to hike up to what the Allens call “God’s Front Porch,” and take a bath in the creek below. The wind pulls through tree boughs, carrying the smell of buttercups, mint, and soft cherry tree leaves. Ripening blackberries bob in the snaky grass. The river runs like a stalked doe; it shivers like the sun on the scales of a rainbow trout. The thin stream here sinks over stones, pulling speed and light with it, gathering more power and voice down the hill until it crashes onto ground level, roaring with its mouth full of river rocks, fallen branches, and pitiless force. Every mile on Elk Creek Road is canonized by its sound.
God’s Front Porch is perched atop a boulder, all sides of it scarred with moss and fungi. “You’ll meet God up there,” David Allen said. And I do. I meet God in the rings of dirt around my fingers, the crescendo of newborn crickets at sundown, the ocean-wide stretch marks over the moon. I meet God cramped in the sensuous curves where a branch grows from a tree. In the mockingbirds with their paper mache wings. In the blue heron that sinks down to tap the water, gold eyes blinking. I meet God, naked as a free bird. Up here, I want nothing.
Two days ago, I packed everything I own into a 5 foot by 5 foot storage unit, bought three laundry baskets worth of canned and dried food, and set up my tent in the forest of a friend’s 72 acre farm.
On the first night, the landowner David Allen and I filled up baskets full of mushrooms – lion’s mane that taste like squash, morel that taste like catfish, shiitake, and flares of golden oyster. Hen-in-the-woods grow wild in clumps on swollen firewood, and chicken mushroom, with the colors of a sunset, grow out of the river’s trees, larger than dinner plates. Our farm mushrooms grow from microscopic spores that we either sift into sawdust or inoculate into logs. It they stop producing for more than a month, we hoist the mushroom logs long side up and bounce them, letting 200 pounds of each log’s inertia jumpstart the spores into production. The logs are stacked into cribs, and they line the first gravel path up to my tent.
Using tips from outdoorsmen, from Alaska to Texas, I tied and staked up a tarp shed. The mouth of my tent opens a few feet away from a ravine, so the tops of trees are eye level. My nest. Rain on a tarp roof is better than the best drumming I’ve heard on a tin roof. It taps a Morse Code message, it tap dances.
The woods at sunup look like a big green moth, shivering on the stem of the earth. The river howls with miles of “OM,” dunes of currents foaming at the mouth. Independence Day is shaped as a bottle of cheap red wine beside the shadows that crawl like blue cats, and there’s a flood underfoot.