The inclusion of the shotgun vexed me. I struggled to wake but the dream clawed me back, and like a man drowning I sank to a dark levee with the hum of insects loud in the dusk and a pale trail leading off at my feet. The pack was heavy. I was alone, and more alone than ever, and I felt that aloneness with each step. The levee curved away to the left and I left it there, dropping down a steep bank studded with loose rocks and out onto a grassy strip. Before me a midnight rank of trees.
A sense of dread enveloped me. As I stood there hesitant and afraid I thought of the shotgun nestled in the pack, and suddenly I wanted it in my hands. I wanted its power. Its protection.
True courage is internal, not external. Even as a voice whispered in my ear, I took one step forward, and then another, and slipped between two trees barely visible in the falling darkness. The insectan hum rose to a crescendo. Underneath it lay a silence unknown to man, almost unheard, expectant, like the quiet pause between the beats of a heart, a microcosmic slip in which exists the present and the future, life and death, knowledge and the ultimate question. Darkness swallowed me. I probed the ground with a booted foot before committing to movement. Another step. Another. A tightly woven web settled across my face like a wet mist. Fear jolted me. Where was the spider? Where was the spider?
Most dreams tend to be either nonsensical or include some totemic item. I think by now I’m stuck with a pistol or, if things are really hairy, a riot shotgun. The beauty of the latter is that just about anything within range is erased with one shot, and aiming is only loosely called for. I’m well aware there are exceptions.
Late one night in Las Vegas I stepped outside the guard shack into the sonic boom of a snarling German shepherd. I’m not sure who was more surprised though I can state that whatever traces of sleep I’d been fighting were summarily banished for the short term. Rather than panicking, which was my normal mode, I reached inside the door, grabbed a shotgun, racked a shell into the chamber, put the front bead on the dog’s teeth and squeezed the trigger. The explosion slammed the stock into my shoulder, lifted dirt on all sides of the dog and called down a deathly hush. The shepherd stood there with a stupid expression on its furry face, even as I stood there amazed that not one pellet had penetrated its hide. And at fifteen feet! A double-ought shell holds nine pellets, each the equivalent of a .30 caliber bullet, and all nine managed to miss. The pooch wisely departed before I could repeat the process. To this day I can’t decide whether the dog gods were looking after the stray or if I jerked the trigger and blew an easy shot. Needless to say, the incident insinuated a friction of doubt about of the lethality of a shotgun. And still it crops up in my dreams.
We consist of the accumulation of experience and emotion. The two are commingled, conflated, convoluted and compressed into a singular entity called memory, which is as often unreliable as it is reliable. Dreams are memories without limits, roving a wasteland fragmented with elements of the real and the unreal. Dreams are memories gone mad. And, sometimes, dreams, like memories, are a summons, a revelation, or a steppingstone.
The problem is in determining which is which. Coming in as it did on the heels of the two half-sorted memories and a geocaching expedition, the dream stood out like a guidepost. There was something honest and true about it, something that beckoned to me. Something that said, heed me: I have answers to questions you need to ask.
It always comes down to this: a journey elsewhere, and that first step, even if the step is backwards rather than forward.
Poor Steve, someone should have warned him to dress appropriately. We parked on the west side of Washington Lake and marched into the woods, our GPS units pointing the way, counting down the measurement between us and the treasure we sought. Four hundred feet, then less, but the thick canopy played havoc with the signals. Steve’s shorts left his skin exposed to the hordes of ticks, chiggers and poison oak, and he stepped carefully, altogether unsure of the undertaking. I bulled ahead to a small clearing spilling sunshine into the gloom, where winged amber dragonflies captured my attention. A ruin mysteriously engraved with stars and cats materialized from the thick vegetation. We were close, but the bearings on our GPS units swung crazily as if unmoored. When we were unable to locate the cache, Lori and Steve were eager to depart.
Reluctantly I followed, and soon broke out of the forest into bright sunshine. Between the entering of the woods and the exiting something changed, some internal structure, and I was again a young boy staring out through a bamboo thicket, or monkeying up an elm whose leafy branches held solitude, adventure and an insect that filled me with terror, and with those young eyes I watched the three of us pick off ticks and climb into a car and drive off, leaving me in a limbo of age and place under skies I could never have imagined when the world was of manageable size, and as the car disappeared down a long straight embankment I stood there with the woods before me and a strange new world surrounding me and I knew I would never age beyond this point, that forever and forever I would remain here, not lost and somehow not alone, recalling thickets and trees time had erased, and new marvels as well, amber dragons glinting in the sun, webs silvery in the darkness, and the incantatory drone of insects.
(Conclusion next week)