One small thing

This is the color of November. Mainly gray, with dabs of red and gold. The trees have just enough leaves to remind you they once had more. And so the season bends towards absence. A harvest, a feeling of fullness, followed by a scouring out.

And so he has come back to the trails to clear out his head and each time there’s a reckoning. Combing the trails is like grooming the crap out of your head, cleaning the traps. You can actually feel your head opening. That and the fresh air, the smell of leaves. The look of it matted on the thin trail, stuffed with leaves. And the swooshing sounds they make like corduroy.

These are hard times, but they always feel hard so you can’t tell when it’s really the end. We’ve never come to the end (or anyone who has didn’t write it down). Maybe it’s a pre-apocalyptic era. Or a halo effect from the pandemic. Getting outside is either a form of distraction or a return to where we belong. And this time he just wants to follow the trails toward the sun with no regard for mapping it. Just wandering. Following trails, making the right turns, it’s all a metaphor for life. And this idea of the journey more than the destination.

A while back he taught a backcountry navigation course with a mountaineering club. For the exam they went to a patch of deep forest with no real trails, just coordinates. Students had to use their compass to work their way across the forest. There were maybe a dozen turns to make and that’s where he learned about coarse navigation. You could make small errors with each of those turns but somehow the errors canceled themselves out. Most everyone popped out at the right spot. A metaphor for life.

But he couldn’t help thinking about video games when he was out on the trail, because this was the same park they’d first come to after he’d discovered the video game he’d now been playing for a year. When the pandemic started they bought a game console for the kids but he knew darkly it would become his and it had, a place to disappear. Like the woods, but in the game he had exotic weapons and the very real thrill of killing or possibly being killed, that mimicked life.

He’d heard on the radio that since the pandemic, one of out three people were now clinically depressed (it used to be one out of five), but many others were also languishing. And that meant they were on the edge of depression but not getting treatment. So he wondered if he’d fallen into that category. Or if the video game had become a new kind of drinking since he’d quit that.

The trail through the park reminded him of the day they were out walking with their kids and he’d first played the game, he just wanted to get home so he could play it more. Playing it for the first time had the same quality as discovering something new that would change your life, like learning to masturbate or if you’re an addict, getting drunk or smoking crack for the first time. A pivotal moment, life before the act, and life after. This was life after.

And why all this fascination now with the metaverse? An alternate reality to escape to, that sounded pretty good. Easier to escape to a new world than to fix the one you’ve fucked up. VR sets and exotic weapons, cryptocurrency, virtual concerts. Call it boredom even. Or greed, a new gold rush. Capitalizing on people’s desire to escape.

You could comb the trails and feel better for a time, but it would all get undone once he was back at the car checking his phone, threading the roundabouts back home.

If he could just do one small thing, get one thing accomplished, it would help him feel unstuck. That was the name of a story he just read, “One Small, Good Thing.” It was so dark a tale, but one of the writer’s most well-known stories. And why did people gravitate to stuff like that? Did it reflect something dark in our nature? Like this show Squid Game, this Korean TV series. It’s now the most popular show in history, across the whole world, yet horrifically violent. And psychically disturbing too. Is that reflecting who we are now?

He wanted to believe in the restorative quality of nature but even that fell short. He got back to his car and adjusted the mirrors. He wasn’t sure what would come of things. He had this hope of doing one small thing but lost sight of it at the roundabout.

Categories: prose, writing

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13 replies

  1. One small thing is but one … each of us gets to do many! So OK to lose sight of one now and then … this is what I tell myself about missed opportunities.
    Enjoyed this “hike” – leaves sounding like corduroy! Cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Combing the trails is like grooming the crap out of your head, cleaning the traps. You can actually feel your head opening”
    Lord, how we need some trap cleaning and mass head opening.

    Great piece, Bill, and especially that last line…”but lost sight of it at the roundabout.” That struck a loud and resounding chord too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The cryptic post scriptural cry for currency – any small change will do – gave a surreal twist to my reading of this piece. Nevermind, I’m not languishing, just settling in for a season of scouring out.

    All the best to you Bill.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Not pre-apocalyptic but mid-apocalyptic. In James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand the triple threat of a moderate pandemic, climate change and nuclear exchange returns the US to a preindustrial state. Seems like we’re two-thirds there already. I know nothing about squid game (I first heard of it a couple of weeks ago). I wonder how everyone in the world can be hooked on something I’ve never heard of. Head in the clouds… or the sand.


  5. A perfectly dark figure-eight piece of the outside/real and virtual constructs/inside. Strike the first paragraph, which seems like warm-up, and the snake swallows its tail.

    Went through a Flannery O’Conner period once, never been much of a Carver fan. Perhaps it’s time to re-read “The Illustrated Man.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read all of O’Connor’s stories last year! And just finished 650 pages of Carver stories. Put a bullet in my head! Love the phrase “perfectly dark figure eight,” thanks for that Kim. Good to hear from you and to connect again. Be well.


  6. Now I have a story I want to read. Guilty of being drawn to the dark. Maybe however dark it is, we want to know how much we can stand. Or we want to understand it to be able to recognize it in others (and be the hero) or we fear it in ourselves, though that doesn’t feel right, or we just want to know what we can’t. Being outdoors is pretty great these days, a balm for whatever ails my spirit but also where I Iisten to most of my true crime serials. Damn.


  7. The obsession with the metaverse and the desire to escape contrasts so well with the escape into the wilderness–the possibility of getting really lost, which, thankfully, everyone avoided with the aid of their compasses. Now I’m tangled in thoughts of how, after hours at a computer screen, living–if you can call it that–in a virtual world, I feel the need to get up and go outside, and that is another form of escape.
    And with Thanksgiving approaching in the United States now seems an apt time to pick up Carver.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! You and the Carver-Thanksgiving jab there, that’s awesome! Yeah, escape. And true, getting lost…the allure in that. We’re tapping into what feels like a delayed response to the pandemic, maybe in combination with the seasonal depression thing that always sets in here in the PNW. Anyhoo…it’s Friday and I have the band Low on. Low: the name says it all! Go out and get some fresh air and shut down this boob-tube of a convo, can’t be good for you either! But nice as always to hear from you Christopher, and thank you for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

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