(note: my God is a coyote. the original trickster. I, her grateful and graceful fox. thank you for datura moon. thank you for the knife. )
As I sat there nothing in my hands: no straw, no crystal, no unsent or sent text or paper for letter, not even an unfinished plot, I thought nothing of ceremony. There was nothing to celebrate. I let my body breathe without consumption. I felt my lungs expand without restriction, without analysis, without thinking about the mystery of breath. I accepted my body as a perfect machine that needed no interference but some general nourishment, water, and rest. My palms face down on the cooling ground so I could feel the buzz of the knoll run up my arms through my elbows and further. My fingers dug past the sparse patches of grass surrounding the exposed roots into the dirt. It was mostly dirt. I smiled without provocation and for no one. My feet were bare, my toenails unpainted and touching the dry earth. There was no cathartic weeping. There was no unnamed longing. There was no burial. There was no elation. There was no show about it. I shivered.
I could feel the tiniest shift in the wind’s direction, the tiniest gust through my hair. These winds freeze the land at night but I had been here before and was prepared. I had a sweater on and a hat somewhere nearby for when the sun finally went down and the desert drops thirty degrees without warning. The land will teach you once with mercy and again without it. I needed none of that now. It was four pm and I had several more hours before I had to consider the night. I opened my mouth and tilted my head back to relax my jaw which had been clenched again. It popped in and out of place all day as I ground my teeth into my gums, but now it breathed with me, open and grateful for the change in atmosphere. Mouth gaping, I leaned against the trunk slowly, letting my spine adjust to the slightly uneven support, the little extra digs from where the bark protruded, and folded my hands in my lap.
I was alone with my mind and yet, there was no preoccupation with occupying it. My head felt spacious: no racing delusion, no hourglass turning, no second thought, second guess, second regret. I could feel my whole body. In front of me, just trees. Just a field of grass on a small hill and then an endless grove of trees. The sky was bright blue. The southwest had the kind of sky that inspired paint colors. Nursery colors. Painted by eager, over-indulgent parents who wouldn’t dream of anything less than opulent for their newborn. I was surrounded by untainted opulence and not trying to name a swatch after it, or prove that we both were here. No one would be inspired by this moment because no one would ever see it. Is this contentment? I thought. The clouds were scattered; thin and snow white, not a rain droplet up there. The sun was bright and coming from a direction I was not facing. It was 63 degrees and I felt it. I heard no animal. As far as I could see, there were no roadways or people or even brooks running through this small sanctuary. There were only trees and whispers of breezes, a small boulder in the short distance that something could perch on, a bird or a small ground animal for a rest, but that was it. I imagined nothing.
My mind did not fight to distort the image into being not about me or about me or about us or about anything. My mind relaxed with my jaw. My jaw relaxed with my elbows, now folded. My arms relaxed with my toes, now resting on top of the ground. The only movement was the shifting wind. My stomach did not rumble. My tongue was not dry or lolling about. My body was not on display for anyone. There was not a single unsatiated need. How soon would it be, or how long did I have before the budding inquisition began in my brain? And how long from there before the questions moved from my mind to throat and then to someone? So I would distort and submit to each distortion? How long did I have here before I lost my eyesight, before I could not see the trees, before I tried to pick out the perfect song about it, tried to pick out the perfect word for this? Where I would dissect every intersection I had crossed to get here today; the foot of the only yellow cottonwood on the hill at the beginning of autumn in the middle of the desert at the first sharp cold breeze of the day. My heart jumped.
“God, what do I owe you for my liberty?”
I felt my body swell, uncaged, and grasping what I could never say, what I could never hear, what I could never embody. I conflated freedom with perfect living amends. I conflated happiness with exaggerated euphoria. I conflated trust with control. I had never been content or contemplated the meaning of the words I spoke when I tried to describe my emotions. I once described myself as an avid hunter in love but I think I was just so scared of the loss of control. I was disconnected from it completely. I conflated liberty with a dagger-like assertion that demands space and takes from others. I agreed with these distortions and stayed stagnant, caged. The air was still. My jaw began to clench. My fingers began to wander to my bag to pull out a straw. My toes began to wiggle. I knew what was next; the story.
But God provides obstruction for the self obsessed, obstacles to keep us present, keep us moving forward. It provides problems to solve so you can use that investigative piece of your brain as needed and sit and mend nothing as solutions naturally evolve. And perhaps God just wanted to show me that I am always beholden, always handcuffed to my own desire for divination. I am divine because I exist. I am always trying to dehumanize myself for the sake of relaxation, for the sake of “rising above.” God wanted to humanize me. I am human. Or maybe God was trying to be a mirror so I could see my ridiculous demands on the world produced the world’s ridiculous demands of me. Or was that me to me? I think God just wanted me to understand grace in seconds, then minutes, then hours of moments, until you live in it. Until you are graceful. Until you are someone who people say is filled with grace. They say oh she is so graceful and they invite you and they mean it. Until you no longer beg, plead or make a single demand. Until you are grateful to have nothing to mend. Until you are grateful you have anything at all.
God replied as God does, without warning and in a way that no one will ever believe or trust that it really happened that way. It doesn’t even have to be remarkable for people not to believe you. People just don’t believe you heard things correctly or saw things correctly or understood things the way they were designed to be understood. Most of all, no one believes a dreamer. I heard a snap of a twig or a scratch on an object or something, turned my head just as soon as I heard it, and saw standing on top of that boulder where a bird or small animal may perch, a full grown coyote. Lizard dangling from mouth, I caught him watching me. Bated, I watched him. He hopped off the rock without effort and sauntered west. He stopped after a few feet, turned around as killers do, and I saw the defeated reptile swing lifelessly with him. I moved not at all. I inhaled and held it. He sensed my subordination from the distance and continued on into an opening in the trees we had both stalked our way through. Without missing a beat from another direction, but close, I heard a howl, long and billowing. Within seconds, a return howl and within half a second another return howl, until there was a victorious cacophony wafting through the air around me. Dozens of howls, nothing but howls; no sound of a highway or a phone going off or a song blaring from a radio. What does pulsing blood smell like to a hungry pack? My heart raced with presumption.
Sarah, stay a wild animal, ticking time spoke back.
I leaned back against the tree and listened to the last dog’s response subside and the woods quickly return to dead silence. No animal would dare move right now. No bird would chirp. No bird would be that mocking. I shuffled not at all. It was 4:08 pm and 62 degrees and I felt it. The sky was bright blue. The clouds had shifted so none were in sight. The sun was bright and coming from behind me. My feet were bare and on the ground. My hands were clutching blades of grass. My heart was racing. My breathing was paced. My jaw was clenched. God makes pacts with predators. God provides the prey. If there is no prey to be found, God makes way for the long hunt, and we, in complete unison with God’s will, make way for the hunters and for the hunted to be caught. What we do in between and where we fall on that spectrum is entirely up to us. That is liberty. We will each have a death; we will each be responsible for a death. One, at the very least, which is our own. Some of us will be responsible for many. We owe God only that.
As I faced my woods and I began to see them, I remembered my definition of a successful life was just one moment of complete contentment, complete presence, a feeling of being emptied. One moment of total reality that I did not imagine or showcase. With the grace of God, I had that, and I had it surrounded by the kind of sky that pinned women long for, would pay for. Some would kill for it. They like it so much they paint their whole house when they are done with the nursery. Do you like green-winged teal or blue-winged teal? they ask their unresponsive partners. With his disinterest, she suddenly comes down with macabre so they go with burgundy. They redo the awning, the siding, the trim. Their baby grows as the house does: sterile, color coordinated, untouched by any warmth and always at the whim of the mood of the couple. They consider themselves to be lucky. They were lucky not to be barren, lucky not to be stranded, lucky not to be without things. They think they plotted it. They think they are innocent. They think they owe God nothing but good intent and certainly are not responsible for any deaths. I put on my hat. I put back on my socks and boots. I take out my buck knife and my locket with my brother’s ashes. Carefully pulling the necklace over my neck, I never break eye contact with the forest. I keep the knife in my hand. I begin to pray.
“Dear God, thank you for my freedom,” I start as I walk forward. “Thank you for the knife, the sky, and the way out; through and a dozen wolves to listen to.”