Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/a3bYvwm-ZyY) 08.10.2022.
My life started in the mud. Scratching, digging, and clawing. I lived in the mud. I lived with the mud. I was like the mud. I was the mud. I knew nothing but mud and my life felt complete.
Then came a rain. A rain which at first made the mud muddier and thus made me meier, or so I thought. Then the rain continued to fall. And fall. And fall. Until it felt like the rain was never going to stop. The rain kept coming and eventually I believed that the rain was a trait of my own being rather than an element of nature. The rain fell, and like the mud before it, I became like the rain. With each new drop I was born again.
The rain was not nature. The rain was me. And I was unnatural.
It has always been unnatural to be natural for me.
Then the rain did end. As all rains do. But for a time, it did not stop.
When the rain did end, the mud was gone. And soon, under the heat of a sun I did not yet know to call a sun, the rain was gone. I found myself lain bare on rock. As I looked around, all I saw was rock. In the first days after the rain, I wandered in hopes to find the rain again, any last drop of it. I would walk in any one direction until my feet bled. When they bled, I would stop, and I would wait until I could continue on in search of the rain. When I submitted to the rain’s absence, I would lift up rocks in search of a wetness under them. I searched for any I could find. Which was none. I cursed myself for not looking under the rock sooner.
In that futility I wandered in search of the mud but, like the rain, it was gone. In all my wandering all I found was rock. Under rock was only more rock. As far as I could see there was only rock.
After the rain, I was dry, and I felt like rock. This was the first time I felt like something. My identity was in relation to a thing, not in it. It was the first time I did not become what surrounded me. It was the first time that I had realized I was not what surrounded me. Quickly I discovered that the rock was simply nature, and I was nature too, and as simple as rock. But we were different, the rock and I. One was not the same.
This is not to say that I did not try to become like the rock. I did. But in all my attempts I could not feel like I did when I was mud or I was rain. After days of frying on the rocks in the bare sun, trying to fit in this barren landscape, I stopped trying to be rock. I was forced to become myself.
No longer in search of meaning for how to be mud or rain or rock. I began to wander the rocks. For something.
At first the rocks were large, nearly all were immovable, but slowly they became smaller and smaller. With each step I could move the rock.
And soon I came across another.
The moment that we met was as the sun began to set. Behind me was its warmth, casting nothing but my silhouette into this other’s view.
What do I look like now, I had asked him after we learned to speak to one another.
Strange, he said, yet familiar.
This made me happy.
Where have you come from, he asked me.
First from the mud then from the rain, I said.
I asked him where he came from.
He did not answer.
We agreed, later that night, to camp together and share our food with one another, in celebration of our finding each other. I asked him if he thought we were meant to find each other in our own separate wanderings, and he replied that he did not think so. He said that if he had to think about it then it must not have been the pursuit of our wanderings. That when we reach what we are in search of, we will know it without having to think about it. I thought that this sounded right. Sounded sedimentary.
That night, as I lay on the rocks, tufts of grass growing between them, I made a list of everything that I could think of so that I could have a list of everything I could know that I was not in search of in my wandering.
Not mud. Not rain. Not rock. Not this other.
The next morning we were both gone. I awoke on a field of grass. Several rocks poking above the blades within view. I gathered my things and, without thinking, decided in which direction I would continue wandering.
My progress—to what, I did not know yet—was met by more grass, and soon there were other types of life. First weeds, then bushes, then small trees, then larger trees. When the large trees surrounded me, the fauna began to approach. Both the small animals and the larger plant eaters. I approached them all with the same civility as I had with the Other. We were at peace, these animals and me. We knew we had similar intents to not hurt one another.
Many times I followed the squirrels and deer and rabbits to some food source, and we shared our bounty. If I had ever known where the food was coming from, I would have let anyone of them follow me to its source. But in those early days I did not find any food source, save when I followed the squirrels and deer and rabbits.
It’s when I stopped wandering that things got easier.
Things always get easier when one stops wandering.
After many times of following the squirrels and deer and rabbits to food, I came to discover in which elements certain types of food grew. A spongy fungus grew in the shadows of trees, and, thanks to the animals, I knew which kinds of these fungi to avoid. And thanks to my own perception, I learned which could grow with me in this new place. This home.
For many weeks I searched for rich soil to grow what I knew to grow, and when I could not find it I began to cut down the trees. I started with the smaller pieces. This helped me build my strength so that I could endure the strain my body took when I began taking down the larger trees, and pulling up their roots. These roots, I had learned, grew in deep, rich soil that could grow all I would need to live. I needed this soil as the animals, who I once followed to food, no longer came to me during this chopping.
What wood I could not use for shelter I used for fire, even if it was not the best at burning. I burned it and burned it and burned it until it burned no more. With the ashes from my fires, I scattered them over the ground. I discovered that from this ash, sweet berries would grow.
Deep roots, rich soil, and ash would raise a source of life.
When the shelter was built and the fires were burned, I began to dig. At first I dug shallow, to see what was there beneath my feet, and then I dug deeper.
Chopping, digging, and burning. These were how I came to be.
I dug first through the ash which had become a thick paste from seasonal rains. Beneath that, a dusty brittle soil that fell from my hands with ease. I mixed this dusty soil with the thick, muddy ash. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like me. Beyond that dusty layer I discovered rich black soil. I could feel the nutrients between my fingers, and this gave me great pleasure.
Quickly I realized that this layer of deep, rich soil was the thinnest layer to be found, and only in the smallest swaths of land could I dig to it. Elsewhere I only found rocks and the deepest of roots from the trees.
I began to have doubts that this land could grow anything.
I began to have doubts about myself.
I did what I could to preserve this ground. To keep this home.
Then came a noise. In the earlier days of the noise, it was only a dull rhythm that I could feel more than hear, and only in the moments of the day when I rested. At first, I believed it was the animals coming back to see me. To help me build this home. Day by day, the noise grew closer. An unnatural noise, not possibly made by animal. Forcing a tremor in my chest to a rattle in my ears.
Everyday. When I worked, it worked. Closer and closer. Louder and louder. It grew.
Then the day came when the trees became fewer and fewer around me. Where once I thought I had found deep, rich soil proved to have been nothing but dry, grey earth deeply penetrated by irregularly shaped rocks. In those stark days I longed to be the rain or the mud again. I spoke to the rock. And I spoke to the earth.
But nothing. Closer and closer I came to death.
I called out one night for any other, but no other noise was made in response. Only the echoing sensuous rattling. The tremoring that was becoming me.
What, I wondered, had I found when I discovered rock?
Then the noise was on top of me. Its rhythm was no longer a humming that followed my own patterns of living, but became my living. The noise was no longer a noise outside of me, but one produced by me.
When the noise became me, the men with axes and fire came. And I discovered how much we resembled one another.
About the Author: Linscott is a teacher and writer currently living in Denver. Originally from Maine, his work bends towards the way nature and environment shape identity. His writing can be found in Helen, Sporklet, and others.