Hyper-Vigilance and Reading

There is a gate across the rough road in the woods where I live where two world views compete.

Here, barbwire on rough-hewn posts stretches between two trees, which can be loosed from a wire loop so that a bike or a runner or a truck can pass through. A yellow sign says, “Please Close the Gate.”

But for some, a truck is not welcome. They have piled boulders and branches across the road in what I imagine to be a fit of frustration, a sweaty frenzy: moving rocks from where they have lived, displacing what lives there. I think of their motivation as a form of road rage, an effort to check that-over-which-we-are-powerless out of a desire for control in a fearsome climate. Though the futility of this makes me smile, I am empathetic.

As the road continues back towards our neighborhood, a couple of other natural gates, made by fallen trees, have been similarly narrowed. Once someone pounded a metal stake into the earth there. It bore an official looking sign forbidding cars beyond that point.

Meanwhile, the men in trucks transgress. They drive off road around such barriers. I think I am on an elk path, only to discover I am walking in the tracks of wheels. Recently, a bulldozer went through and moved the rock piles. The sign disappeared immediately. I imagine these off-road warriors resisting such arbitrary and despot government. Like libertarians.

There is a break in the social contract here. There is a return to violence. There is a contest of what I read as white peoples’ wills, a free-ranger vs. a liberal restraint. Both do harm as they attempt to win this battle, a battle that has waged in private, solitary grouches. Do their hearts drum as they drive up on the gate? As they walk around the corner, does adrenaline roar in their ears? Then—victory! Or just the hate, broken back open. Do their knees buckle from the rush? As they bend over, reach for rocks and wood like weapons.

This has gone on for at least four years. Recently, I started to snap photos of the barrier. I have meant to write about it.

I have thought I would write about boundaries between us. How we navigate and negotiate the terms of relationship. How we construct our separation. How we police the borders that cut through our simpatico. How sometimes I want to drive off road and wind amongst trees and risk the undercarriage of my four-wheel drive as I charge over rocks and the springs of my shocks buck and leap.

I have learned not to: our social contract is a more delicate ecosystem.

Yesterday, we were chatting about writing. I wrote something to you and sent it recklessly. I pushed the arrow and then said, out loud, as if from the wiser woods, “Oh, you are actually going to send that?”

“I have to be myself,” was my retort. “My intentions are good. It is ancient history.”

But sometimes digging up our past can cause you to go missing. So, I tried to power down my phone. I did not want the silence to hang over me. It was then that my elk path became truck tire tracks. I came to a kind of acceptance.

Then the Messenger ping! (These go through me now like a jolt. The nerves on me as fine-tuned as a horse or a rabbit or some other form of prey.) And you have gone on, ignoring me generously.

Alone in the woods, I cry with relief.

We are talking about a piece of your writing, now under revision.

Readers want us to be explicit. They want to understand everything before they come. They are wary of every sensation of the unknown. They are as sensitive as horses. They are as cagey as a mistreated dog. They are hypervigilant.

I suggest you resist someone’s suggestion–to be “so obvious.” I love your nerdiness. I trust your intelligence and your instincts. I have a theory that too much writing is “over work-shopped,” until everyone writes in the same voice. We would lose your subtlety. And the thrill of your purpose, the dawning of clarity. I say something like, beware of the arrogant editor who thinks she knows better than you do.

I almost edited you that way once. I did actually. I over-wrote your borders. I like everything so explicit. I pile rocks. I drive my truck wherever-the-fuck-I want and end up in torment, surviving your long absence. Until I learn better. Mind the fences.

On the first page of my journal, I have written: STAY OPEN, NO MATTER WHAT.

To you I say, “you are a poet and will satisfy any reader who lets you.”

The yellow sign reads, “Please close the gate.”

And yes, reader, yellow has a meaning. And this essay is full of signs.