Jessica Eve Watkins
23rd September, 2015.
We plant a cedar tree by the light of the moon. It takes three of us, a wooden plank, and a tenacious sense of humour to manoeuvre the heavy trunk and roots into a hole, as we try collectively not to get a Jack Johnson song stuck in our heads.
Sap sticks to my palms. We tug her spindly branches upright and balance her weight against the plank. We stop and breathe, the scent of bark and under-bark and autumn.
‘It’s beautiful to be outside in the darkness.’
We fall silent and turn our faces to an overpoweringly bright moon. A half saucer, ringing with pearlescent rainbows, lodged high in an endless blackness. She must have a sense of humour, to survive up there all alone.
A black cat slinks over and sniffs around the cedar roots. I bend down to stroke her and she lets me love her. I’m sick of haughty cats. She accepts all the devotion I can give her, then wends over to Paul to get a hit from him. ‘This is Kali,’ he says. Kali isn’t lonely. She’s strong and accepting affection.
‘I want her around me. I so want to love her,’ I say. ‘What do I want from her? What is she giving me that I’m not giving myself?’
‘Petting?’ Paul smiles.
I stroke my own hair for a while. It’s soothing but not quite right. I think I want someone to completely accept my love the way she does, and to bask in an exchange of mutual worship.
The nights are cold, and drawing in. Autumn is cracking at our edges. Maple and birch leaves dance down from branches. I awoke to find the wood-stove lit yesterday, all the piney crackling of last year breathed in again. We remember the barn we lived in at Snaggy, and smile. I can sense it still, perfectly. Some days we were too cold to get out of bed to make a fire, laying under blankets instead like sardines.
But we’re not in North Carolina anymore. We’re north of New York City, lost in the Catskill mountains. Around us a patchwork of small towns, backwards and unknown. General stores, sugary waitresses, wooden post offices, and baseball-capped, truck-driving locals. I sip filter coffees in cafes and imagine the lives of these country folk. ‘What are the people like?’ my friend Doug asks, far away in Finland. ‘Very, very, very sweet.’
‘How come you two ended up here?’ they ask us over shop counters and at open mics.
‘We’re doing an artists’ residency at Heartland, editing our film,’ we reply. And then we relay the story of last year, of all the eco-villages and communes and farms we stayed at, the interviews, and conversations, nature walks, music, connections. The people we know now because we dared to search for them, who we might never have found. We’ve learned to fall apart with others. To find ourselves with others.
I play Harper a song I wrote about it, about the road and the freedom and the states we danced across, like those falling maples. It’s a carefree song, but her face is serious when I look up at the end. She says, ‘It just dawned on me for the first time. All that is over. We’ve really finished the adventure.’
Her realisation hits me too, like a winding punch. We’re quiet for a moment. ‘But we’ll always be the way we are,’ I offer, to fill the pause. ‘We’ll always hunt for unchartered territory. It’s always the beginning for us.’ I believe it too, but the sadness lingers a while longer.
In moments of insecurity, the same thing that terrifies me is also my saving realisation: We never know what is going to happen next. No-one does. Something fantastic could be five minutes away. I do know we’ll be moving, always, even when we’re still. Deep into this exploration of self, deep into questioning, exploring. For now, we are here at Heartland, with Paul, Adeeb and Bhajie, four dogs, three cats and howling packs of coyotes. Movement colours the horizon. I have to get going now, to cover the roots of our tree before nightfall.