SITTING HERE LAST NIGHT in front of the old Ashley wood stove while New Mexico decided whether to rain or snow, I was remembering a long time ago when I was determined to get away from Austin, Texas. Oh hell, it was 1975, just shoot me. The reasons were many but had to do with following my heart. Austin may have been just one-tenth the size it is today, but it was way too hot and crowded for me and God said, move to Maine! Can you believe it? I wanted to get back to Nature, or have more of it. In search of something different, I’d been reading the Maine Times—had to send away to buy a copy—and found a caretaker’s position at a farm in northern Aroostook County for the winter. They actually wanted me. There were chickens and moose and probably wolves. All of this was communicated by letters. Typewritten, handwritten words on paper. The things you didn’t know about a faraway place, just pictures in your mind. They told me that the farm was isolated and that there would be a lot of snow and also eagles.
Somewhere along the way I gave up on Aroostook County, probably too goddamn scared. I still went to Maine, though. My sole means of hypothetical support, never mind the two degrees, was making welded metal insects. I think everybody needs to read that line again. Not that I had ever made more than twenty dollars from the craft, but this thing was my ticket, oh yeah. I had some beautiful sculptures. A giant moth almost two feet across. A glorious mosquito! A grasshopper. A bat. (The only mammal, as I recall.) After a series of utterly disastrous art shows up and down the coast where no one hardly even came, exhibitors freezing in the mist and two old ladies glaring at my bugs—sailboats or lobsters might have worked—I headed south for Maryland, where my grandmother’s house would be available for a time while shewas up in Maine. Maine, Maine, Maine. Or rather, Maryland. Oh my.
Now there was a life. (How many have I had already?) The Eastern Shore was a post-hippie paradise. You could rent a big old farmhouse on a river or the bay for next to nothing. It was a stupendous opportunity and time. I fell in love, got married, we bought a house, had dozens of friends and innumerable adventures, and twenty-five years went by in a blur. But what do you know, even though we were living a mile and a half from the Chesapeake Bay on two and a half acres of grass and trees, I wanted to get back to Nature! We had flying squirrels in the basement and blacksnakes in the eaves, not to mention water, water everywhere, but Nature was the thing and I would have it. It was also oh so warm and humid out there on those gorgeous country lanes, with honeysuckle and corn stink in the summer evening air. Moving to seven thousand feet and freezing to death for fifteen years was perfect, then—and is there ever Nature. The same basic stuff as everywhere, but stunning, brutal, and eviscerating. Like living inside a giant gong and everything makes it ring.
Part of me wants to do it all again now. It always has to do with deciding that wherever I am just isn’t good enough and that I might get trapped. I can’t imagine that Taos is the last place I’ll ever live, but then I don’t imagine dying. If I could, it would happen in my dugout canoe while I was reef fishing in the Seychelles. I’d be very old and tan and wrinkled, drifting in a lagoon or pulled up on a clean white beach. The sun would be so fine and huge and warm and I’d just sit there feeling better every second and the light would fill my vision until everything was blinding bright and calm, and somewhere in another world the breeze would slowly push a dugout out to sea.
I see what you did there, boy. Have another bite.