I wonder some days if free will is a thing. My inheritance of self-loathing and self-righteousness, embarrassment and pride, confuses me. There's no way that pansy squeeze in Gough's would have stopped me. No matter the demands of clockwork or the better advice of voices real or ghostly, I'd have gone in there. By claw hammer or by fingernail. But I've also turned my back forever on virgin blackness big enough to run through. When I finished writing what I believed was my best story, I immediately lit it and ground out the ashes. Other things survive. We spent a lot of time digging and mining and theorizing in a little cave our minds knew was hopeless. You see my confusion? Me, me, me.
People say that they like caving because they can explore, discover the unknown. But they could explore the unknown just as well by rolling over a rotten log or by sitting for a while with their eyes raised and their mouth shut. I think they want exclusivity (as if that were a virtue), not to learn anything.
I've heard told that ego is a hot cloud, sharp with the scents of butter and metal and sex, and it blows wild, chased and sucked, and fills the chest with power and the belly with comfort but leaves the loins weak, or gets lost in the crannies of our failure while we ache and we smite one another in the one-dimensional strength of our blocked-off lust. Some people believe that ego drives the whole world along; maybe it does. It is at least weaker than love. Love is to follow a cool clean ribbon of truth through the delicious fog of ego without distraction. I well know I take too many wayward breaths.
To come out of the cave and plod sightlessly through the woods to my car is a vile hypocrisy. So first I sit down. Working left to right I see, of them I know: maple, white oak, beech, black locust, hickory, sassafrass, red oak, buckeye, yellow pine, sycamore, tulip poplar, cedar, ash, and ironwood. I see five kinds I cannot identify, and describe them for later. My brother has since told me they are elm, gum, persimmon, and two he doesn't know. On the ground very little green growth is left. I recognize only the obvious ferns. Within sight are at least ten varieties of fungus, and I do not know the species of any of them. No animals are visible except a vulture overhead. I hear leaves shifting around small creatures here and there, and the calls of crows and woodpeckers. I look toward faint sounds, behind me, of the rat who has piled his midden in the entrance passage. I see the collection of green leaves, sticks, bones, bark, raccoon scat, and mushrooms, but I never see the rat.
It takes a minute or two to see these things, and I walk slowly to the car. As speed increases, care decreases. Then I speed home.
In my mailbox is a letter informing me of a class-action lawsuit. It says, "Between January 2016 and March 2017, some Subway resturaunts in the United States printed sales receipts that displayed the expiration date of the credit or debit card used." I am entitled, the letter says, to my share of the $30,900,000 settlement, less the $10,300,000 attorney fee and the $30,000 share of plaintiffs and Class Representatives Jason Alan and Shane Flaum. I am violently sick of this world. I want out of it badly. There is also a card from a lady I know in another state, not quite a friend. On the front is a sterile photograph of a gnarled evergreen alone in full sunlight, surrounded by untouched snow. The background is hazily mountainous. Inside it says, "We heard you are going through a tough time. We're thinking of you. Come on down some time. Jacqueline" I wonder who "we" is, open my notepad. "Jacqueline, I'm going through a hard time like a worm goes through dirt. When I come down, tell me what you think that means and I'll slap you in the mouth. I still have a half-dozen bottles of that hot sauce. I'll try to remember this time."
I split firewood beyond dark, in the light of lightning. Odd in November. Washed my mouth out with rain.
I dried by the stove and worked out the day's survey data. Working alone in a crawl I mapped only 287' with a depth of 12' in 22 shots and 4 hours. Numbers look disgusting on the page, bear no relation to the forms they represent. At least my sketches are to scale. Plus I dug at two leads. That cave is nearly finished.
An awesome creep of melancholy rides up my legs and burns into my stomach. I stand and smack the bark crumbs from my legs. Blindly, a worm through a whole universe of dirt, I open the refrigerator.