Monday, November 30, 2015

Share #20: The labor and the gifts of camp

Dutch walking artist, Monique Besten, suggested we try to find a way to share a meal before MyShare ends. With 5,000 miles between us, we're not going to sit down at a table together. Can we find some other way, some inroad, a way to beckon one another?

Monique is currently in process, walking from Spain to Paris, for a climate conference. She's walking alone, in the front and backcountry, through cities and towns and farms. Next week I'll be in a rustic camp on the Olympic Peninsula. I have a friend with a few acres there. He hired me to plant bulbs and chop wood. I said I'd do it because the land is good for me, because the air is good for me, because when I work on his land, as I've done before, I begin to feel vital and strong within minutes, within hours I feel super capable. There must be some elixir there. This friend, with the land, works in California, but this land, here, in Washington State, is his heart land. Developing this into a mountain oasis is his passion.

I told Monique I'd like to try to share with her while I was there in the mountains. For me, it will be a relief, someone to eat with. I'll be doing heavy labor and will need the fuel, but at this time of year there are no bodies on the mountain, there's no one to share with. Even in summer, it's rare to see a car up on that road. There are lots with cabins and chalets, but most are seasonal. When you're settled into camp, it feels very remote.

Monique asked if I'd be online. I didn't think I would be, but even if I were I'd prefer to meet in some other, more sensory, imaginative way. I imagined calling on her while I was working, listening for her call. I wanted to intuit her. Explore this distant share.

I was told I could bring in a can of gas and run a generator if I wanted, for electricity, for lights at night. I will use the gas lamp and the wood stove. There's a grocery store in Hoodsport 8 miles away and a general store before you leave the paved road. I won't come off the mountain once I'm there, but it's nice to know if something happens I could walk out and get help.

On Saturday afternoon I went to the Goodwill to look for suits. I had the idea that a suit might help me connect with Monique. In 2012, Monique Besten donned a 3-piece suit and began walking. As she walked, she stored memories in her suit, in images and bits of texts. She sewed something new into her suit each day. Since then, Monique has been on many distant and distinct walks and is always in a suit. It helps her reflect on how she experiences the world.

I found a few wool suits in smaller sizes and tried them on. They were large enough to pull over my clothes, but too expensive and really too big to consider buying. In the end, I decided against the idea. Then I thought about wearing my poet's dress and imaged chopping wood in that. It was a romantic notion with no grounding in the reality of the conditions this time of year. It's a rain forest after all and it's in the mountains and it's nearly winter and it's meant to be raining all week and my poet's dress is fitted and linen. I brought it anyway, just in case, but never put it on. Instead, I found a pair of over-sized vinyl rain pants with suspenders and a matching hooded jacket at camp. These were ideal for the conditions and, underneath, I wore many warm layers.

On Sunday night, I drove west from Seattle and spent five nights on a ridge between Hoodsport and Lake Cushman. I'd planned to go alone, but at the last minute my partner asked if he could join. I was still coughing and knew I could use help with the wood, so I said yes, even though I worried it would interfere with my share and knew I was needing time on my own. I suspected I'd have to fight for my share, then would be fighting myself and it would become impossible to connect, but in the end it required that I share with Monique on a deeper level.

In 2011, I lived alone in a canvas yurt for a month on this land. I've spent weekends there with large and small groups of climbers and friends, hauling gear, digging ditches, gathering brush, burning the cleared logs to thin out the 2nd growth forest and reduce fire danger, giving the rhododendrons rooms to breath and planting native trees.

I've never met Monique. A friend connected us online. He met Monique at an artist retreat and knowing my work and her, he said we needed to meet. Monique is a conceptual artist. She walks, sometimes for months at a time, in a 3-piece suit. At times, she has a pack on her back. She undertakes all kinds of journeys. Sometimes she wanders. Sometimes she explores. She's always searching for a thread. She walks to various destinations, to art and social and political events. As she walks, she composes mind maps, she organizes her aesthetic in threads inside shell.

She sews bits of her experiences, as images and text, inside her suit, hidden to the outsider. Each day she sews one image or line of text into her suit. Her suit then becomes a record of her journey. She has embroidered a QR code onto the back of her jacket. When you scan this, you can inside her suit, into her memory bank, her way of seeing.

This idea of collecting and hiding, of inviting intimate glimpses into our selves, makes me think of the ways in which we scan people with our eyes, with our fears, with our stereotypes and criticisms and hopes. How we show ourselves to one another. How the layers of people peel back as we look at them, closer and closer, as we linger, longer and longer.

Last year, my brother gave me his old i-phone. It's an i-phone 4. At first, it felt like a miracle. I didn't know I'd be able to use it as a phone. I thought I'd be able to use it as a camera. It's been six months and I still don't have any apps and it's always on silent and I don't get online and I don't use it to locate a location and I delete the images I take soon after I take them. It seems as if this object is corroborating with my general experience of rupture. I suppose, in failing to use this fancy phone in the way that it was meant to be used, for the purpose it was intended, I am undermining it, weakening its powers, dismantling its foundation, denying its ability to offer me ease or comfort or some kind of advanced or elite experience. This feels, in ways, similar to what I am experiencing in my own foundation.

Monique and I chat online at intervals and follow one another's work. I've read about her journeys on her blog A Soft Armour and have wondered about her resources and her fears. Does she have things in storage? Can she go home to live with a family member if she wants? Where does she leave her computer? Her bicycle? Her winter clothes? The suit she is not wearing?

Monique began her current walk before I began MyShare. She contacted me en route to ask if we could make a share. I was glad she did as I'd been wanting to. I suggested this week in the mountains and she agreed. We went away from that conversation not knowing how we would share, or at what time, or on what days exactly, but we were agreed we would do it and so we did.

I was off then to plant 2000 bulbs and chop one cord of wood and haul three water-logged, wood pallets 2/10th of a mile up from the dirt road to camp. It lashed cold rain sideways for a day. It snowed 4" the next day. Everything melted over night, then it was sunny and warm for two days! Not predicted. Then it froze again. I could have stayed on and on and on. I was happy and returning to health, but there was a retreat to attend and a friend's dog to care for and I had to be home for these things. I made reasons to have to be home for. But that place in the mountain on the ridge brings out something rare in me, something vital. Every time I am there I feel it, a shift to vigor. Within two days, my cough began to wane. My lungs began to stretch. My core began to strengthen. I don't know if it is the air or the work or the climb up to the camp or the combination of things, but I think it is still more than these. One day I will explain.

There were 1000 daffodils and 1000 crocuses to plant. I had first to prepare the soil. The soil on the ridge is orange and rocky and clay and incapable of nourishing these flowers. I dug and hauled a barrow of clay from the outdoor kitchen to the cleared hillside, then hauled a bag of compost up the garden path to the site, then mixed the dirt with the compost and dug little cups for the bulbs with a mini shovel and placed them in, 2" apart, then covered them with several inches of new soil. The results were ribbons and patches of dark, loamy, orange-flecked beds over the hillside. It took 2.5 days to plant this one box of bulbs from Holland Bulb Farms in Holland.

I spent all week planting Monique on the southwest slope of the ridge, in little pockets, heads up, roots down, blanketed in hand-mixed soil. A week later, when I returned, I read that daffodils are not native to Holland. They're from Spain and Portugal. And even though most of the world's bulbs are developed, produced, and exported from Holland, none are from there. Perhaps this is why Monique is in Spain. She's searching for the wild daffodil. Following her undevelopment to its wild roots and causes.

In the end, the ways in which I found Monique were simple and unexpected. I found her when I wasn't looking, when I wasn't pushing for a share. I was sometimes irked when my companion rose early. He never rises early! What was he doing rising now, when I was looking for some time alone, a little breakfast with Monique. I barely had time to light the fire and already in his company.

How could I find Monique if I was never left alone? But then my friend made the most amazing meals and we ate together, hungrily. And he carried bags of compost and split half the wood and I was grateful for him at every turn and we laughed together and he hummed and rang the triangle for dinner. And then, well fed, I found Monique on the slope, in my work, planting bulbs. That was all mine. I planted every bulb in the box. Monique and I shared not so much food as labor, not so much satisfaction as hunger. We found each other in expansive moments between spurts of labor, witnessing the galloping wind in the trees, the peek-a-boo view of the canal, in the way our fingernails hurt in the freezing dirt. We shared moments of rest and deep breaths and now Monique and I are together in that soil, planted and planning how and when to bloom.

When I got back from the mountains, I learned that Monique had been side-tracked and went to Germany for a time, then back to France. She was regrouping I think after the cancellation of the march. Protesters are marching for climate change, not only in Paris, but worldwide. After the recent attacks in Paris, however, demonstrators are banned from gathering there, so now the clashes and the guerilla art and the installation of thousands of shoes at the Place de la Republique.

And none of this is stopping Monique. Her journey goes on, her search is a wave on the beach, beating a steady pulse through this, her funnel, art. Walking. Art. Her participation is full. If we could all be so all in, so deeply committed, we'd be awake and connecting, I'm certain.

Thank you, Monique, for walking for me, for sharing with me. For your work and your words and  your passion, thank you.

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