We Were Animals Then

It’s time to put this one out there…

dance night dig

We came from the mountains, the coast, the plains.
Mostly young men reveling in the strength and confidence of youth,
With something to prove, nothing to lose, and hoping for adventure and a few dollars.
Families left behind for half a year, staring at phones, knees bent in prayer
While we questioned ourselves, the job ahead, but knowing we would rather be nowhere else.

Nearly twice the age of some, I came my with war beard greying and dipping my toes into the shallows of middle-age.
My heart broken, searching for meaning, and hoping I had what it took.
Aching to lose parts of me, or kill them and bury them in charred dirt and ashes,
To find myself in the dark recesses of my heart,
Praying something would be left to offer up as remains when the smoke cleared.

When the fires came we were ready. We were family, bound together out of necessity and toil.
We were grim and focused, bodies hardened by work and quenched in sweat and blood.
Senses and determination converged to razor-sharp acuity like the edges of our tools and the edges of our minds.
Our faces softened by ash and the bond that only brothers and sisters in the wild can know.
We were looking for dragons to slay in those mountains and for some, in ourselves, and we found them.

In the middle of the night on a mountainside nearly vertical,
With logs and boulders crashing down around us and fires on the horizon we found our rhythm.
I reached inside and they heard my battle cry, loud and feral, with cheer and anger in harmony.
That barbarian’s howl, cursing and blessing myself, my past, my future, God.
Purging my heart and crying for more.
I would not stop, could not stop, and they saw me.
Their jaws and eyes wide, knowing grins on their faces.
I tore through oak and manzanita, dirt and rock, scattering it all over the edge with vengeance.
That fierce heat rising inside me, anger and pain pouring out in rivers of sweat down my back.
Heartache and self doubt sacrificed in the fires that burned the Six Rivers.

The man I met in those mountains was baptized in fire,
Filled with rage and rawness and honesty, collecting stories and living a new one of his own.
I sought the simplicity of hard and dangerous labor and 6 months living on the slopes of the West.
I shed all I could. Counting on my heart, my brothers and sisters there and little more,
And carried heartache on my back next to spare bootlaces and bar oil.

Comforts were few, but we lived that way – on and of the earth.
Nights were quiet and cold and marked by starlight, bringing the curse of time for thought.
Retreating to a bedroll and dreaming of those who held our hearts.
Wondering when fall rains would send us into the arms of lovers a world away,
Or dreaming that one day we would find our own, find someone new, and start afresh

They were a rare breed. Born of granite and timber and crystalline rivers.
Some are still there, and my heart is with them.
You can lose yourself or find yourself. For better or worse, I managed both.
No mountain or element could stop us, and I was one of them.
And we were animals then.

[JK]

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