Haibun in the Modern English-Language Style by Ray Rasmussen
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Caught Out

Okay, you've caught me. Here I am cowering in a tiny spot of shade at the bottom of a 600-foot deep canyon.  It's the only shade that I could find in the last 6 miles of hiking back up to my truck at the top.

The temperature is 105 degrees F. Well, okay, I admit that a thermometer would say that it's a mere 80 degrees. But thermometers have no feelings and I do, so I added 25 degrees to represent the fact that the sun is caroming off the canyon walls like a fiery cannonball.

You, reader, are likely thinking that something is wrong here, that were I John Muir, Henry Thoreau, or Ed Abbey, I'd be likening this place to the eating of a succulent peach.

And, sure, when I squint through the undulating heat waves, I can see that twisting cottonwood, its yellow leaves back-lit like a roman candle for just this one moment in the cottonwood's year, and just for me as it turns out.

And, likely you are thinking, “Whimp! It's a privilege to be there to see these wonders.” I can't help but ask: “Is it your shirt that burns the skin? Is it your hair that is on fire? And, where exactly are you while calling me a whimp? Likely sitting in a soft chair enjoying a cool beer.”

Damn it, I'm not Ed Abbey. But, give me this much credit--at least I'm being honest. Can we say the same of Abbey, Muir, Thoreau? Did they have only quasi-religious experiences while on their outdoor quests? Did they never cower, never fill up with self-doubt, never question the value of pure wilderness, never liken the desert to Satan's bowling alley? Could they actually have enjoyed these biting gnats that are so happy to have me sharing their shade? Who knows? John, Henry and Ed are in their graves. All that we have to go on is what they left behind, their writing, those psalms to nature that lured me here in the first place.

“Why does it matter?” you ask. It matters because there is more than heat, gnats and lack of water beating me up down here. My ego is hurting. Because my spirit isn't filled with the joy of nature, I'm asking myself, “What's wrong with me?” Perhaps it would help if, like a marathon runner, I could anticipate a group of bystanders cheering me as I step over the finishing line. But, when I finish late tonight, there will only be darkness and an empty truck.

Ed, John, Henry, why not let me feel good about those few brief moments of wonder during my 11 hours on the trail? That single scarlet penstemmon glowing like a candle; the unexpected glimpse of an Anasazi ruin abandoned 1000 years ago; a petroglyph depicting a hunter's celebration of a successful sheep hunt.

Issa, a Japanese monk who lived in the 18th century offered a different view of the human psyche. He tells us that the world is a mix of harshness and beauty, that the pilgrimage is a difficult undertaking at best, that in wilderness we are as likely to find gnats as not, that we may as well do our best to laugh off our struggles.

listen, all you fleas...
you can come on pilgrimage, okay...
but then, off you get!
--Issa, trans. D. Lanoue

Issa, mentor-friend, your words nurse my spirit.

a fresh breeze
sweeps away the gnats--
sip of cool beer

published in Ink, Sweat & Tears