I step back from the rock, settle in a wooden chair around the fire ring, and watch the ants. I have a place where I can do this freely and quietly. I call it the “rec room,” a special outdoor spot where I sidestep the rat race of the world and try to think in peace, or not think at all. I hope you have an equivalent place like this.
I sit around the campfire ring and think about a small community near Jersey Shore, PA (not far south from Slate Run), of families being forced to leave their homes because a company called Aqua America wants their land to build a hydrofracking water withdrawal site there. The fracking industry has free reign in Pennsylvania, but the residents are barricading their streets to keep the industry out. Families and supporters have been at it for about two weeks now, but AA is threatening to break the barricade soon. According to the Brooklyn-based group, “Water Defense,” which is dedicated to “ending extreme energy development,” the residents of Jersey Shore’s Riverdale Trailer Court are furious and refuse to leave their homes. Not only are these people in debt and living in an area where housing prices are exorbitant, where renters now pay triple what they paid a while ago (thanks to a massive influx of gas workers in the region), now they’re being kicked out of their homes. I see ants on the rock at their barricades now, and I wish the defenders well.
Here in the rec room I can hear the creek burbling 30 feet down the path. The evening robins sing the last of their territorial songs. A black bear ambles through a clearing just outside my view. And soon the first fireflies will appear. There isn’t much I can do to help the world right now; I am only ant-sized in relation to the sphere beyond, but at least I have a voice.
I sit around the campfire ring and think about the forest fires in our western states. I’ve grown fond of many high country sites in Colorado and New Mexico where I’ve spent time in recent summers, forests now getting torched because of drought and climate change, poor management techniques, by arsonists, fools, and lightning strikes. Forest fires are a natural occurrence in the scheme of life and even necessary for survival of certain plants and animals, but the scale of these fires is worrisome. I feel for the home owners involved, for the wildlife and their habitats under fire, and even for my own plans to investigate the wilderness of New Mexico this coming July. They’re going up in smoke, and the ants seethe over the rock.
We’re like ants on a rock and we try to do what’s right. In a recent letter from a friend, I read the following words: “We’re lucky guys, whether we realize it or not. Family, friends, jobs, writing, tolerant wives, and access to the wild. It’s all good.” Sitting around the campfire ring with a beer late in the day, I’m thinking, yeah, my friend is right– we’re lucky, and it’s all good, despite our problems and limitations, despite the horrors and the beautiful distractions of the world. And just to prove my point, the darkness closes over the rec room; the ants depart from the rock; I head back to the house, and I’m visited by a moth.
A polyphemus moth. A giant silk moth with purplish eyespots on the hindwings. The creature seems to look right at the heart of me. Pressed against a window of the house, this tan-colored messenger of the night is driven toward a light but is spread out in the form of relaxation. Polyphemus tells me that the ants are sleeping; the world is sleeping, and rest will be at hand.