It was a simple life. For two months now he lived in the woods and woke each morning feeling awake. He slept in a small two berth tent and made coffee on a gas stove with the sunrise. He fished in the stream where he washed, picked mushrooms and berries, caught some rabbits when lucky enough. His only company was a floppy-eared nine-year hound, Rufus, the rustle of leaves and birdsong.
It was a simple life, it was a good life.
It wasn’t just escape from a world he no longer felt part of, whose connection became more tenuous with each day. It was about building a new world for himself, stripped down to the basics of small daily joys: appreciation of morning coffee in bare sunlight, gratitude for a replete belly, the comfort blanket of easy sleep.
He discovered a new purity within the complex beauty of nature.
He felt no bitterness towards his old life. It was not necessarily bad, just empty. Working as a clerk was merely existing; small pleasures grasped from fleeting inebriation, dull-lidded TV and trivial gawping with equally-sapped friends did little to enliven the dull whine of mediocrity.
It was just not for him, not anymore, not when he could stand up straight in the morning and stretch as high as arms could take. He could breathe again, the air didn’t choke; despite whatever luxuries lost, this was better.
But he wasn’t there yet. He knew that as he sat on the river bank and sipped his mug of Joe, watching Rufus splash in the water, churning up mud that splashed at his feet. Without TV, using nature as a clock, days had bled into weeks; he realised this life, so fresh in spring and warm in summer, could not survive a winter and doe-eyed reverie would not shield him from inevitable freeze.
Sitting there he saw what needed to be done; the vision came whole, as a real thing in his mind, so he was no longer sitting on a muddy log, but on a rocking chair on his porch. Behind him was not a tent and campfire, but a wooden house, with a stove, bed, armchair, shelves to place his books, hang his clothes, shower to wash. It didn’t have to be big, he’d no want for excess, but a place to be dry in the rain and warm in the chill.
A place to call home.
IN THAT STRENGTH HIS LIFE HELD MEANING AND WAS NOT INDOLENT AND WORTHLESS
“Got to be done old boy.”
He’d started talking to Rufus more since being in the woods. On a trip into town for provisions an innocent query from the shop assistant had froze him; his reply was garbled alphabetti word salad reply that left him a blushing teenager hiding an erection. He realised he hadn’t spoken the week before and was losing the basic art of communication.
He didn’t want to discard the ability, rejection of one kind of civilisation could not allow him to become uncivilised. As Picasso schooled himself in fundamentals of classical painting before deconstructing them, he too still needed a handle on the basics, just in case of emergencies. So, to keep the word muscles working, he started talking again, Rufus being sole recipient.
“Time waits for no man.” Even if just random homilies, they kept his tongue from drying. Rufus just stared up at him and didn’t answer back anyway.
To that end, he still shaved every day. Switching to a block of shaving soap and a straight razor wasn’t just affectation, it was sensible budgeting; disposable safety razors and foam were lavish expense when old school grooming tools could last a year. The more he eked out his pot, the longer his new life was sustainable.
The habit was important too. Discipline was an ill suit, but transforming tasks into regular habits made them easier and ensured a structure to his life. There was strength in structure; in that strength his life held meaning and was not indolent and worthless.
The house was structure; it gave definition to his new world, prevent the hermit life becoming so abstract, fractured and removed that reality became a distant friend. It would ground him, give him a postal address, point of contact if need must.
A roof meant more than just keeping your head dry.