Notes 5

Two days before Christmas, my brother and I hauled Ridley the dog into the back of my car. The front window attracted her, so she flopped around the front seats to sit on top of me and my brother, threatening to knock the transfer case knob, until she stuck her head out the passenger window. We brought her away to a small hike along a rocky riverbed. And my brother talked about politics and transgender people and narrowminded therapists-in-training while we trampled through the fallen orange leaves and thin brush. I brought my field recorder, anticipating recording the birds, the wind, and the river. I just said, “uh huh.”

            One day before Christmas, Luca the dog jumped into the back of my car, now with the hard shell removed. The freeway scared him, so he climbed into the front seat with my brother, until we drove on a gritty dirt road surrounded by brush. We stopped to put Luca back in the back of the car. His ears perked up. As we continued, a truck circled in a mud pit, flinging dirt around. Two cars in front of us turned back. I drove through. The car slipped a bit. And up the trail, we parked the car and began our hike to a waterfall. Luca said “grrr bark bark grrr bark! bark!” at other dogs--especially a small, fluffy, white one that needed to be carried. The white snowball cried back, boldly, “arf arf arf!” while her owners shooed her along. Down the trail, Luca said “bark bark bark!” at a woman who stood petrified. The woman said “hi, thanks” to me. They say German Shepherds are aggressive on leashes.

            For Christmas, my dad got me a radio for my car. At first I was bummed because it looked like the radio for the 1998 Geo Trackers. My car is a 1995. I tested it out anyways. The radio did not fit, so my dad was bummed too. And the disappointment felt good, because it felt like a sort of a small, manageable and real disappointment that did not matter. We could solve it. 

            During Christmas Eve dinner, my grandpa brought one of his friends. She talked about gay people a bit. Her friend survived the AIDS crisis in New York. My mom looked at me every time anyone said the word “gay.” 

            My younger brother did not come home for Christmas. He was about 15 minutes away. According to my mom, he wants to be cut off from the family. And I think that’s okay—everyone needs their distance sometimes. I thought of the family in Ivan Doig’s memoir, and how the father in that book first hated, then learned to tolerate, and then began love his mother-in-law. I thought of how family relationships are sometimes complicated. What does it take—boldness or arrogance or distance or power or grief?—to rearticulate relationships in a family that needs to grow? 

            My entire Instagram feed has been filled with ranchers. Ranchers and cows and horses and sometimes cowboys. Some comments say that real ranchers (and real men!) don’t post themselves on social media like an influencer. I wonder, then, what they’re doing even watching the videos. “What makes a real man?” I wonder at the comments. I think of how belief is often strongest when it cannot be articulated or explained.

            In the car, with Luca trying to sleep in the back, I explained to my brother what masc was for gays. “My friend drives a mustang,” I told him, “and wears flannel.”  

            “What?” he said.

            “And I drive stick, and also wear flannel, so you know…”

            “Seems silly,” he said.

            “Well yeah that’s why it’s fun.”

            I’ve been reading recently. And I do not want any of it to mean anything big. Just prose for prose.
            I read de Certeau a few weeks ago, and he described knowledge in two ways: either a sight from above, or a memory of a route from a ground-level walk. The one from above constructs official names for things and uses them to demarcate territory; the one from below remembers sights and positions the world in relation to that. Where the sight from above says, “turn left on eighteenth street,” the one from below says, “turn left when you see the red house.” And now, I read a book by a man who worked as a fire lookout, describing the territory around him as if he is reading a map, and I want to stop reading. I think of Annie Dillard, who does the opposite, describing her local mountains like shards to the sky, but then kicks off to metaphor, about God or the void or something. Just give me those triangles reaching into the sky, with no name and no invisible metaphor, please! Nothing larger than it’s due. I’m in no mood to play, but to rest.