What men or gods are these?
What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit?
What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels?
What wild ecstasy?
— John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
I’ve thought long and long about why I
busted my ass tried so hard last October to get those sites for the Fern Hill Spring camping trip. I keep coming back to community.
“Wolf, you’re making memories for your kid, and mine,” one mom had said to me at a low point last fall. “Thank you.”
We are, incredibly, seven years into a nine or ten year odyssey at Fern Hill. Every year the group Nick started with, fifteen or so kids, gets smaller. Families leave town, for one reason and another find other schools, lose faith. New families arrive. Four or five from Nick’s original class remain.
I remember the electric charge of parent meetings that first year, all of us crammed together on the floor of the little nursery, so raw and naked in our fears and hopes, barely used to the idea of being parents, and now our kids taking their first steps into the uncertain world.
“Dada stay,” said Nick, more or less every day.
Stay I did, less and less as the year went by.
“Can I support you?” Nick’s teachers would say, whenever I would hover conflicted at the gate, Nick in tears.
MIDNIGHT AT THE WELL OF SOULS
There is the real world, which is the world we can touch, hear, see, smell and taste. There is the virtual world, which is the world inside, which is also the world of television and movies, and the whole goddamn Internet.
Tents and sleeping bags are real. Campsites are real. Headaches and sore throats are real. Poems are real, memorized and spoken aloud. Most fears aren’t real. Most fear is a sideshow.
Once I lived among a community of poets for a week. One night we woke and gathered in the woods to recite sacred poems accompanied by sitar and tablas.
“Why in the middle of the night?” someone grumbled.
“Because,” said Bly, “That’s when the soul is awake.”
When the soul is awake, it drinks memory.
Two weeks before the Fern Hill Spring Camping Trip, Nick’s class goes on an overnight of their own, hosted by their teachers. Nick always asks me to go, which I do, along with a few parents.
This year I was sick, gripped by a malevolent virus wreaking havoc with my throat and lungs.
“I don’t want to go if you don’t go, dada,” Nick said.
I was past the contagious stage, though the virus had got me wheezing. I worried about sleeping in a tent and breathing the night air. But I wanted Nick to be with his community.
While Nick and the others spent the first morning at the beach, I pitched our tent and defended the food supplies from marauding squirrels. That evening the teachers fed and clucked over me.
Night came on and there was roasting of marshmallows. Children glided like sylphs through the woods.
Nick fell asleep as I began reading to him, and I lay awake in the tent feeling sorry for myself, hoping I would be better for the all-school trip in a couple of weeks.
In the middle of the night I rose and went outside. Are the stars brighter in the middle of the night because the soul is awake?
Happiness, they say, is built on memories, not things.
The sudden community continues next time with Wilderness Diary.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
In the Company of Others: Making Community in the Modern World by Claude Whitmyer
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