I had another of my interesting dreams.
After a busy week of creative nonproductivity, buried under screamingly busy surface issues like traffic and work and grading and laundry that came out of the washer tied in mysteriously intricate knots, I fell against my will into a sudden stupor of sleep on Wednesday afternoon. Now, I am not a napper. In a perfect world, my body would love for me to be a late afternoon snooze hound, but in reality my schedule won’t bear it. When I give in to the midday, drowsy undertow, I pay by degrees of soupy headedness for the rest of the afternoon and evening—my work hours. I wind up behind the wheel of the car in the dark, swilling coffee or soda or both by turns, singing loudly to songs I don’t like at all in hopes that the annoyance factor will keep me alert enough to swerve all the texters on my night roads.
But on Wednesday, I sat down to read, and as soon as my ass hit the couch, reality tuned in a new station.
As it unfolded, here is what happened:
Unexpectedly, I find myself hiking, empty handed, through an arid, unpopulated place where the trail is so dusty that as I walk along, I stir up a fine caliche mist. White flies make blurry hurricanes around me. I swat a space for breathing, and realize that the motion of my hand is the only stir in the air. It occurs to me that I will not last long without water.
This is the second time of late I have found myself hiking in a dream without the right supplies.
Ahead of me on the trail, there appears a black rock wall and in that wall I see a small, triangular crevice, just high enough for me to stand up in. Without one question in mind as to why I would go into a cave—my waking self being very disinclined to do such a thing—I gamely walk in, almost hurrying down the rocky tunnel inside its rim. The floor is a narrow channel, splashy wet, tumbled with little round stones. I can see the rippled walls in a growing half-light and I wonder if it’s really a cave or if it’s just a drainage ditch the ground is dressing up in moss and roots and rocks.
Walking in the trickle of cold water, the air cooling down, I half step the graded slope toward some bright point ahead. After miles of tunnel, bending lower, but gently so, I trip on a root or a rock and almost fall out onto a meadow of soft, pale grass topped by a bright blue cirrus swiped sky. There is a breeze, sweet as the scene, little insects milling and chittering so that the country is alive in its empty space. There are low, sloping hills in the distance, some kind of pronghorn deer grazing off a ways. A couple of them look up at me and then go back to eating grass.
Just ahead, there is a campsite. I make for it, feeling at home and unconcerned. I am so chill in dreams. When I get to the clearing, I find it is a wide circle, made of wood chips, pebbles, the charry remains of old campfires all scattered about. My feet crunch over the ground. Here and there are cairns, different sized heaps of stones arranged in some specific way that doesn’t mean a thing to me. I don’t have anything to do with those, so I walk by. On the far side of the circle, there is a shelf, a kind of dark box that stands about waist high. On that shelf there is a fire burning, smoking. The heat is encouraging though I have not been cold.
Now, as though I had meant to all along, I reach out and take a handful of this fire and begin to eat it. There is a flitting, a flickering in my mouth, a smoky, burned cinnamon flavor, and then a sort of hollow, brickled popping of the burned wood and coals as they crunch between my teeth—as though I were eating a sugar wafer made of spent fuel, a burned-cookie and ash offering. The fire itself is hot, alive, but not injurious. I swallow it all like medicine.
Still chewing, swallowing, cramming the fire in as though I were starving for it, a shadow falls. I feel a…something…behind me. I turn around and there stands on its hind legs the biggest bear I have ever imagined. He is red-brown, and he smells beastly, loamy, his breath all hot juices and spent smoke. His face is longer than a bear’s ought to be. I think. I have never seen this kind of bear before so I don’t really know, but it strikes me as very long, pulled into a considering expression. I wonder why he’s there, since I have never had much to do with bears, but I fail to run even when it occurs to me. We stand there for a bit. He’s my bear, I realize, and when that thought finally sits down inside my head, he holds out his bearish hands. In one there is a huge round river rock. Grey, smooth, cold, heavy. In the other there is a pile of little delicate bones all whitened by the sun. Those are some of my bones, but I am not upset by this. I think, I don’t miss them at all, so that’s fine. The bear is pleased. I turn around again to see the fire still burning. Beside the campfire shelf appears a smaller, black bear, swaying from foot to foot, looking at me. His movement seems to be bringing the night over the hills like a quilt pulled over the foot of a bed.
I start to dance around, too. The thought of staying with my bears begins to spread out in my mind with the stars coming on.
At that moment, a bright light, a flashlight shines in my eyes and a hand, very human, masculine, grips my face. I squint, pissed off, into a face I can’t quite see, but it’s definitely a man’s. He’s wearing a miner’s hat, light blazing, and he’s sooted and dressed for work in the mines.
Without explanation, he throws me over his shoulder, makes for the tunnel. I can see the divide between the bluing evening grass and the black, wet rocks of the tunnel. We go up, the grade steeper than before, seeming to go straight up a mountain. After an uncomfortably long time, during which I have established that struggling is not productive, we emerge, he dumps me on my back in the light of a desert day, bends over me, his face still obliterated only now by sun, and says, without malice but with authority, WAKE UP!
Generally, I do not understand my dreams. But I know this much—there is something afoot in the inert regions of mind and impulse. I see evidence of this more and more. Whatever genie lives in my heart that loves so much to play and say what it pleases in paint or poetry or prose is not content. There is a revolt under the mountain of my dailies. We are at a stand off, my dreams and my jobs, both a full measure of my whole self. The tides of waving flags muster just at the lip of sleep’s deep well. And while I consider the uprising in my dreams and the business that goes without my awareness, there in the deep, I have to wake up and shake it off.
I wake up and shake it off. And I consider the cofederacy of bears and miners and wonder what fire I’ve swallowed without caution.