A Whimpering Ixnay

Several Saturdays ago, a Mourning Dove woke me, its pseudo-forlorn coo complimented by the light patter of rain on my tent. It was the most peaceful moment of the day. I didn’t want to get up, and I didn’t have to. I was camping northeast of San Antonio.

When it rains at my house, it’s mostly just something that happens outside my window or on my windshield. I rarely hear it or feel it. It’s hardly an inconvenience, much less an interesting experience. But it was a big deal that morning because it hadn’t rained in that region for a long while. The spring deluge that flooded areas of the Alamo City was welcome in the wild, life affirming, almost fecundating.

The previous week in the Metroplex, I’d checked the weather every day. Up until the Friday I snuck away it was all “No chance of rain,” “10% chance of rain,” etc. Perfect for camping. But the farther south I drove on State Hwy 281, the cloudier it became, and by Lampasas it was raining steady. Burnet was a torrent.

I was nonplussed. I was frustrated. I thought about getting a hotel. I even stopped at one, and when I stepped out of my truck, the water in the parking lot was three inches deep.

Feet soaked, resolve shaken, I jogged into the hotel lobby to inquire about room pricing. I had planned for a little wilderness, but not rain. I would call an audible and simply camp the day after when the rain had stopped and things had dried out. I was ready to re-inhabit something approaching my comfort zone, but my weakness was fortuitously denied.

The lobby was busy. My fellow accommodation-seekers were all, in varying degrees, older, heavier and/or otherwise less disposed than me for a short stint outside their comfort zones, and I mildly cursed myself for the namby-pamby softie that I had become. What was that line from T.S. Elliott’s “Hollow Men?”

This is the way the world ends: Not with a bang but a whimper.

I resolved not to truncate my short sojourn into the wild with a whimper.

I drove on out to the campsite, determined to make camp when the rain let up. It was never less than a steady sprinkle, but I pitched my tent and threw my gear in it. Then I stood a small pop-up tent shelter and placed my camping chair under it.

It poured some more.

It was too wet to build a fire, so I did head back to civilization for some ice and a bite to eat. It rained most of the night.

When the Mourning Dove woke me, I was amazed at how well I’d slept. Back home the rain would simply have been a mild nuisance, but there in the tent it was a small marvel. I laid on my back and listened to the doves and the rain and actually heard them for the first time in a long time. A lifetime ago. A time when I was maybe a little more alive and in touch with things that were more alive.

As the day wore on, the rain let up. I did a short hike. I dropped a line at what looked like a good fishing spot. I even swam a little.

Back at the camp, everything seemed greener. The land had been parched and the rain was a welcome drink. A squirrel from a nearby tree practically came up and gave me a high (or low) five.

It was great to be in a small way more in tune with nature than at odds with it. It was as close to accomplishing an Absolute Good as I had been in years. I was still something of an unseasoned interloper, but I was making an effort and it helped my perspective.

In a day or so I would be back in the city, shuffling papers, anchored to a desk, faking a living. All the silly, unnatural compromises most of us have to make to remain productive cogs in the machinery of our own physical and spiritual denigration.

In a few weeks I would forget what green in the wilderness after a rain looked like, but a Monsanto dye in one of our daily, unholy foodstuffs might approach it, and the giddy patter of rain or the song of a Mourning Dove—well, they would be etched in my memory for a month or two and then disperse like the dreams and honesty of youth.

Yes. Elliott was probably right. But I had a few more days to remain unspoiled or less spoiled in a place that was unspoiled or less spoiled, and for a time I would be less hollow.

The trick would be stringing together more less-hollow moments and experiences, perhaps crafting an existence preferable instead of just comfortable or bearable.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo, Texas and the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (History Press, 2013). He can be reached at: erbillsthinks@gmail.com. Read other articles by E.R..