Nights on the Ground | Crazy Oaks Crafts

I suppose it must be what they call the soul that keeps memories in some secret place and in some particular order. Through the miracle of social media, I have been able say hello and a little more to my friend Jim. We worked, hiked, and talked our way across America, a very long time ago. But some of the memories we share are so like the memories of dreamers who sleep too long in the morning, who turn in their beds too slowly, who don’t want to wake.

We rambled together up the Pacific Coast Highway one summer, long ago, sitting on the guardrails, playing games we had just made up: Fords and Chevys. When the last light faded, we were in a park. The firewood was locked in a dispenser. We didn’t have any matches or money. I shivered in my Korean War mountain mummy bag. Jim bared his chest and feet, lit a Kool cigarette, and told me how hard it was in his youth to endure such suffocating conditions. My teeth chattered while the fog enveloped us. On another nearly forgotten night I was hoping to find Jim and his wonderful family. I had walked the breadth of Chattanooga to get beyond the surly cops to an embankment where I could spread my bedroll and listen to the thrumming of the big trucks. Never has a youth had a harder time remembering where he was going. But, the morning came at last. The search ended in a rental house, scrubbed to the walls with Lysol. Where had my friends gone this time?

There was that year a great flood. I could not hitch-hike across Arkansas to my home. All the low country was under water. The great Mississippi was in flood. I took a ride with a trucker through what was left of Kentucky. He bore west across northern Missouri. I found myself by the side of an interstate highway, on the grounds of a state or county fair. The sounds of the wheels were the same. My shoulder blades sank into the nervous night. The loneliness was the same. There was the same interminable wait for morning.

It was the same as the loneliness of a young boy and his brother on a long ago night, in a long ago storm. Two little boys pitched an improvised tent and settled down to tell stories under a plastic shelter and wonder if the next lightning bolt would come home. Yes, the night was long, the stories were good, and yes, the morning came, so very long ago.