I went to Montana last weekend, to address the Montana Education Association courtesy of James Bruggeman, and, outside of my official duties, I spent a lot of time with Jim on the road, in a big old red Toyota truck that seemed one story high, but with just enough horsepower to get us past the tractor trailers that crowded the passes, as he called them, those crevices in the mountains where you might sneak through to the other side. They’re actually named for the people who found them, and used them, God knows how or why.
Now Jim is accustomed to the vastness of the place. On Saturday, for example, we spent seven hours on the road, two hours there, two hours back, three hours in Yellowstone proper, but me, I’m thinking, the whole time, I gotta get out of this vehicle because if I don’t I’ll kill myself or the driver, I can’t bear the magnitude of this space, it’s too much — go ahead, use the words that come to mind, huge, majestic, incredible, the point is that the scale of it is overwhelming, there is no way to convey, in words, the lay of this land, I’m thinking maybe the next life is already here and it’s suffocating.
So I go silent, yeah, I’m running away from this frontier and Jim can tell, he says when you want to turn around just say so, and I say, by now, it’s 2:00 PM, I’m trembling and I’m mumbling, I’m staring at the buffalo herds — buffalo! — huddled against the wind, “Whenever,” but what I’m thinking is if I don’t get into a room, under a roof, a place where I can lock the door and turn my back on this, this insane, jagged, mountainous expanse, I will lose my shit forever.
Now my friend Mike Fennell thinks there is sickness here, or at least a condition worth a diagnosis, because he and I have spent some time on the road to Guatemala, in a Ford truck after dark, you’re not supposed to do that in Mexico, and we sailed from Havana to Key West in a 22-foot boat — he sailed it, I spent most of my time puking — so I think he might be right, I crave the confined space where I can answer to myself, and just my self, this boundless thing called Nature scares me.
I’m the modern individual, left to himself, knowing that Nietzsche was right, here I was with an interior that didn’t correspond to an exterior — yo, Steely Dan, how’d you get that right, “Still I remain tied to the mast?” — but now it doesn’t matter, and I want to know why.