“You said I’d wake up dead
drunk, alone in the park…
a Grandaddy song
“Did you love this world…
…and did this world not love you?”
They were laughing, those two gnarled women, and I was livid. When we left that morning before sunrise to climb to our mountain-top listening spots and wait for the gibbons to call, we had expected them to get up early and come be here at camp, as discussed and agreed, to watch our shit. They were the wives of our two field assistants, they lived in the nearest village, and they were getting paid to do this. Instead, when we finally stumbled back into camp that afternoon, tired, dirty, and defeated, they had just gotten there. And they were pointing at my tent, and they were laughing.
I listened to this song every night during those months in southwest China. In those empty mountains, those empty forests, where all the major wildlife had been hunted to extinction during the Great Leap Forward, we were alone at times on a geographic scale you only find in a country the size of China. It was intense, and sometimes lonely and terrifying, and each night as I got snug in my tent, on my thermarest, inside my sleeping bag, I put this on and let Grandaddy welcome me back into the world I loved, back into art and beauty and music and imagination. Instead of an escape from reality, from the struggle and the beauty of this place, it was instead a layering of two disparate lives: the textures of where I had come from and where I was, combining in my tent and in my ears late at night, sending me off to sleep content.
It was goats. The women were laughing and pointing at my tent because goats. Our field assistants, whose wives these women were, were difficult in their own way, and had housed us in an ancient abandoned goat-herder’s hut rather than finding an actual site to camp. So these godless animals wandered unimpeded into their familiar shelter that morning, then on into my tent. They stomped on and popped my thermarest, ate up my rolling tobacco and papers, devoured all the various prescription pills (one of them got a percocet, I bet that was a weird night), munched through my headphones, and generally destroyed my sweet little haven where I’d fled the struggle at the end of each night. We patched the thermarest with duct tape, but despite high hopes it never served as much of a mattress after that, leaving me to wake on the cold forest floor each morning on a sad piece of deflated plastic.
I managed to score a janky pair of replacement headphones from someone–it was China, after all–and even though the sanctity of my haven had been violated and defiled, even though Joe had to hold me back from launching myself at those two cackling witches, I got into my tent that night, put this song on, and exhaled. There in the dark, surrounded by nothing but mountains and trees and the most stunning panoramas I’ve ever seen or hope to see, on the run from a modern human existence I couldn’t handle, alone in a tent in nowhere China, I listened to this song. It saw me through.
“I believe they want you to give in…
…are you giving in, two thousand man?”