The 90 degree heat took a break for several days this week to offer up some very pleasant days and even nicer nights. The humidity even took a break from its sweaty summer reign to present such nice days I wonder if my life might be happier if I just went prehistoric and lived in a hut I built myself, my only concern foraging enough food for the day. But, when the heat returned and the rain poured down this weekend, a sturdy roof and air-conditioning unit seemed to warrant a job. For now, periodic backpacking trips will do.
Students returned to Murray State this week to begin moving in, and you can feel how the energy of Murray changes from a sleepy small town to this bustling place for a little while. In truth, Murray still feels like a small town, it’s really just that lines are longer now and there are a bunch of 19 year olds who don’t understand pedestrian rules. There are times you’ll drive through campus and it will seem like a concert or a baseball game just let out. People cross the street anywhere they please with no hurry and seemingly no idea there is a car approaching. Are they blinded to the outside world by their devices? Are they too wrapped up in the stress of adapting to this new world? Do they believe the urban legend that if they are hit by a car their tuition will be paid for them?
I’m taken back to when I was dropped off to college by my parents. None of us had any experience doing this—we hadn’t been instructed by anyone. We just knew we needed to go there, unpack my stuff, and I would stay and start school. My mom and dad were emotional in the way you would expect parents to be at the end of an era in their son’s life and the beginning of a new one that signals things will be different. I was moving out. I was becoming a man (sort of). I wouldn’t be there every day anymore.
I was stuck in this avalanche of feelings: I was leaving school, my family, and friends, I was starting college, I was on my own, I was excited, I was afraid to fail, I was confident as a student, I liked Knoxville, I didn’t know anyone in Knoxville, it was time for me to be independent, I wanted all this, I was nervous because I needed to figure all this out, I didn’t know my roommate…These thoughts and more were circulating in my gut, and as I’m prone to do when I’m processing a bunch of thoughts, I got quiet. My parents were worried I was upset, and I’m sure I left them worrying about whether it was a mistake to leave me there when they did. I don’t mean to be all silent and mysterious, where people think I’m brooding or judging or about to have an emotional breakdown. There are just times I retreat into myself to take something in that seems really big.
But, I tend to thrive when I get turned loose alone to explore. I know that I will get lost and lose my bearings, and I am ok with that. When you’re with people, that can be anxiety provoking. I know that I can lose track of time and explore for hours without stopping, and that can really wear people out. I don’t mean to do this to my travel companions, but exploring something I’ve never seen is one of the most thrilling things for me in life. So, when I’m with a group of people I try to hold that feeling back, because it may not be as thrilling for them as it is for me. When I woke up that second day of being in Knoxville, I began walking around that big beautiful campus, where I would walk for 4.5 more years. It became home. It still feels like home when I go back. I feel 20 again when I am there, and sometimes I can even fool myself into feeling that way for a few moments on campus at Murray State.
I don’t know if it has anything to do with the return of students, but emergency vehicles have been very active this week. It seems like I hear a siren of some sort about every two hours or so. With students returning, there are all kinds of theories we’ve proposed. Maybe they are practicing to get into shape for the school year. Maybe this is the week they test their sirens to make sure they work. Maybe its a warning to all the new students of the danger that’s out there. Maybe people in Murray are celebrating the return of students with arson. Maybe a bunch of those kids I passed who don’t know what a crosswalk is are getting hit by cars. It makes our rather quiet neighborhood feel like a crime-ridden place where you need to constantly watch your back.
It may be overblown for people to worry about crime around my home, but the birds definitely need to watch out, because there has also been a surge in songbird deaths this week. I found the aftermath of the most gruesome murder Friday afternoon when I came home. I songbird was lying on my doormat, and it looked like a Columbian drug deal gone bad. The only part of the bird that was disturbed was where it was missing all the meat around its neck, leaving only its spine intact. The rest of the bird was normal. This was truly done by a cold blooded, sadistic killer and meant to leave some sort of message. Or, it was one of my cats. The next morning I found a dead blue jay in my yard. And, blue jays are big, mean songbirds. They’ve been none to dive-bomb cats and dogs and mess them up. This guy was laid out in the yard with a few holes in his back. I took them both to the songbird resting place which is a thick patch of bushes at the back of the yard next to our house. It’s a crazy world out there. Maybe those birds had it coming. Still, that’s no way to die.
It was a busy week for me, and Allyson said I needed to get out and do something for myself, so she sent me out to LBL for Saturday afternoon. I parked my car in the Denumbers Bay area and set out to explore on foot. I don’t know if any of you get this feeling when you step out a door or from a car and begin to explore an area, but I feel so full of life when I take those first steps. I raise my head and look up at the sky. I scan all around me. I am looking for something new, something exciting, something fantastic, something I will keep for a long time. As I set out on a trail, I topped a hill and saw a deer grazing. I set my backpack down and pulled out my camera, attaching the most powerful lens. I watched him for several minutes before he realized I was there. I had entered his world so quietly, it still seemed normal to him.
Throughout the day, I would try to pass through the world like a ghost, trying to observe it in its most natural states. There were moments where I could hear the boats and see the people who came to camp and picnic and tube. There were moments I felt like the only person in the entire world. I love this type of exploration, I love this type of life. Passing through, sometimes surrounded by people, sometimes surrounded by nature and silence. I soak them both in. I love to watch them, to listen to them. I wonder about them long after my journeys. It is certainly sometimes so quiet we get lulled into comfort. It is sometimes very dangerous and we would be wise not to let our guard down. But, there is nothing like that feeling of setting out into it, brave and curious, that feeling that your feet are strong and rested and they will take you to something you’ve never seen that might change your life.