I've been having some trouble sleeping lately. The pattern goes as follows: I fall easily and deeply asleep at about 10:30 and then pop fully awake at about 2:45 — the dark one — thence to toss, turn and fret until about 20 minutes before I have to get up, at which point I fall again into a deep, albeit brief, sleep. When I first wake up there transpires an internal dialogue between the part of my brain that feels four hours is plenty and is ready to get started, the fun, creative brain, the one who clearly remembers all those years with no sleep at all, and the sane, responsible part connected to my body that knows we have to get up and go to work. It goes a little something like this.
"Woo-hoo! Rise and shine, buddy mine! Let's go! It's a brand new day!"
"(groan...) Not again... dude, I told you, 0530 is wake up time! We're not even allowed out of bed now! It's dark in here! We have to work all day! Go back to sleep!"
"Not gonna happen, dog. I'm fired up and ready. I'm doing this with or without you."
"Fine. How about some ideas for the Stony Lonesome, then? Make yourself useful."
"Yeah, no. I think what I'd rather do is repeat a single line from that terrible pop song you heard earlier, about 3000 times. Then we'll watch home movies, starting with the one where David North stepped on the tail of your Halloween costume in 4th grade and the whole school saw you in your underwear. Then we'll wonder what all your exes are doing, which should take us straight through til sunrise. That's when I like to take a nap." Stupid brain. Obviously it's taking revenge on me for all that tampering I did with its circuitry back in the day, not realizing it's shooting itself in the foot.
As a result of all this relentless nocturnal pinballing I spend the day grouchy and intently focused on how very adept every single person I come in contact with is at irritating the hell out of me. Curious, really; you'd think they'd formed a union and devised a coordinated stratagem to maximize my irritation.
What I am not while in this condition is creative, calm, or thoughtful, all prerequisite conditions for writing, and so I recently found myself approaching my personal deadline for getting started with nary a germ of an idea. Then my AVA arrived and I read in the Letters column one very intriguing communication. Incidentally, if the editorship of this paper has not considered the possibility of mining the epistolary archives for a book-length compilation of all the wonderfully demented best of years past, you're missing an opportunity and I would personally jump at the chance to shepherd it. Anyway, in this particular missive, one Joshua Lowell of Mendocino asks this provocative question: "Did you ever get lost in the pygmy forest? How about at night between your driveway and the front door?" He goes on in what may be indicative of an unhealthy fixation on this peculiar arboreal anomaly, but the first couple of lines certainly got my attention.
I thought I was the only one.
When first I moored my wayward ship 'pon Albion's rugged shore, it wasn't long before I heard the term "pygmy" being used in casual conversation. I believe the speaker said something about "spending the day out in the pygmy." This didn't make a lot of sense to me, and right away I pinpointed the reason: it was a preposition problem. He should've said he was with, not in, the pygmy. Unless…
No, that would be unbelievably crass.
Also, the term "pygmy" struck me as being solidly on the mid-20th century side of PC, especially if it were being applied to a diminutive African-American. And it is particularly dehumanizing to identify a person with the definite article without even the courtesy of a pronoun, much less a name. I made a vow right then and there to befriend this pygmy, whoever he or she was, and reassure the poor chap that the world was not all so rude and unfeeling.
I was quickly disabused of my misunderstanding by a helpful local who lectured me at length on the pygmy forest phenomenon, about which I remember nearly nothing. Seems to me plate tectonics entered into it, or maybe some kind of spell or enchantment. It's not like Albion isn't positively boiling with witches within whose power it would well be to shrink the very forest.
I had a neighbor on H Road in Albion, one John, with whom I would sometimes spend an evening playing guitar and drinking. He lived a short distance away, maybe 100 yards, through first a short path through the forest, then a large clearing, then another twisty forested path. On one of those nights, after the last chord had been struck and the final beer quaffed, I was strapping up for the walk home and realized I'd forgotten my flashlight. It was light when I left—how the hell was I supposed to know night was coming? Who am I, Nostradamus? John, an extremely responsible type who walked around with Fentanyl patches plastered all over his neck, had several flashlights but none possessing the vis viva essential to fulfill their function, i.e., batteries. "Dude, you better call Ruth to walk down here and light you home," John said, referring to my elderly auntie with whom I resided.
"Nonsense, I'll be fine. It's midnight anyway, she's sleeping. Fuckin' dung beetles can navigate by the Milky Way, I think I can follow a trail for a few yards in the dark."
"I don't know, man, it gets pretty dark out there."
"You're talking about my milieu, homes! I am a nocturnal creature! See you tomorrow." And with those famous last words I was off.
I hadn't taken too many steps into the dread pygmy when the only light source, John's porch bulb, was swallowed up by the enveloping darkness. I ventured confidently forth, trusting my feet to guide my way. Surely I could tell when they left the well-trodden path. So I thought, but my first indication that I'd left the trail was when a branch poked me in the chest. "Ow," I said. "Son of a BITCH."
The sound of my voice seemed muffled and ineffectual, as if absorbed by the night. The dark was so complete that there was zero perceptual difference between up, down and forward— all the same featureless black void. Until I started walking again, that is, and then the darkness in front of me became very stabby and scratchy. I scrabbled around on the ground—definitely not on the path—for a stick and found one, which I swung in front of me in short violent arcs like a very aggressive blind man and was able to make some forward progress in this manner. At one point I thought I might be in the clearing and yelled a couple times, thinking my voice would carry better there, but the forest again swallowed my cry.
Okay, I thought. Let's think this through. Get in touch with your inner dung beetle. I decided to randomly choose a direction, walk 100 steps, and if I didn't see or feel anything familiar, turn 30 degrees and walk 100 more steps, and so on until I reached the road, or home, or John's, or another neighbor or the ocean or something.
Sound theory, but to no avail. After 600 steps and 360 degrees I was forced to admit it: I was lost in the pygmy. Some men might panic in such a situation, but some men might not be as drunk or as fatalistic as I happened to have been that night. "Fuck it," I said, "it's gotta get light sometime," and curled up on the forest floor and went to sleep.
I was dreaming that my name was being called in a church raffle to win a giant wheel of cheese when I realized some person or persons was actually hallooing for me. I opened my eyes to see several flashlight beams slashing through the forest. "Yo," I said. "Over here."
Turns out John had called about 15 minutes after I left to ensure I'd made it home, and when I hadn't he and Ruth went out looking for me. After a spell of fruitless searching they enlisted a couple more neighbors to help, and they traipsed around the pygmy hollering my name for a full two hours as I napped until they found me—approximately 20 feet from the cabin. The backside of it, oddly, which meant I had passed it at least once.
I was chided for my stupidity, lectured on the incomprehensible vagaries of the pygmy forest and sent off to bed.
The moral of the story is: The pygmy forest is magical and has the power to befuddle men's minds (as does beer). The lesson is: dwellers in and around this enchanted biome must always be equipped with freshly batteried flashlights.
Joshua Lowell of Mendocino, thank you for the prompt. You are now an official FOSL (Friend Of the Stony Lonesome, pronounced "fossil") and may legally apply that designation to your CV. May all your future forestal incursions be well-lit and undeviating.