You think I’m going to write about your tobacco? Maybe I will, but it really doesn’t interest me as much as you may think. Well, at least it doesn’t in the way that you think it does. Oddly enough it triggered something of the last time we were at the river together last summer. Watching you pull out that bag and carefully place those dried leaves on your hemp rolling paper did it. The way you rolled it and licked the seam brought back sitting next to you on the rock in the middle of the river. I looked over at you and my eyes settled on the mole sitting on the edge of your bottom eyelid at your eyelashes. The last time I looked so intently at that mole I remember your lashes clumped with tears – a wetness that took me by surprise when I last looked at that mole under your eye last summer. You had taken my finger and held it up to your wet eyes as if you sensed that I couldn’t believe they were that way unless I actually felt it with my own hand.
This morning started out with blue skies and a scattering of clouds. The computer said that thunderstorms were expected, but who’s to believe the computer? So I left my sweatshirt on the kitchen table when we left. I haven’t been to the river lately. When you brought up going there this morning, I was grateful. I couldn’t have gotten there without your shoulder to lean on or your outstretched hand that was always reaching toward me when I needed it. The pain of my knee isn’t as hard to take as the lack of freedom it causes. I’ve missed the water and it makes me fear my knee because of feeling what it can take away from me with hampered mobility.
I was grateful for your eye for the minutiae down the trail to Spring Creek (yes, it is called Spring Creek – you were right). Your pace as you found: a grub, pieces of fungus, tiny flowers, a cheese spread red plastic stick - was slower than my unsteady hobble. By the creek, past the twisted madrone, on the flat rock above the river, you spread out your blanket with the little giraffes woven through it: Monika. I still don’t like stinky cheese with blue veins running through it. And your tobacco bag came out.
It was getting colder as the clouds sped through the sky in no determined direction. Lying low and huddled against you was the only way to stop the shaking. A hummingbird hovered at the top of a tall pine in the distance twice. A bear head gathered and dissipated in the clouds above. A moth clumsily transferred trees and I still don’t know why. For what purpose did the swallows play in the currents so high up? Soft rain fell on us as our faces were tilted toward the sky.
What was written on those cigarettes of mine from back in San Francisco? Those words were conversations from smoke breaks I took with Mike. I consumed the cigarettes with words. Smoking talk. Tobacco is a ritual. It has been for centuries. The rolling papers, the cigarette breaks, the packing of dried leaves with the whack of the box against a hand – the ceremony, culture and community of it is fascinating. Does the smoke make you feel connected with your new-found community you are now separated from? Is it a shared activity that brings you back to it in your mind and heart? How can I fault you for that? Your participation of the smoking ritual brought me back to my own past and a community now years gone from me – the past that you unknowingly triggered in me as we sat in the summer sun on the rock last year as I cried. Today, once again at the river, it was unexpected to be brought back there by you. But today, unlike last summer, it was accepted. I meant it when I said it doesn’t matter. It is only like coffee…. Is it the river or is it you that does this thing to me?
Your tobacco is related to the sweat lodges and chanting, to the peyote and the integration with nature and the harmony of things. You are striving for an understanding of the interdependence of it all. I hope you can see that my camera, my paintbrush and my words are my attempt at finding and grasping the same things you are. My seemingly ceaseless questions weren’t posed from skepticism or criticism. They were asked in a desire to understand the path you have chosen in trying to reach the same place I am.
Unlike the last time at the river with you, today I felt comfortable. I shivered, my knee protested with small spasms, but as I laid next to you on the hard rock I was comfortable. Next time we should build a fire so we can stay longer.
So, you were right after all: the tobacco did make it in writing.