Refuge

a short story

woodland_moonlight_ph-08263574~ art source

Outside, Mino ate in silence once more. Inside, he tried to not yet think about it. The anxiety of being disconnected had not subsided yet. It never really did.

He stared down at his eggs, taking in the scent of the spice he had smothered them in. Despite his inexperience, they tasted good. The toast added composition. It filled him. He could continue his day sated, momentarily. He raised from his seat on the porch.

These silent meals were taken slowly. In a savory swell of the minutes passing him by, just him and the food he’d painstakingly prepared, he could consider his life, his work, his varying muses. It was still early morning, just past dawn. For now, this was all that was required of him — restful relaxation and a calm meal, a jumpstart for the productivity each of these days required of him.

Time is limited. Both ideation and execution are demanded of me here.

Mino stepped back inside to the sink, and began washing his dish. A world beckoned out the window before him. Sunlight peaked through the grass and the woods just outside his cabin. Sparing cloud cover interspersed an impossibly blue sky. The pleasant landscape was matched only by the chirping of the birds making their homes atop and around the smallish abode which would make up his home over the next few evenings. The westward breeze tickled the canopy up ahead, on the hill, running over its breezy green hairs. A well-worn path, surrounded by this slightly overgrown grassland, led up it to a cozy copse of a forested area. It stood out from the rest, prominently staring down atop the miles of flat land around it. Mino gazed to the hill now, as he had each morning thus far. He looked up to it in anticipation.

The refuge.

Beads of sweat began to slowly pour from his scalp. There was no air conditioning here, because it wasn’t necessary. Nothing external of this place was. Comfortably warm, chillingly windswept, and unchangingly so, this abode was a refuge in its own right. It just wasn’t the one he needed. It was only a baseline.

He brought nothing with him. This was the most important aspect of the whole endeavor. No phone, no car, not even a bag to carry essential toiletries. He had trekked up here to the cabin. It had enough food stocked to allow him to survive for as long as he would be here. There was no contact with the outside world he would need to make any time soon. No one was expecting him, there was nothing to say or nowhere to be in this time. There was no one else here at all, not a single soul holding a single expectation concerning him. He tried to do the same himself, releasing responsibility to the void of peaceful repose here at what had long ago become a second home to him.

All the basics for survival were present. There was a place where he could sleep, the clothes on his back, solid walls against the wilderness. And of course, his avid mind’s unceasing motions. He smiled, closing his eyes, micro-meditating on the totality of his position. Peace was possible here, he garnered shortly. Then, expectations returned.

No distractions now, please.

There was no single one, external of his mania, left. Inattentiveness, and the inefficiencies it bred could no longer be excused. To combat the impasse, Mino once again paid steady attention to the trees, the hill, the shining star of his mind’s eye sitting atop it. It brought a level of calm. His mania being held at bay had everything to do with the idea that he could work here unrestrained. It all came down to the work. It was binding and driving and solacing.

After finishing his washing of the dish, Mino considered his wristwatch. One last abstraction from beyond this place. One last obstacle to remove. He took it off, placing at the base of the window sill. It continued to tick away silently, its surface reflecting the window’s perspective of the nearby edge of forest.

He reflected: once you stripped away the escapes, you only had one choice — you had to face up with — -

Mino looked up and out again, returning to the landscape before him out the window, its pathless overgrowths and its sunlit flurries of an endless green.

Another perfect day.

Mino is drawn unconsciously to the sun peaking over the horizon, filtering in through the unseen denizens of the forestry and the small leeway of a stream by its side. He had a full one ahead of him, and it was time to get out there.

~

Mino began his daily ritual, the walk around the cabin and through the forest. Maybe even up the hill. Each time he did this, even going back years now, he took a completely new path. Perhaps the same ground was trodden many times now, but in different ways, in a different order of being. There was some small novelty Mino received in the contemplation of these innovative pathways, in the ground he had never tread before. This is why he took these trips, of course. It wasn’t just to be in nature. That was only part of the equation.

Mino wore a light jacket, for the breeze. But it could breathe. The sun shined through the branches down upon his form, always threatening to heat him to a sincere sweat as he became more active. This was counteracted by the spaces between the fibers of the jacket he wore. As he walked, the air flowed through and cooled his torso in a reciprocation of his movements. There was a give and take, the heat and cold of the day-forest in action. Mino mused on the mutualism of his attire alongside the climate. Unlike everything else going on in his life, somehow, here in this place, he could always count on those two things.

~

As always, Mino was drawn back to his purpose in these woods. The lighted forest provided for him a known unknown. The former because he’d been here many times; the latter due to its unceasing and natural novelty. The chaos of life and change here in this landscape, this forest, this haven he continued to retreat to, was reminiscent of the sources of the best work he had created thus far. The beauty in combination with the isolation generated new ideas in him. And they were often completely unrelated to this nature he was seeing. They were made up of him, and the chaotic tingles in his own mind. Being here simply provided a natural clarity he would not be able to find within modernity. Nature imbued him with an unselfconscious canvas to work his muses on. No materia required, only his presence.

After coming here initially, Mino quickly understood that ideas would be brought forth more intact within this place. The only cost was —

Mino looked up to the hill once again.

It gets lighter every time, Mino reminded himself.

Mino quickly sidestepped a fallen trunk, leaped over a small, fleeing creek, stopped before a stream of ants crossing over his path. Mino bent his knees and stared down at their perfect march with admiration. Every single encounter was touching. It was perhaps due to its rarity within all the rooms in civilization he would eventually have to return to once he left this landscape. But Mino held a secret hope. The forest bred an ancient and special history. Just because he now had to go out of his way to be a part of it, didn’t make it any less powerful. Even in short shifts, he could unlock and unwind. The inescapably novelty of this world was rare and therefore powerful? Did our scarcity as humans from these places mystify them? Mino felt it was so. And so, he was distinguished to be a guest here, amongst the greenery.

He raised himself and begin to whistle, persisting in the effort of unthinking his old ways.

~

In time, Mino emerged from the dense thicket of woods and stepped forth into the plane of the clearing making up the base of the pathway up to the hill. He once again gazed up towards the refuge. So far, this trip was the longest he had gone without yet venturing there. Three sleeps. Easy ones, no insomnia-ridden manias.

Mino clicked his tongue and side armed the small stone he’d been holding. Incredible how much one’s environment dispelled those kinds of maladies. 

Looking up, a deep sigh bellowed out of his whole form.

Now the hill beckoned.

That transformative peak, both majestic lodestar and paragon to his anxieties. Grassy weeds weaved in and out from their perches, at the utter behest of these lands’ easy winds. The hill’s peak was the purpose and procedure of his time here. No more marching ants blocking his path, no more nothing. What was up there was very much a separation from the other-world he spent most of his days living completely outside of. A glare from the stream’s bend shot a ray into his eyes and Mino winced. The world of routine carried the commonality of ‘problems.’ For work and sanity, it weighed them out, demanding solutions he often ran out of patience to cook up. The chirping of the birds in their nests faded away. His old life he’d left behind, in the city and in it rooms, was the thing which housed his mundane conventions and the unremarkable conditions of what most believed to be the currency of a contented life. Sunlight drenched him in a newfound heat, cloud cover scattering overhead. The world of steel and organization and productivity and digitized emotion — it was there Mino tried to spell out upon the landscapes his faltering passions for any kind of worthy pursuit. And he inevitably struggled. He was at fault – not for trying in the first place – but for learning the truth of his position, and then staying there.

At this point, Mino bent down to re-lace his shoes tight around his feet. He brought his hand afore his forehead, wiping away the origins of the sweat continuing their steady march down his face. Mino considered his next steps, sloping upwards. He continued and continued, to walk and to stride.

~

Mino was a creative type. By his own definition, this was true. And yet, he still did not fully and articulately understand the implications of this. What it really meant was that he was trapped in his own head much of the time, trying to draw things out onto pages, mostly to his own disappointed eyes, and mind. He spent much of this time searching for meaning, whatever that meant. Internal and external of himself, there were things he wished to say, about himself, about the world, about everything. Mino had always been concerned with the meaning attached to all this stuff. The purpose of his work perhaps became evidenced by his action to create. In his choice to continue trying, he was dooming himself, creating himself. After all, what did it mean to do all these mad things, like writing and drawing and conversing so consistently of these vaguely existential worlds that could never be and were not recognizable to any but him.

Or was it true that Mino believed most of what he did was meaningless, so he might as well try to make it interesting? Supposed meaninglessness was the enemy he squared off with. Cage matches in the void. Yes, that’s what he was so often waging out. So in this, he worked to create his own worlds in an effort to make something out of nothing, effectively dealing with his opponents by moving against the inertia of the universe.  The nigh unmovable forces of his recurring mania, these fell away when the trappings of his old places, the steel and the glass landscapes of his other-life.

These were Mino’s worlds, and this was his world.

But what of inspiration? What of that elusive thing so necessary to begin at all?

Mino’s knees now began to ache as he stepped upon the hill’s rock-laden pathway leading up.

Mino knew his inspirations though. He had become acquainted and reacquainted with them, in various cycles, over his time in this place and others like it, over years and years of his working. By his own estimation, nature was his oldest and best muse. He came out here to face up with the world and draw something away from it. To walk amidst the oxygen-producing denizens of the greenery, breathing in life’s awakening, to sun-gaze up and into the Earth’s beholder, to feel the world’s smile upon his form — all of it was novel.

Novelty. The key to unlock much of what he considered his most valuable work. The wilderness was nothing but. But it wasn’t everything that he needed. This experience, the cabin, the isolation, the disconnectedness from it all — it did not hold within it enough to energize his foundations for creation, not alone. Mere novelty was enough to stoke imagination, but it was not enough to compel one to mold something from it.

No, that’s what this place was for. The stripping away of the regalia of modernity, it freed one up for execution.

Execution was integral, Mino grimaced.

And execution is often where he struggled. It was difficult to execute when you were caught up in the stream of modern consciousness, endlessly riding the waves of digital landscapes capable of anything. To do anything of value — really do it — one had to escape. From time to time, one had to run far, far away.

For as long as he could remember making anything, Mino recalled this importance of escaping. Being away from the grind, and from the normalcy, and the smallness of everyday life was imperative for the survival of his many muses. He felt bigger in this place; he was paradoxically placing himself in such an environment which provided the context for continually creating for the sake of his own diminutive soul, As a result of these deliberations  — he felt bigger.

Mino breathed in deep the fibrous life-giving oxygen of the grass at his sides along the hill’s nascent traversal.

Anyone who had sincerely spent time in nature knew of this feeling. And such a desire to be here was no uncommon thing for those concerned with generating ideas and squeezing out the content within them, whether upon the page or canvas.

But still – for Mino – it was different. He did have his own special brand of escapism, beyond even the forces of nature’s presence and the freedom from the digital.

Once again, he looked up.

~

Mino kept his head up as he continued to climb the path of stone. The sun clipped the top of his familiar destination and its simple black roof. There the sun’s radiating rays would stop and be absorbed into that darkened plane.

Closing in, Mino.

To escape, Mino headed towards pain. This was the simple truth. He always seemed to avoid thinking of it in these terms. Trauma. Was that a better word? Mino reached down in reflex to pluck a weed. He instantly used it to whack another’s bulbous head off, feeling like a headsman as he did. A kind of death, wasn’t it? Maybe just a greeting.

To rediscover musings of a kind he considered worthy of his enterprising mind, he would go back. In doing so, arriving at the places he wanted nothing more than to forget. As an artist — sometimes starving, always striving — he had embraced the straining wounds of time’s industry upon his psyche. Mino welcomed the animated pandemonium this particular place brought about within his soul. He came here to shake the things he couldn’t shake on his own. Or at least, he tried to.

Mino sought refuge within chaos.

Mino was cresting the slope. That roof, and the door, eclipsed themselves into his vision.

In the darkness up here, Mino longed for conversant awakenings with the furthest realms of his own dreams, and his own fears. He found that chaos could shatter emptiness and shadows might enlighten forgotten brilliance.

And this temple, this coop, this roost, this dig, this box — atop the hill, in the forest of his childhood wonderings — was a providence in these ways.

Mino came here for good reason.

~

The day’s rays were waning as they ran up against the cumulus overhead. There was a breeze along the wayward path up the hill now nearing completion. Leaves rustled in the trees on either side of his still-striding form. It was easy to forget the animals which made this place their home. He hadn’t seen any but he knew they were there, observing and patiently awaiting his passing by. Despite this knowledge, Mino heard no more chirping, no buzzing, no sound at all from the wafting grass or the nearby canopy. The silence grew in import the further up he moved.

Before he knew it, Mino had reached the peak. He gazed upon the place in all of its glory and all of its horror. The flowers, and the weeds, towered over the blushing grass surrounding the old structure before him. Each flower and each weed stood apart from the landscape, beckoning a different part of him. Separate realms of his memory activate at the inspection of their ever-swaying petals. Each flower is made up of a different color; each bit of life here requiring a different performance, each of a different nature and purpose.

Mino stared at it; this small building reflected more than it could possibly know.

Mino continued walking forth, frowning, grimacing, withering but yet unbothered. He fed his attention into its maw with extreme focus.

Mino approached the threshold of the temple, running his hands across the edges of the grassy fingers alongside his wake. It was high noon. A solitary cloud began to cover the still-shining, always burning star overhead, providing a temporary relief from the rays touching down atop and around the temple’s surface area. Mino hardly noticed, as always. He was getting hungry again.

For the first time in the day, Mino reduced his resting-face-smile to an expression of the compulsory intensity. There could be no other way to present oneself here. Of course, Mino had never, ever gotten used to being inside. That was part of it.

There was no going back, once inside. Not for a while. Once he entered, there was the inescapable feeling that he had left a part of himself behind. And this feeling was certainly true. It was the whole point of his coming here.

Mino walked up to the door in haste and ripped it open.

~

Mino stood in the threshold.

The sunlight no longer touched him.

A numb, blanketing shroud of silence filled his heart.

His eyes became as blank as his previous expressiveness.

His muscles tensed and relaxed in a steady cadence.

With each step into shadow, fighting and flighting were evoked in equal measure.

The darkness began to envelop him the further he stepped inside.

The space before him was empty.

Yet, in only moments, he could see them evenly populating the darkened and enclosed expanses making up the refuge.

One by one, the demons came forth from the rooms of his temple, staying and swaying and staring.

Their figures pernicious in appearance and motive; their presence illuminated steadily by the inmost room’s void’s own unshakeable presentation.

Mino wanted nothing more than to look away from the specters; Mino stared unflinchingly, entranced by the prospects of what they offered.

Mino, in fated tendency, stepped forth into the center of the empty room and sat with them.

He paused before stopping completely, crouching and waiting and delaying.

His eyes closed in a trepidatious conciliation, speculating on the telos of his journey here, imagining what new devils might spawn upon his pages in post.

Mino had no designs to leave until they gave up what he quested for.

Inside, Mino now breathed in a clamorous cognizance.

Outside, minutes passed by into evenings.

In the meantime, they feasted. ~