Purgatory in Putah

by Bradley Cristler

I

            Almost always, in my adult life, I had refused to relocate myself in the so called wilderness for a night or two amongst other civilians. Others might call this camping, but I call it Hell. This is not some proclamation against nature and all of its beauties, but more so a protest against the practice of taking city living and briefly transplanting it out in the trees, by the water, up in the mountains and so on. I have always enjoyed the thought of driving to a particular destination for the day and enjoying the natural splendors, mostly on my own terms and not having to meet other people's arbitrary agenda. There are few people that I can stand spending my time with for the whole length of a day none the less overnight. But, as I do from time to time, I succumb to some sort of peer pressure and reluctantly say yes. In this instance, this happened to be the case and it further reassured my abhorrence for the good ole American tradition.

            Luckily, not far from Woodland, I had to drive just outside of Winters. Four or so miles up the way, there was a left on Pleasant Valley Road and then a right into the Lake Solano Park Campground. Missing the entrance to enter the campground, I started driving towards the exit and luckily, I soon realized, because there were bulky spikes that faced my direction. I backed up and swung right into a parking space. I looked all around, befuddled as to where the hell I would enter the campground. I walked out of the car and towards a modern-looking building called the Lake Solano Nature Center and just as I saw a stop sign on the other side of the building, a park ranger came over to me and said, "Hi. Can I help you?"

I waved him off and said, "Nope. I have it all figured out."

As I put the keys back in the ignition, a booming sound came from my windshield and as I looked, one of those false apples caromed off the glass and left a splotchy green spot. I believe this is where my frustration truly started. Backing up, I headed for the stop sign and when I reached it, a voice came out saying, "Hey! You need to stop," and I kept on driving through the winding campground.

There were RVs, trailers, tents and a varied assortment of pickups. I was told by my friend Lester, the man that somehow convinced me to come down here, that he was all the way towards the end by the water. Putah Creek. Before arriving to the destination, the only part of the short drive on the surprisingly well-kept road that perked my interest was a peacock casually strutting along the roadway. Only driving 5 mph past the campsites, it allowed me to somewhat safely rubberneck its majesty of colors.

I started to see the water and then soon enough, there was Lester sitting upon a picnic table with his dog, Midnight, at his feet. She was a Labrador Retriever that was all black, thus the apt name. Lester waved me over and I found the nearest run of cement that veered off the road and parked. Stepping out onto the ground of leaves, dirt and needles, the heat reassured me that Summer was still in full bloom during mid-September. I walked over to the picnic table that sat under a giant tree with low hanging branches and leaves. As though there was a protective barrier around the arborous being, a swath of yellow jackets buzzed about, not paying any mind to either me or Lester. These particular kind of yellow jackets were often referred to as "meat bees" or "meat jackets," because when anyone had any kind of meat out or was cooking, they would swarm by the dozens and try to feast. As a dual threat, they bit and stung and were more than a nuisance.

"Glad that you could finally make it," Lester said.

"I guess I kinda am, too," I said, looking around at the surrounding campsites and then back at my fellow buzzing campmates.

"Too bad you couldn't make it up last night. The moon was absolutely beautiful."

"I'm sure the moon will be back out tonight." Sitting under the tree, I kept grabbing at my glasses and cleaning them with my shirt. Every time that I brought them back up, there would be a large smear. I would mutter obscenities to myself and keep vigorously rubbing away at them. Finally, it was clean enough and I put them back on. Then, as time barely passed, more spots kept appearing.

"It's the damn tree, Gus."

"What about the damn tree?"

"Your glasses. All the sap. Stand over here in the right light and you'll see."

I stood up, walked over to a different angle and as the Sun shined down, there was a constant mist falling from the tree. It was as though the tree was a God and it was eternally ejaculating. I grimaced at the thought of how much was all over my clothes and body. The whole being cloaked our entire campsite and I looked around in defeat.

To make up our campsite, there was Lester's grey pick up, a large enough tent that could possible house about four people and my measly Honda. Putah Creek sat directly next to us and there were periodic water holes along the bank for campers to swim in or put their modestly sized boats in, like kayaks or canoes. The water hole that practically sat in front of our campsite was swarmed with kids and an adult from the campsite over. There were chairs lined around the tree covered cove as though they wanted to let everyone know that this was their own lovely grotto. I couldn't help but irrationally think of Thomas Alva Edison and his incessant need to gobble everything up to make the largest monopoly in the world. I go as far as calling Mr. Monopoly from the board game Ole Tommy. These kids and the adult immediately lit a fire inside of me and I wanted to take down their corporation with my antitrust law.

With the frustration building up in me, I asked Lester, "Did you bring anything to drink?"

"Yeah. I got some Tecate in the cooler over there." When it came to generic beers, most people that I knew or saw drank Bud Light, Budweiser or Coors Light. But, with Lester, he always stayed true to Tecate. It didn't bother me one iota, so I grabbed one of the red cans and began to drink.

"If you don't mind, I am going to walk up the bank a bit and check it out," I said.

"Go on ahead. I got no ball and chain on you."

"You can if you want," I said with a smirk.

"Don't be getting all weird and shitty on me," he said and I walked off laughing to myself.

To walk away from the weeping tree and constant hounding of the yellow jackets was beyond a pleasure and I slowly paced along a narrow dirt path that lined Putah Creek. Every so often, I passed a waterfront campsite and the people upon their foldout chairs would stare at me with little emotion. Instead, to avert from the awkward glares, I looked out on the murky creek that had so much, what I call, pond scum. On the other side of the creek, a dirt wall led up to a road with trees that shielded the sound of speeding vehicles driving by. Now and then, there would be someone wading in a canoe and half the time, there would be a dog gazing about while the owner lazily paddled. Quickly, I lost interest in the mini excursion down the dirt path. I sipped away at my beer and made my way back to our campsite.

Upon returning, Lester said, "I think me and Midnight are going to take a walk up to the nature center. Wanna come?"

"You know... I think I am all good. I kinda want to sit around and relax."

"Alright. Be back in a while."

"Take your time," I said and waved him off.

I walked over to the car, reached at the floorboard and pulled out my copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. On the cover, there was an abstract, charcoal-like drawing of a naked woman all sprawled out. If anyone has read Henry Miller, then they know how sexually driven his semi-autobiographical novels are. It depicts Henry Miller as a nomad amongst the Paris streets in the late 1920's and there are frequent interactions with prostitutes. It examines the human condition and goes off on existential tangents that I find deeply profound. In my opinion, it is an odd blend of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Charles Bukowski. A peculiar mélange, I know, but I could be way off base. Read it for yourself.

I walked over to Lester's pickup, pulled out a fold up chair and made way over to the child infested water hole. Without much consideration for anyone, I placed myself amongst them, nodded my head in a condescending way and commenced the Henry Miller experience. It was obvious that my presence annoyed them and they started talking in softer tones as though I was on an espionage mission trying to collect information on these fools. So, I remained like a suspicious figure amongst the enemy. I wasn't quite sure what it was I was doing to raise their red flags, but I rode the performance as long as I could.

Looking down at a page, I noticed sappy dots all over the lenses of my glasses. It was as though someone used my glasses in a modern art piece of pointillism. Having smudged and dirty glasses was near the top of the list containing my life's ultimate grievances. As long as I was stuck at the Putah campsite, it was going to be a losing battle keeping my glasses clean, so I tried to throw out any care and part of me started to deteriorate.

I heard one of the kids in the water say, "Hold on. I need to go to the bathroom."

The portly woman watching over them said, "Just piss in the water." My face turned to disgust. The woman noticed and said, "Everyone pisses in the water. It's just how it is."

"I'm sure your God would appreciate that."

"What?"

"Nothing. It's just the Earth. Who cares?" I said and leaned my head back down.

After a minute or two, the woman asked, "Do you live around here?"

"No. It's a campground. I don't think anyone does."

The woman looked at me confused and said, "I mean any of the nearby towns."

"I guess you can call Woodland close."

"Oh, where's that?"

"It wouldn't be worth your time to know," I said, closed up my book and walked back to our campsite that represented Hades' underworld. The yellow jackets persisted in their clouds of venom and the leaved God persisted to drip its sexuality upon me.

II

            Lester is a stoic creature with an affinity for the ruggedness of outdoors and what the nearby counties of Yolo, Solano, Colusa, Sutter, Napa and others have to offer. Personally, I am more of a coastal dweller with the hankering for such counties as Marin, Sonoma, Monterey, San Luis Obispo and others. Our lust for Mother Nature definitely differs, but we both admire the land mass that is California. Lester has been one of those fellow friends that offers me an insight on the other side of the spectrum of life, someone to balance out my own thoughts and not allow me to carry such a hubris in my own beliefs and, I'm sure, I do the same for him, I hope. Sometimes, it's as though we can co-exist without saying a word and our presence alone is a lengthy back and forth oration on matters of existence. Despite my distaste for the activity of temporarily living on the miserable grounds of the Solano Lake Campgrounds, there should be enough peace to find and create a Zen that I didn't know I needed.

            By the time Lester and Midnight came back from their lengthy jaunt, I had already consumed a handful of the red cans of Mexican delight. My light pile of partially crushed cans was quite evident and Lester said, "Looks like you been busy over here."

            "Just squandering my mind through the gonorrhea ridden streets of Paris."

            "Must be talking 'bout one of your books. If you look hard enough around here, I'm sure you'll find some panties full of infections."

            "Look at you with your prostitute radar on."

            "You don't need to be a prostitute to get gonorrhea."

            "Are you sure?" I asked with a smile.

            "Oh, I'm sure."

            "Well, you don't need to share too many personal stories."

            "Fuck off, why don't you? Are we gonna go fishing today?"

            "You can do more of the fishing. It's not my thing. I don't want that kind of responsibility."

            "All you do is hold a pole. How much responsibility is that?"

            "Too much for me, hoss."

            "You sure are a lazy piece of shit."

            "That might be the case, so this lazy piece of shit is not fishing. I'll go, but you won't see a pole in these here precious hands."

            The two of us sat around the table and tossed back can after can of Tecate and Midnight would off and on walk over to the water hole and disrupt the little Edisons and their monopoly. That put a smile on my face. At this point in the day, the artwork of the God's secretions no longer angered me. I accepted it as a way of life and lived with my impairment. The yellow jackets were becoming devilish friends of mine and I would only have to periodically remind them to give me space and mind their own business.

            Eventually, the water was rid of the putrid souls and they were off gallivanting at their campsite and making a ruckus. Lester went to his pickup, grabbed a fishing rod and then as he pulled out another, I said, "You're wasting your time."

            "How can you come up here and not fish?"

            "It's easy. I came up here and I'm not going to fish. There."

            "Suit yourself."

            "I wouldn't let anyone else suit me."

            "Shut up and grab another beer."

            Resting on the bank of Putah Creek, the trees that acted as our canopy were refreshing and they must have been too young of Gods to ooze their sexuality all over us and the yellow jackets stayed within the confines of their beastly deity. Lester and I stared out into the calm waters and Midnight lounged between the two of us with mellow eyes. The heat was still sucking the life out of us, but the refreshing scenery helped ease our psyches. Looking around, the only marine life I could see were those insects that slipped about the surface of the water with their arachnid-like legs and these button-sized snails called New Zealand Mudsnails. There were signs all over the campgrounds notifying people to clean off their equipment or themselves to keep from spreading these particular species elsewhere, since they were considered an invasive creature. There was no way that my body would be submerged in the murkiness of Putah Creek, so that was of no concern to me.

            Growing up, I was only taken to these nearby areas around the time of Summer. There was nothing appealing to me about the lands plagued with brown. And yet, for some reason, there were hordes of people in Woodland that kept coming back to these spots like it was their paradise. I never understood it, though I hadn't really been out to these same spots during the cooler parts of the year and I am sure, I would end up appreciating it much more, but probably not nearly as much as my coastal desires.

            Lester and I spouted back and forth to each other, reminiscing about a certain something in the past or other portions of life that were happening at a much larger scale than our existence. Drinking beer or not, there were these grouping of conversations that didn't necessarily have any life-changing impact on us, addressing serious topics of domestic and foreign affairs and our place in the universe and someone could ask me later what was talked about and at that time, I wouldn't be able to recall. At the very moment, those discourses worked as a way of lubricating the cogs and making sure that everything was flowing at a productive rate, a back and forth to keep our wits at a healthy bounce. It was an unconscious exercise to make sure that we were circulating amongst the protons, electrons and neutrons and contributing to a progressive awareness of humans, of what they have done, of what they should do and everything in between. Racking around in a storm of words on a global scale or even greater, a universal scale, is a lost art and it utterly depresses me how many minds are lost due to the weak will, or possibly strong will, of not engaging another fellow human. Dialogue is a treasured instrument and technique that is waning at an alarming rate and the Sun will be there to see our demise.

            After much philosophical ranting and Lester ending up without a fish to his name, we walked back under the God and refreshed ourselves with more Tecate, pulled sandwiches from the cooler and sat about the buzzing of the venomous insects. The roars of the children across the way constructed an ire in me, but luckily, the spots on my glasses distracted me briefly from their foolishness. Oh, the death of me would come near Putah Creek.

III

            As a reassurance that Autumn was soon to come, the blanket of black start consuming the sky earlier and earlier as September aged. To unconsciously celebrate, Lester and I drank copious amounts of Tecate. It seemed like I should have been more inebriated than how I was parading myself about. Maybe, it was being partially one with nature or more maniacally, the God that shrouded over us wanted us to endure its pomp that it was continually spreading to the nearby world. Whichever it may be, I consumed more and more and then, Lester walked over to his pickup and pulled out a bottle of Cognac and out of sheer surprise, I said, "What's a country fellow like you doing with a bottle of that velvet goodness?"

"It's maybe slim pickings around here, but who doesn't want to hope for a French fuck?"

"Is there some term that I am missing or are you talking about a literal French woman or... possibly a man?"

"Fuck you!"

"Hey... I don't judge. Just trying to clarify."

"Do you want some or not?"

"I don't know what I insinuated that would put doubt into your mind."

Pulling out red plastic cups, Lester poured a healthy amount into each and we both sat about as the orange glow in the sky disappeared. I briefly thought about the God's excretions mixing with my Cognac. Then, any care swiftly disappeared into the abyss of Putah Creek. Lester and I went on about this and about that and in between conversations, I heard a yelping sound that translated like "Help!" to me. After a few times of me looking up for the screech, Lester said, "It's those peacocks around here."

"Really?"

"Yep. They can get pretty loud, huh?"

"Honestly, I've never heard what a peacock sounds like. Sure, I've occasionally seen them, but not that often, so it wasn't till now that I've never heard one. So bizarre."

"They can be quite the loud shits."

Amazed by the stress-like sounds, I drunkenly fantasized about lurking through other campsites till I found one and have it make that strange screech. That potential quest passed and soon enough, our cups were full of Cognac again. Both of our speeches started to become slurred, yet we continued on and on with our drunken convictions of nonsense. Lester's eyes became heavy and his head would bobble around. Fighting to keep himself captivated, he jolted his head upright to act like he was engaged and then his posture would soon slump down to a soon-to-be slumber state. After fighting the much-needed sleep for a half-hour, Lester said, "It's about time that Midnight and I hit that hay."

"Alright. You do that. I'm not quite ready."

Lester stood up and without lifting his head, he lead the way for Midnight in a stagger and stumble, swatting at the opening of the tent till his body was able to slide right down into his sleeping bag. I sat looking on with slow motion blinks. Once there was no more commotion in the tent, I looked over at the wretched Edisons as they sat around a fire and bursted with laughter. This created a snarl on my half-numb face. To disrupt their corruption, I started imitating the sound of the peacock I heard earlier, cupping my hands around my mouth and shouting a bewildered "Help!" Their heads turned in confusion and after so many times, I heard a drunken Lester say from the tent, "Would you shut the fuck up already?" I laughed to myself and decided to pour more Cognac.

The radiance of the moon lit my way to saunter about as I sloshed around the French brandy. My eyes were not heavy with sleep, but with elegant ease. I tried to filter out the noises of the humans that littered the night. In fear of being hounded by a park ranger or something of the sort, I stayed close to our quarters as to show my respect to keep my drunken self within our paid confines. Pacing and pacing in a rut, I couldn't figure out what to do with myself. I figured with the enhancement of my mind by way of an haute spirit, I would have some form of liberation, but I ached for more and couldn't figure out how to attain it. To oblige me, I had the scaling, putrid God to look down upon me and its minions to patrol my existence.

I walked over to the picnic table and sat upon the sappiness of the wood. Telling myself I had no care in the world, yet a deeper me was wailing away with an axe at the idea of difference, I remembered a particular excerpt from Tropic of Cancer: "Today I am proud to say that I am inhuman, that I belong not to men and governments, that I have nothing to do with creeds and principles. I have nothing to do with the creaking machinery of humanity - I belong to the Earth." Even though it was ultimately a state of mind to profess such a statement, it still made me feel a certain liberation I was seeking. Maybe, it wasn't liberation, but an understanding of one's own self amongst the cosmos. However it may be, my eyes and brain were growing heavier and as my body was shutting down for the night, I heard the cries for help coming from the peacocks.

IV

            Waking to the droning and revving air, I pushed myself up to see the sky around me with faints of black and the blue taking hold of the sky. I didn't hear one human patrolling the grounds and tried to figure out what was the nauseating sound of bass that hovered above me. The branches and leaves hung limp with exhaustion and the more and more I looked up through my splotchy lenses, I couldn't fathom that this God could be harboring those deathly flying vermin. I stood up to walk away from the persistence of those beings and sure enough, when I walked out to the road, the noise subsided. Still trying to wake up, I leaned over and placed my hands upon my knees. Breathing in the cold wet air that pushed from the creek, I wiped away at my face and when I looked over to the side of me, I saw a bloodied and mauled peacock. My eyes instantly widened at the sight, I stood upright and walked over to look about the colorful death. I looked around the campsite as though I was going to see a fleeing perpetrator. Nothing was seen in any direction and to gain better articulation of the crime, I soaked my glasses with saliva and washed away the God's enzymes with my shirt. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the body and then had the thought that we were sojourning in nature and this might have been a result of the circle of life. It felt like I was at the point of mourning. It might differ for each person when it comes to a tragedy where one person starts with objectivity and then moves onto the emotions of subjectivity. In this particular instance, I was briefly stricken with the emotional factor and thereafter, I had put on my Sherlock Holmes cap.

    When I walked back over to the picnic table and sat down, the fiends were starting to come down from their God and scour the scorched Earth. I looked on at Putah Creek and then I heard Lester start to stir in the tent. As he walked out in a daze, I said, "There's a dead peacock."

    "What?"

    "Over there," I said and pointed, "There's a dead peacock. It's just fucking dead."

    "The hell you want me to do about it."

    "I don't know... say something."

    "What the hell do you think I've been doing? I don't doubt it. I'm sure there's a dead peacock."

            "I don't think you understand."

            "Really? Right now? I just woke up, God dammit."

            I didn't say another word and as Lester came over to the picnic table to sit across from me, I only glared at him. We both looked on as the Pacific coast was waking up and I could only think of leaving this Hell and somehow find joy in the streets of Woodland.

            After enough time passed for me to lower my angry spirits, I said, "Where's Midnight?"

            "I'm sure she's still in the tent. Hold on," Lester said and then yelled, "Midnight! Come on, Midnight!"

            I looked over my shoulder and could hear something rustling about in the tent. Soon enough, there was that black dog prancing about the morning ground and when she passed me, I extended my hand to catch her head with a graze of tenderness. After she passed, I looked at my hand and it was covered in red. I poked at the smear with a finger from my dry hand and before I knew it, those viral stinging hellions were trying flocking to me. I started swinging wildly and at first thought to rid of the redness, I rubbed it on my pants, but that further attracted them to more of me. Out of bewilderment, I ran to the water and slung my hands into the freezing water, rubbed them about and splashed the smear on my pants. Amongst this bathing, Midnight ran past me and threw her body into the creek and a flurry of red wafted away from her body.

            After I felt I had washed enough of the sin off of me, I walked over to Lester in a state of delirium and said, "Your fucking dog killed that peacock!"

            "Maybe... Who knows?"

            "The damn dog is...," I said and pointed to her, "...was covered in blood."

            "How do you know she did it?"

            "What? Wait, what?" I said and looked back and forth to Lester and Midnight in disbelief.

            All of this commotion awoke the Edisons. They looked at us and then I saw one of the kids walk over to the road and said, "Come over here! Look!"

            I opened my mouth to say something, stopped and walked away from Lester. I paced under the God to figure out what was the universe trying to tell me and swore aloud to myself. I couldn't quite grasp why I felt so disturbed of how all the events transpired. There was a rational part of me that knew I was blowing the whole situation out of proportion, but I felt so lost in the perception of the murder and how the morning took shape around it. Thinking that I would gain some closure by taking one last look of the lonely death, I walked over to the road and a fair share of the Edisons were standing around the peacock holding hands. I walked over and said, "What the hell are you doing?"

            One of the younger voices turned and said, "We're praying for him."

            "It's dead!"

            The woman guiding them said, "We're wishing him a safe trip to Heaven."

            "He can't hear you! The fucking thing is dead!"

            "God works in mysterious ways."

            "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

            All of the murmuring faces turned back to the death on the road and I walked over to where Lester was still sitting. I stared out towards Putah Creek and Lester said, "It's a peacock. They die, you know? We all die. It was bound to happen one way or another."

            I nodded my head faintly up and down. Coming into view, Midnight emerged from the water hole, shook about to dry herself and marched my way. Thinking that she would be heading Lester's way, she stopped in front of me, sat and nudged me for affection. I looked into Midnight's eyes, up towards the towering tree, around to the scattered yellow jackets, over to the group praying to the dead peacock, to Lester and back to Midnight. From the wise words of Henry Miller, I said to myself, "On the meridian of time, there is no injustice: there is only the poetry of motion creating the illusion of truth and drama."

-The End-

-Bradley S. Cristler

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