Thursday, December 07, 2023

The Collapse CLXXVIII: Streambed

25 June 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

We were up in the pre-dawn light, the Leftenant nudging each of us in turn with a look that promised doom at any sound.

I say “up”. I think it is likely we are up earlier now that we ever were, and from my years of hiking, one never truly “sleeps” in the wild, only interruptions between naps. And even if one was awake before the dawn, birdsong was always the sign that the dawn was coming.

Birds were singing as we moved out.

As I had mentioned, we found ourselves at the base of a small stream bead, the berm perhaps 3’ from the base. The stream continued down at angle where, about 300 yards distant, it intersected under the road. Beyond the stream, in the rapidly gaining light, was the town of McAdams.

This was the our line.

We actually passed upwards of the stream, moving slightly South towards the hills about 50 yards and around a bend where both sides of the stream flattened out a bit: an old cattle crossing perhaps. The Leftenant dropped her pack; we imitated her and gather around.

This was to be our base. Standard rules which I am sure applied to any age of war applied: No fires. No smoking. No talking. Do not – for any reason – step in the stream and create mud, which could be seen farther downstream. And surely, no standing, at least in daylight. The bend was enough to block us from the road both ways, but we were close enough to the road any noise could carry.

Teams would rotate in 8 hours shifts back where we had entered earlier in the night, which was deep enough that individuals could stand. From where we would camp, one could see the edge of the now designated guard post. If something happened, a flag would be waved and placed at the base and we were to arm up and go.

The decoy would be rolled out later this day. When – and not if – the event actually occurred, the phrase “you will know” was given. Our role was simple: move to the point where the stream ran under the road and form a line on both sides. Our side would have armbands; shoot everyone else.

The words “To Kill” were graciously left out.

Ox, Blazer Man and I pulled the night shift – 2100 to 0500, or essentially sunset to predawn – which made a fair amount of sense to me; after all, you want to have your best people the freshest and given what we knew, night seemed the least likely time for attack.

With that, she dispersed us and Team One set off down the stream. We were on our own.

We ranged ourselves along the edge of the stream bed, one after another. Water bottles were topped off with the understanding that they would not be filled again until evening, when water could be gotten. Whatever food you wanted had to be pulled out now, before every single thing was to be left in place. Arms were placed to the side.

And we waited.

If you have never spent time out in the wilderness with nothing to do but not being able to go anywhere, the first thing you find is that you are at the mercy of time – and time seems to stand still. That sounds like a bit of a foolish statement coming from someone in who’s age bracket days seem to pass like the wind – but with nowhere to go and no-one you can speak to and little to do, that is exactly how it is.

You may read or watch the stream for a while or even lay down and try to take a nap. You look at your watch – and it is maybe 40 minutes after you last looked, not the hour that you had imagined.

As the sun climbed in the sky, hats and bandannas came out to cover heads and faces. The water trickled by. Insects hummed. Birds flitted through the air.

And we waited.

We waited until it seemed like we were in a long tunnel surrounded by grass instead of a streambed. We waited as Team One came in and Team Two went out. And nothing changed.

I read more of The Peloponnesian War. I napped. I drank. I thought about all the places I should like to take Pompeia Paulina, as if this would all blow over next year and the world would be as it had been. Below my feet Ox either slept or sat by The Leftenant; above my head Blazer Man napped or made notes in a journal as he watched the stream.

Evening has begun to fall as I write this. I find myself tired from a day of doing literally nothing, conscious of the fact I will have to stay awake all night.

I dread days and days of this, being both bored and on edge at the same time. But I dread what will break this all the more.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. Really good chapter, TB.

    1. Thank you Leigh. I have to admit this last few weigh on my mind all week as I think about them before writing.

  2. Anonymous4:16 AM

    " If you have never spent time out in the wilderness with nothing to do but not being able to go anywhere, the first thing you find is that you are at the mercy of time – and time seems to stand still. "

    Very true. When on stand while deer hunting, time is measured in different ways. A bird flitting about or a rabbit hopping onto the road are events. Sounds that happen like traffic traveling on distant road, the sound of gears being worked, ATV engines droning on.

    And then your quarry arrives. Sometimes you see them ease into picture but often you turn and find themselves in full view. Time suddenly slows down while brain decides shoot - no shoot. And when decision to shoot arrives, your heartbeat suddenly is loud. You aim, steady for the shot and that microsecond of concentrating on where your bullet wants to hit. The shot (normally deafening) is in the background.

    And then Time resumes its schedule.

    1. Anon - If I got that part right, thank you. I am basing this largely on an experience when The Outdoorsman and I first started hiking and we arrived at the campsite for the second day of the hike at around 11 AM (we badly overestimated the distance). It was a bit too far at that point to make it back but there was no where else to go. We whiled the time away as best we could - napping, listening to a podcast, slowly moving positions to catch the shade out of the sun. Time was incredibly slow.

      Thank you for your description of hunting. It is helpful.

  3. NOLS used to offer courses that involved multiple days of being alone in the wilderness at the end of a longer journey. I've heard that some thrived and others nearly go crazy during that time. I have always wanted to do something like that just to see and hope that I would be one that thrived.

    1. Ed, it is an interesting concept, one that I have pondered as well. Even a Yamabushi event where you spend three days with others but are only allowed one phrase - "I submit" and nothing else seems like an interesting exercise.


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