“Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erhalten?”
Thoughts are free, who can stop them?
Title of an early nineteenth century German protest song.
That first brief round of therapy seemed to jump-start some process on the road to improvement. One of the things you do in a world that has abruptly become severely circumscribed is to create goals for yourself to take you out of the present world and its limitations. Some of these are simple and vaguely realistic dreams of once again being able to do chores around the property: cleaning horse manure, dragging the arena, clearing brush, playing tug-of-war with my dog, sitting pain-free and productive at my desk. And of course there are always the more immediate and realistic goals directly related to the process of recovery: moving the little gauge on the spirometer up one line; figuring out how to shift the newly, unexpectedly, extraordinarily heavy weight of my own carcass an inch without causing pain; peeing. Peeing is good.
My personal immediate goal was to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible, but I refused to go home until I could get myself to the bathroom by myself. Darleen was going to have her hands full with me anyway, not to mention picking up the slack for the chores I couldn’t do, and I was damned if was going to give her the inestimable joy of having to empty a urinal or a bedpan. I had cleared the hurdle of peeing, so I was free of the catheter. I had managed to stand upright and to shuffle. Now I would figure out how to make it into the bathroom by myself. I expressed all this to one of my nurses and she immediately set about trying to facilitate things for me. She re-arranged my IVs and the way the monitors were set up so that I could push my little stand myself, using it as a sort of wheeled walking stick. Getting out of bed was still a physical impossibility without someone to help me, but once upright—roaring, raging, cursing, and laughing at myself for roaring and raging and cursing—I could make the long and weary three feet to the bathroom door. Eureka! Freedom! Victory! Independence! Autonomy! And, eventually, home!
But there are other things I can do to get out of the present world and its limitations. Confined to a blood-soaked bed by pain and a broken body, I trot out all the cherished dreams I have kept in an obscure corner of my wish list, all the adventures and journeys I have resolutely clung to in a world that will no longer allow such things to be done. On one level, I know these things are not only impractical—impossible, in today’s world—but as Browning put it, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” So unwitting doctors and nurses come and go, treating the thing in the bed they think is Jameson Parker without ever realizing I have left for glorious adventures in obscure corners of the globe.
I ride through the lovely mountains of Sonora, Mexico. Sometimes I ride alone, sometimes with a guide, sometimes with an old friend, sometimes leading a pack horse, sometimes not, riding through the absolute isolation of these dry and rocky mountains, the only sounds the creaking of my saddle and the horses’ hooves on the dirt road, my old Winchester .30-30, in its scabbard under my leg, watching always for the tiny Coues deer that live here, watching too for the sudden lean tawny flash of mountain lion as I saw it once in these mountains, hanging in the air in mid-jump over a road, the cat that follows the deer in a symbiotic relationship as old as both of them. I come around a bend in the rough dirt track, a full day’s ride from the nearest village, and there is one of the crude little whitewashed, red-roofed adobe line shacks the vaqueros use, a saddled horse tied to a tree limb waiting with endless patience, the cowboy himself stepping out of his open door, lean as a wolf, courtly as a king, greeting me with a slow, casual, unsurprised raising of his hand, offering coffee, passing the time, I with my dreadful pigeon Spanish that relies more on Latin than anything else. I ride on mountaintops, through endless vistas in crystalline air, through the occasional distantly scattered little villages where ladies in flowered dresses and rebozos smile and wave as they watch me with curiosity; where the smell of tortillas cooking outside on metal discs over wood coals is as pervasive and typical as the smell of sunlight on pines at the higher elevations; through the sounds of bells from church towers that were built before America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, was even founded. I ride through the past in lovely Sonora.
Other journeys through other countries of the mind: a once hoped for camping trip through the highlands of Scotland that would duplicate the mad scramble David Balfour and Alan Stewart (his pale eyes filled “with a kind of dancing madness”) took on their flight from Earraid to Queensferry. I hike with my dog—there is always a dog—through sun-drenched heather on vast open, treeless moors, puffy clouds accentuating the extraordinary blue of that northern sky, sleeping at night in a small tent, my dog beside me, the rain beating comfortingly on the waterproof fly, snug and safe beyond all reckoning. A bicycle trip through Ireland where I linger in pubs in the whitewashed little hamlets of County Cork where my ancestors were born (in County Cork, I mean, not the pubs, though on reflection they might have been born in the pubs), drinking Guinness, listening to songs sung in Irish by pre-Raphaelite girls, listening to the stories of the most natural story-tellers the world has ever known, enjoying the mingled scents of peat and tobacco, the lovely warm bite of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, cycling on the next day with my dog to another hamlet, another pub.
I remember long-ago adventures and update them into future dreams of hunting trips with old friends in the Cedar Breaks of southern Utah, on the Uncompahgre Plateau, or the Wind River Range of Wyoming. The doctors and nurses think I lie there before them in my little room, but I sail off on all the adventures that were once dreamed of or even planned, but never realized, dreams that still linger in my own private world where Snoopy is bomb-proof and never needs to be re-shod, my world where strangers still greet each other with hospitality and interest and good humor, where there are no passports, no borders, no terrorists, no crooked policia on the take pointing their AR15s at me as happened in Cuauhtémoc, no dreary governments fencing in dreams with reality, no drug lords, no barriers, no limits.