I walk up the steps to my still-new house. Just enough heat was stored up in my jacket from the warmth of the car to make it inside before it the cold could sneak through and really chill me. I fling my backpack down and heat up some soup – my purpose for coming home. I stare into the sad bowl of corn chowder with mild yet expectant disappointment. I don’t particularly like soup. It’s just that it’s fall, and that’s a thing you’re supposed to do and like. So I spoon the rapidly cooling mush into my mouth and let my mind wander. I realize that the last time I was eating soup, I was in Badlands National Park. I arrived at the open plot campground late. It was due to a mixture of hasty planning, distraction, and the best sunset I had ever seen. Streaks of red burned through the grey clouds over the foreign terrain of the Badlands. I had to stop.
After the peak of it was over, I began driving again. It was only about 7:30 but everything was dark. It was that kind of quick darkness that only happens in the plains. In the mountains, you have more of a warning; their shadows remind you of what’s coming. It’s the kind of darkness that only happens in late summer, where things are still warm, yet it’s the only thing that tells you winter is still, inescapably, coming.
I roll up and find the most private place to pitch my tent – about 6 feet from a large green one and about 10 feet from a couple who are quite clearly sleeping in their minivan. I am alone, young, and female. I arrive after dark. I bet they think I have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m weird, that I’m insane. As I work, those thoughts gnaw on me until I start to believe them as well. The green tent people are sitting on chairs watching nothing in particular as there are no fires allowed, and everything is too dark to see, but still too light for stars.
It is fiercely windy as I expertly roll out and pitch my tent in a few minutes with the help of a tiny flashlight precariously tucked under the strap of my sports bra. That’ll show my neighbors I at least know what I’m doing, right? I opt out of blowing up the air mattress with my car, as that seems somehow inappropriate in this quiet. I roll out some blankets and my sleeping bag and brace myself for what I know will be a less-than-comfortable night. I throw down my ground blanket over the cracked dirt, and pull out a few items. Stove, propane, pot, spoon, soup can, and baguette. I haven’t eaten yet. I heat up some Progresso Minestrone and watch the green flames flicker light out and over me.
I felt exposed. The plains stretched for miles with only a small hill behind me. The sky stretched even farther, and up above it went on forever. I waited. It was an unfamiliar feeling. Being alone, in the darkness, with nothing to do. My hand itched to check my phone even though lack of service yielded it pointless. When the soup seemed to be simmering, I dug in and ate in a quiet, careful, and sad silence.
This was the first night I spent outside in a little over a month. I was able to identify that I felt so off because it was the first time I felt like I was running from something, rather than toward. I didn’t like it. That wasn’t me! That wasn’t what this year was about! In two days I would be home in Chicago. But could I even call it that? Not yet, I don’t think. California wasn’t home either. Not in a current way, anyway. I was in the middle of strangers, in the middle of nowhere, heading somewhere at a rate that wasn’t fast enough to take me away from what I was running from: a shocking fear, an exposed heart, a dream coming true?
This line of thinking was interrupted by one of the most magical and chilling sounds. I felt my entire nervous system clench and tremor in a primal response. What started as one coyote howl turned into a small pack of howls from my right. And then another to the left. Another group from somewhere farther off, and another yet farther still. They bellowed and laughed and cried to each other, these four or five packs. It sounded like a thousand of them. Minutes went by of them calling back and forth. It was clear they were on the hunt. It was like I could understand what they were saying as they gave out directions on their whereabouts and their plan.
And as their last echoes faded out across the grasses, I became aware that the wind had died down and the clouds were starting to clear, revealing stars in beautiful patches across the sky. Those coyotes cleared my thoughts for a moment. Instead of focusing where I just was, or where I was going to be, I was utterly aware of exactly where I was. I quietly and contentedly got ready for bed, and curled up with a book, ready to drift off. Then I heard Ira Glass.
His voice leaked out of a car that had pulled up directly behind mine. I peeked out. It couldn’t be. My friend had considered meeting me for the evening, but I had lost both cell service and hope of his arrival. “Claire?” I get through the zipper of my sleeping bag and the zipper of my tent. We catch up over pitching his tent, and spend a few hours in quiet contemplation and confused stargazing. The coyotes call out through the darkness again and the magic washes over us one last time before I crawl back in my tent, prepared for another day of the same journey.
About this blog
A place to post updates about what I am involved in as well as my experience navigating the Chicago theatre community.
Claire Allegra Taylor is a cultivator, investigator, and questioner of human relationships. She firmly believes that humans can always do better, be it in our treatment of the ones we love, our desire to fix epidemic social problems, or our care for our environment. Claire wants to use theatre as a means to show how this is possible. She would like to create work that is vibrant in its language and physical capacity that challenges a modern audience’s expectations.