I saw a camel again on the road down the heartline, southeast Missouri. It wasn’t moving, I don’t think, it came up on me so quickly I had no time to prepare and I passed it and just glimpsed it before the turn in the road or the trees or the distance I drove out of sight. I was late and it was raining but I got off the road nonetheless, determined to backtrack and find the location of the sighting. I drove down an adjacent road, not a service road exactly, but a road near the highway on which I am certain I had seen the beast.
I drove and I drove and I came to an unlikely place, a yard full of concrete knick-knacks and statuary and in front a long pen boundaried-by-wire fencing in which there was – a camel. I drove right up to it. I got out of my car and the camel came over to me like a dog in the backyard. I had left the door of my car open, in spite of the rain, and I forgot that I was carrying a box full of latkes — potato and sweet potato and zuccini latkes – it was the second day of Hanukkah and I was taking latkes with me to sneak into the prison house and share with the prisoners I teach. The latkes have a powerful smell and no doubt it was wafting towards the camel who seemed more passionate about meeting me than I would have anticipated. I thought maybe it was the aroma of those latkes blowing out of the car like I was Jim Morrison falling out of the limousine in a cloud of smoke at the Fillmore East.
The camel is wondering: Who is this guy, and what is that aroma?
The beast came as far as she could towards me and hung its noble head and excellent neck over the barrier and entered as much as it could my space on the freedom side of the fence. I was a little startled but had already begun a not-imaginary dialogue with the beast, explaining [out loud] I have been tracking its existence for at least six months on my run down the heartline, the Omphalos, from my chariot on the freeway on the three hour crossing to the prison house. It was raining and muddy but when you are alone on an adventure that takes you to the edges where God and crime and mercy converge — for you it’s ascendant for them is what’s for lunch or how can we get some warm food in here — one just might dialogue with a camel on the way down and that would be the least dramatic act you commit that day.
I spent some time, maybe ten minutes in the rain and mud, conversing with that beast from my homeland surely displaced as are we both here in southern Missouri — myself on the freedom side of the fence — or so I thought. The camel lost interest in me when I didn’t offer up any latkes before I lost interest in her. I believe the last thing I asked her — now rhetorically or I was talking to myself – was this: what do I call you? I was getting wet and I was late or it would have continued (I had more patience for camel than camel had for me); I turned around to wipe off and return to my chariot. I elected not to visit the shack that oversaw the area up a short hill when I looked there and in the doorway staring at me was a/the proprietor, an older man dressed in work clothes.
I paused for a moment then lifted my arms and shrugged my shoulders, an acknowledgement of the wonder and appreciation of encountering this beast in this place. I was saying/asking: one day you will tell me how you acquired a camel.
He returned the same gesture, isn’t she wonderful you’re welcome to visit and I will tell you all that you will no doubt share with your readers or prisoners or friends wherever you are traveling in your marvelous life.