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  • Ken Ilgunas

The fast: Day 2

Time: 9:30 pm (hour 25 of 72)

Hunger Level: 2

Until today, I’d never gone a full day without eating. As a boy, my parents always had the kitchen cabinets and fridge well-stocked with food. On Alaskan hikes and during even the poorest phase of my van experiment, I always managed to find something to eat. I think it’s great that most people in our country can go almost their entire lives without feeling real hunger. Yet I think it might be a good exercise to every so often check in and feel what the poorest fifth of the world may routinely feel. For them, going a day without food probably isn’t experimental and novel, but a fact of life.

So far, I haven’t experienced anything unexpected. There’s been a snarling, crawling hunger in my belly. Sometimes it feels like there’s a snake slithering from the depths of my innards up and out of my esophagus. I’ve had trouble reading, concentrating, and have been a little wobbly-kneed, but other than that, the fast thus far has been quite tolerable. Sometimes I’ll feel “waves” of hunger, in which the pangs are strong one moment, but are quickly replaced with a soothing and serene mental calm the next.

There’ve been a couple days in the past when I nearly went without food. One of those days occurred three summers ago. I was in a birch bark canoe on the Ottawa River in Ontario-Canada. For that whole summer, me and three others lived like the 18th Century voyageurs—gear, clothes, and diet included. Each day, we ate what the voyageurs used to eat: salt pork and pea soup, plus bannock. It wasn’t as bad as it may sound; in fact, most times it was quite good. But one day—after almost two months of eating the same thing from morning till night—I couldn’t look at the stuff without gagging. It was either I man up and eat, or go hungry. I went hungry.

I was paddling with Christian, who is Métis (half Native American, half Anglo). As the day wore on, time began to slow. I remember I watched my shadow in the water to the left of me. I was now part human, part water: my water-shadow colored in with a deep, dark blue, striped with the water’s spiny ridges. I watched the shadows of my arms and paddle moving rhythmically, hypnotically, circling my body with each stroke. I listened to the watery gulp the river made with each plunge of the paddle and observed, with each pull backwards, the two tiny water twisters spinning in our wake. A scattering of water droplets flew from the paddle’s tip as I brought it forward; the blade lightly, with a surgeon’s precision, skimming the water’s crest.

Christian began talking about his “gift.” He said he had the ability to “see” into people and that, in his head, he could see as wide and clear as the horizon in front of us. He added that—in certain settings—he’s had the power to view people’s dreams while they slept.

Between the heat, the exertion, the conversation, and, most of all, the hunger, I’d attained a heightened state of consciousness. I began seeing and hearing and sensing things I’d never sensed before. It was as if someone removed my eyes, then jammed two new balls into my sockets. This is how a writer sees, I remember telling myself.

Christian told me about how young people in tribes long ago used to go on vision quests. Supposedly, they went into the woods on their own with nothing and waited for a vision—brought on, in part, by a hunger-induced hallucination. I wasn’t close to that (nor am I now), but I knew that my hunger was giving me entry to unexplored spiritual realms.

There is something clean and purifying about an ascetic act, whether it be on a long hike, a fast, or sleeping in your van at ten-degrees Fahrenheit. Sure, there’s a lot of struggle, strain, and pain, but after a while you come upon the “eye” of your desire—when just for a fleeting moment the tempest of temptation breaks open and you’re afforded a flash of something sublime.

Time: 3 am (hour 32 of 72) Hunger level: 1

Just shat myself. I know you’re dying for details and pictures (and–to be honest–I’m sorta dying to give a vivid account), but prudence is nudging me to leave it at that.

Time: 9:30 am (hour 37 of 72)

Hunger level: 0

Woke up with no hunger at all this morning. In fact, the very thought of food is somewhat off-putting. This fast is turning out to be a lot easier than I expected.

I’ve wanted to fast for a couple years now. I’ve put it off because I thought it be would too debilitating. And because I haven’t had three straight days during which I wasn’t obligated to work, study, attend some social function, or expend valuable calories, I’ve put it off until now.

Now’s the perfect time for me to fast because it’s too damn hot outside (100+ degrees) to do any work, I’m unemployed, and I don’t have any papers to turn in anytime soon.

Today, however, besides watering the garden, I had one other–and rather tragic–duty to perform. Yesterday evening I was napping during David’s typical cooking hours until he woke me up, saying, “Ken, I think we have a chicken down. I may need your help.” He said the chicken’s head was lolling strangely and that it had collapsed in the corner of the chicken house.

When I caught up to David, he was crestfallen. “I think we’ve lost her,” he said. He pulled one of our four chickens out and began pouring cool water on its head and legs. When it didn’t wake up, we put it in a bucket of cold water. “You poor little thing,” David said, while pumping its chest. I felt its skin, which was as hot as asphalt.

Our attempts to revive it ended soon after. We’d lost a chicken.

We left it within the confines of the fence, and I hoped that it would have been up and scratching around by morning. Instead, when I woke up it just laid there stiff, in the same spot we left it, now with ants crawling over it.

This morning I took the pick-axe and a spade and dug it a little grave. It’s been inhumanely hot these past few weeks, and I’ve recognized that I can’t do much out there without getting a throbbing headache. The air here is heavy, thick, and oppressive. Walking across the lawn feels like walking in a swimming pool.

The fast has been a breeze so far. And while I’m beginning to see how well my body deals with one type of strain, it’s clear to me that my limits aren’t so broad when it comes to a North Carolinian summer.

A comfortable, air-conditioned home has been essential for the fast. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t last much longer than the chickens.

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