When I discovered the outdoors, I felt like the pioneers must have. All new land to run amok in. The law being slower to catch up with your hijinks means you can let it all hang a little looser. Start in a land where the law is already a step slow, like in old New Mex, and then really disappear. You should see what you can get away with. It’s pretty good. Bring along some like-minded individuals and decide to only adhere to laws that are convenient, and now you’re talking Utopia to this anarchist.
Camping for me was never about frying up trout in a pan while the coffee brews, a few fake ducks scattered around. It was about returning to the Great Primal Id. Pagan barbarians huddling around a fire outside the gates of Rome, gnawing on undercooked turkey legs, waiting for the city to fall. Invoke the night! Unleash the wild dogs! Let them hunt the beasts! Howl with their joy! Wave your warhammers and axes in the victory of freedom! Trample the oppressors in the madness of your fire dance!
Humping in thirty cans of Guinness along with your regular gear kind of sucked though.
If it was any trip with my friend, T-Bone, it was guaranteed to be a serious hump. I met T-Bone, a French-Canadian/Lithuanian hybrid, when I was washing dishes at The Natural Cafe. He was the lunch cook. The first thing I noticed about him was that he had to wear two t-shirts over each other. Both shirts had so many holes that he had to layer so the various holes would cover. Only problem was some of the holes intersected, and the sub set, if you will, revealed pale New England skin. That’s totally punk, I thought, true punk, and an especially gnarly way to show up for work. I decided right then that I liked him.
We’d hang out at his place, since the 1950’s trailer my sister and I lived in was too small for even one person. He’d turn me on to good comics, or graphic novels, as well as the latest toe-tappers the crazy kids were listening to those days. We’d be reading Love and Rockets, or Hate, or my personal favorite, Steven, while listening to The Butthole Surfers. Drinking beer and yucking it up, we patiently waited for the 80’s to finally die. It was a good time, and he was a pretty normal cool dude…until you got him outdoors.
T-Bone graduated with a degree in archeology, and after The Natural Cafe gig, got a real job in the profession. During the day, he’d contentedly catalogue pottery shards, or someone’s bones, with the same meticulous care he catalogued his comics and CD’s. It was a good fit. However, this mild-mannered slacker, once freed from the shackles of pedantry, and out in the wide open outdoors, became possessed. He would get all Indiana Jones on you, and insist on leading forced marches through wilderness hell. The Chindits fighting through the jungles of Burma comes to mind.
I’m convinced he was some kind of wild-eyed, obsessed explorer in his past life. Some college professor gone mad from sampling the native plants, on a quest to find the hidden City of The Rainbow Serpent. He would drag my ass to the farthest point on the topo map, grid Z 98, then back up a squiggly line to A 3. That way we could see the petroglyphs.
“Seriously dude,” I would tell him, “Just out of sight of the families at the picnic tables would be cool with me.” Oh no.
“We need to see this ancient Indian pueblo site. It’s on the top that mesa.” I follow his finger and see the distant shape of a mountain with its head chopped off, its jagged form illuminated by the surrounding summer lightning.
I’m no Daniel Boone, but I’ve watched enough lightning safety pieces during the local news to know that you need to go the other direction than up high, on flat. That was like laying yourself on a sacrificial altar of the Lightning Gods and daring their asses to do something about it.
This sort of unproven superstitious rubbish didn’t concern the fevered Colonel leading our expedition. Despite my most spirited entreaties for caution, the dash was on. The stubborn goat, appropriately native from a place called Marblehead, kept climbing and I followed, but only partially because of his intrepid Yankee leadership.
We also had women with us. Well-scrubbed, hardy ones, mostly of New England and Maine stock. Thick in thigh, avid outdoors chicks, they all seemed fearless. And therein was the rub. I was scared shitless. I wanted to turn back and head down, but couldn’t bring myself to do it in front of all the hot nature girls. Instead, I willed my feet forward and turned my thoughts to God.
Lightning, at one point, was flashing under us as we climbed. “”Is under good?” I kept asking myself. We passed by trees that were split and burned from past strikes. I wondered if straddling the burned crotch of one of those would decrease my odds of getting hit. It was raining and I could feel the water coat me with extra conductivity juice, just in case all the liquid-filled metal cylinders I had strapped to me weren’t enticing enough bait for a bolt.
I already knew at that point in my life that I was due some kind of avenging blast, from either Nature or God. Now was a great time for them to tag team me. Yes, it only made perfect sense that I should go out like this. I started making small promises.
It got to striking around us pretty good, and not FLASH tick tick tick BOOM, but FLASHBOOM. The static charge made your ass hole involuntarily contract, although it felt pretty voluntary. You could taste electricity on your tongue. Arm hair stiff as brush. Sweet Jesus, spare me. Bigger promises.
“Dude, I just don’t know how good an idea this is.”
“We’re almost there.”
Fucking psycho lunatic. Onward he went, with several pairs of tanned and muscular legs following. I reached into my pack and cracked another beer, way ahead of my rationing time-table. Now, I faced another nightmare–running out of beer in the middle of nowhere. I started muttering mutiny among myself. Could it be possible that I’m the only sane person in this doomed party? Wouldn’t that be a fucking cosmic irony? He’s clearly mad, but what about the women? I guess it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy or not. I’m going to be wherever they are anyway.
If it’s on top of Dr. Frankenstein’s satellite dish while he’s working on bringing Jr. to life, so be it. I resigned myself. Chicks trump everything, every time.
We finally made the summit. The rain let up. There was more time between the flashes and the booms. Shafts of light started to poke through the clouds. The vista kicked into Grand Mode. We jumped into the ruins and began exploring.
“Hey T, I hope I find a tomahawk or a peace pipe or something!”
He looked up at me. “Yeah.”
I lowered myself into a kiva. “Or a sack of ceremonial peyote.” Which I would of course turn over to the cultural authorities, after totally pinching the stash.
You didn’t need psychotropic agents inside those kivas to get a buzz on. Those places were absolutely soaked with spiritual whammy. A weird sort of heady reverence seemed to reverberate around the place. Very different from the one in an average American bowling alley. I don’t know if it was ghosts or residue atmospheric charge, but my molecules were lit up. Sacred stuff rocks balls, I thought.
We don’t have enough sacred stuff. There’s too much Wal-mart stuff, and Chuck E. Cheeze, miniature golf, tractor pull stuff. It’s sacred alright, but have you seen to who? Maybe I should start having my own sacred stuff? I didn’t know what it would look like, or if I could even afford it. I figured whatever I came up with would be illegal or addictive. Maybe I could shoplift one of those magic bongos they had at The Amethyst Chalice, New Age bookstore.
The sky closed up again, and the lighting started. Okay, fuck this, I’m not sticking around for another battering of shock therapy. The Colonel and the girls can take their chances. Some of them will come down alive, I’m sure. I announced my immediate departure and left with little fanfare. This is only partially pussing out, I told myself, I made it to the top. Now I’m going back down, where I belong. They could finish their education. I am so gone.
More lighting, but now with me skedaddling down the road like a hobo with a stolen chicken. The knees were steaming from trying to brake my descent, but the flashes and fear bayoneted me forward and faster. Cowardice? It seemed like common sense. Regardless, I let it rip.
“Oh Mammy Mammy! Oh holy holy! Holy Mammy of God!” I slid and scrambled down the trail. Once my nerve broke, I was a one man rout. I grabbed at branches to slow down. “Lee’s Army is coming!”
I started taking back promises as the trees around me got taller. I finally made it to the bottom and laid down by a stream next to a culvert. I later found out it’s one of the most dangerous places to be during a lightning storm, and one I was never warned about during local news shows. What else was the media holding out on? For now my ignorance meant bliss, and I pulled out a beer to celebrate it. Only eighteen left, but what the hell.
The Colonel finally arrived with our store of women. He was partially satisfied. There was one more thing he wanted to see. This would take us to a place so bone dry we wound up having to steal water from someone’s car, but that’s another tale. That was T-Bone. He’s had me teetering from dizzying death-drop precipices, freezing to stone Eastern Front-style in snowy wastelands, wading knee-high in streams while lighting struck upriver, or baking on hot coals in a sea of smelting sand, just so we could see something.
I wouldn’t trade any of it.
I got to see things I would never have, not if it had been up to my lazy ass. I really owe him for that. I also learned that being in Nature could make you feel better. It didn’t matter what kind of madness tormented and drove me when I went in, I always drove out a better model. And, I got to see a lot of sacred stuff.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring too much of it back in my pockets. But eventually I learned what made things that way. It’s all in the way you look at them, or more accurately, look for it in them. Today, I start by looking at my coffee like it’s sacred, and then expand what I include, slowly, as the morning opens up. If I keep paying attention, pretty soon I’m surrounded by sacred stuff, and God becomes something more than a guy to make promises to while being chased by lightning. The Great Outdoors becomes an inside job.