When I was 10 years old I rarely left the house without my butterfly net. If the family was heading off to vacation, I had my zoology kit in tow as well as my fishing rod and a few Golden Guide books (I remember my favorites: Pond Life and Mammals). I made it a point to memorize all the different members of the Mustelidae family. I’m not sure why I wanted to commit that to memory, I guess so I could identify a Fisher if I ever came snout to snout with one. I was, um, geeky. Silver-rimmed glasses and striped shirts, a butterfly net, a pocket knife and guide book in my pocket — that was me.
I don’t carry a butterfly net around anymore, but I do stare at the migrating monarchs. And I must admit that my heart skips a beat when a Cecropia moth floats past in the moonlight. I used to want to have everything. I wanted to hold the wild close. Things are different now. I want the wild to be and I want to be. Knowing things exist is a salve to my grow-up worries. I like seeing the tracks of the pumas in the washes where the piñon pines crowd between the boulders. I like the hidden valleys where the ravens loop and grock in pairs overhead. The human world creeps. The wild world exists. Activists shout through megaphones. Protestors march. Twisted bristlecone trees study the sky as they have for a thousand years. A while back, a big ol’ Bow-head whale washed ashore with an ancient harpoon blade lodged in it’s skull. The whale was over 200 years old. I wonder the dreams of that old roamer! He might have seen the smoke clouds from the battles of the American Civil War. His mind, I’m sure, was an amazing map of the bottom of the sea.
What I’m getting at, or at least trying to get at, is that we live in the midst of something wonderful. As much as we try to be separate, we are not. This body of mine will turn to dirt, just like a pigeon’s body. It’s cool, man. I love that thought. I don’t care how important anyone thinks they are, they have the same destiny as a pigeon (no disrespect to the pigeon). No matter the quantity and quality of our selfies, no matter how big and burly our ego, nothing will stop our return to clay. You never know, it might feel good to be opinion free! To be phone-less. To be dirt.
A while back, I can’t remember how long, I was chatting with my buddy at a campfire. It was late and we were shining from a day well spent. The conversation was about dying and how long it takes to decompose — to turn back to dirt. We both decided that the quickest way would be to be eaten. But that’s tough to do these days, bodies are counted and there’s rules for getting people buried quickly and in a sanitary fashion. ( NOTE: tiny tangent ahead — Also, hell, there’s lotsa money to be made off a dead dude! Oh let’s build a box that costs a few grand, then let’s make the hole we dig cost a bundle, and let’s fill that ol’ corpse up with some fluid that makes him last a loooong time in that fancy box in that costly hole. — End of tiny tangent.) So after we both decided that we’d like to be eaten, not any time soon, but eaten, like when we’re old and readier, we wandered off to bed down in the woods. Now, my buddy and I were living hand to mouth at the time. We often roosted in illegal sleeping areas and we would stash food here and there. Those of you that knew Joe Crowe also knew he was a grade A rouster. (Rouster-noun-a person capable of living off of very little. Someone used to sleeping in odd places and eating what is available in order to pursue a specific past time. i.e.- climbing. ) So Joe and I wandered off into the woods and found an old log to snuggle under. In the middle of the night I woke up to being jostled. I had that immediate bad feeling that happens when you come out of a dead sleep to something that is dreadful. I was looking up at the belly of black bear who had stepped across me and was pawing at Joe’s bag. I looked at Joe and his eyes were wide open, his bag zipped, not a peep from his lips. Then, like Houdini escaping a straight-jacket, Joe produced a vest through the head-hole of his bag. The bear snatched the vest and ran off. Now, I’ve been scolded for the whole event. I never feed bears, I’m careful in the woods, I leave the wildlife alone. But when a bear rolls up and wants the honey packets that your rouster buddy has in the vest he’s sleeping in, you give the bear what he wants.
Joe looked at me after the bear bounded off into the dark and simply said, “we almost got eaten.”
Joe’s long gone. He froze to death on the end of his rope years ago. He didn’t get eaten. Looks like it’s up to me, but I’m still not ready. I wanna get older and readier.