The Great Outdoors

The bug bites are subsiding now. They’re trying to spread through my system, as I can see red trails moving away from the bite site, but they are fading and I expect them to be gone by morning. Last night, however, was another story. The itching kept me up for hours! I finally broke down and scratched just to open the wound and squeeze the poison out (if that even works). Sounds extreme, but it seems to have helped. Yes, there is a scab where I scratched, but the itch is more or less gone and the swelling is subsiding. I’ll be fine.

But that’s easy to say when I’m living in a neighborhood surrounded by some of the best hospitals in the country. And, my best friend, a doctor, lives right across the river. I have an out. Not so much the case when you’re out in the wilderness alone…

I traveled the country alone for over four years. Well, I had my two cats with me, but they stayed in the motorhome (except for those times when I put them on the leash and took them for a walk outside). But, for the most part, I was alone. And that’s a tough way for most people to live. I like being alone, however. And, I know enough about first aid, survival and living off the grid that being alone, whether in a truck stop in a Wyoming snowstorm or 20 miles deep in the Okefenokee Swamp, I knew I’d be okay.

What made me so confident that I could do such a thing by myself? Well, I’m used to the outdoors. I’ve camped, fished, explored and gotten lost since childhood. And, I have what many might call a wanderlust. I have to do it. It’s in my blood. So, I prepare for every potentiality that I can think of, set up my gear to cover those potentialities, break down the gear into the purest essentials, try to utilize gear that can serve multiple purposes (a tent, flattened and flipped upside down makes a great tarp), and pack as light as I can but still have enough to be relatively comfortable. And “relatively comfortable” in this case means “not un-comfortable”. Though a folding chair would be great, it’s just not practical to carry into the wilderness, so I make due with a stump or just lean against a tree. On the flip side, if I’m driving through the wilderness to my campsite, I can afford to be more accommodating. I still pack small and light, but I allow myself a couple of pseudo-luxuries like a collapsible chair, a pillow, a bottle of wine.

It’s this comfort and confidence in being outdoors, combined with a few passages I’ve read in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that made me realize why I feel so uncomfortable in my current living situation. It’s not that I dislike what I have, I just don’t feel like I belong. I live in a decent apartment, I pay my bills, I have a full fridge, I have internet access, cel service, a reliable car and a job downtown, but although it’s a comfortable living, none of it seems to fit me. When I go out with friends (which is rare), I feel uncomfortable. Kind of like a penguin at the North Pole.** I don’t belong in the nice restaurants talking stock options, eating clever appetizers and flirting with waitresses. I don’t belong in the smoky club drinking cheap booze and chasing skirts. I belong out there. I’m more at home in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing and being completely myself. Nobody to judge me. Nobody to ask me to do something for them. No sirens, horns or humming air conditioners. Just peace and quiet.

I’ve now come to the conclusion that I prefer the outdoors not because I like it better, but because I need it. Something deep down is telling me that I need to get away from everything and go discover myself. Apparently I have no idea who I really am. And that’s why I keep floundering to find my lot in life. I can’t seem to fit in society because I don’t know what I can contribute that will make me happy. A good doctor knows he can serve humanity by helping people who are sick. A good teacher does the same by helping their students prepare for the world. But, me? My passions lie in creativity and simplicity. And those passions thrive in quiet and peaceful conditions. Chaos kills this kind of passion. Don’t misunderstand… many creatives thrive on chaos. But not me.  There is enough chaos in my mind to sort through as it is. I don’t need any help from the outside.

Perfect example… My first day in the Cherokee National Forest in Eastern Tennessee found me in the middle of a clearing carpeted with an abundance of ferns. It was surreal. I probably spent an hour just walking among them, laying down in them and gazing at the clouds, and running my hands along their leaves as I played in a tiny little gem of America that few people will ever get to see — much less, imagine. It’s those little moments of discovery and solitude… knowing that I’m the only person to have seen this clearing in months, if not years, that help make such a sight so special. Sure, there is always the human need to share such a discovery with someone, but I told myself that that can come later. Right then, all I wanted to do was bask in the late afternoon glow of this little gift from Mother Nature. I made it a point to try and wake up early enough to come out here again in the morning  and watch the sunrise explode into millions of sparkling pieces as it gets refracted from the dew condensed on the fragile fronds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. I was kept up all night by a psychotic bird hell-bent on carrying on a conversation with the forest.

But, although the adventure continued with bee stings, rainstorms, fog, naked waterfall baths and 4WD excursions, my little fern meadow remained the sole spiritual inspiration of this leg of the journey.

To this day, it still feels like a dream.
(Although the video footage I have proves it was real).

** Penguins are exclusively South Pole residents

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