the winter after the fall when i decided that school was no longer for me, and before the spring when i would begin walking from mexico to canada, i volunteered for the national forest service in wyoming. we agreed that they would provide me with a roof, and i would provide them with free labor, a deal favorable to both parties. so one cold january morning, i filled up six milk crates with my belongings, neatly arranged them in my trunk, lashed my kayak to the roof, threw my bike on the back, said my goodbyes, and drove my beloved 1989 buick to a town in southwest wyoming called mountain view.
the first sign that i saw said, ¨elevation: high - population: low.¨ perfect, i thought. a grocery, a library, a post office, some churches, a few diners, unfortunately a pizza hut, but fortunately no mcdonalds. and, most importantly, people, as kind as could be. my new home. for a season. with a smile.
the roof the forest service promised me turned out to be a house, far too large for just me, but they said it was empty and it was mine for the winter. i had a pleasantly surprised look around inside, moved the six milk crates from my trunk into the house, put the kayak in the garage, parked the bike, and told them i was ready to go.
i met one of the rangers in the district, a very nice fellow (everyone was), and we sat down and had a chat. he unrolled some topographical maps.
you see all these dashed lines?
well, they´re our trails. now these dashed lines, they´re close, but they aren´t completely accurate. we need you to walk all these trails with a special gps. then we need you to overlay these accurately gps´ed trails on these maps. can you cross country ski?
well, uh, actually i´ve never tried, but i have snowshoes and i prefer to walk.
but that´s slow.
but i have time.
allright then. now before you get started, we need to get you a government driver´s license and a snowmobile license...
yep, some of our roads are closed in winter, you´ll have to snowmobile in just to get to some of the trailheads. you know how to ride a snowmobile, right?
who, me? uh, well, ah, i mean, i´m sure i can learn really quickly and...
you never rode a snowmobile? and never cross country skiied? where´d you grow up boy?
in florida, georgia, and tennessee...not much of a winter in those parts...
east of the mississippi? ain´t never been there and won´t ever go! ha! well, we´ll take you out tomorrow. today, let´s get you out to pass your driver´s license test, you drive stick, right?
(i ··had·· learned to drive a stick, more or less, many moons ago....surely it was like riding a bike) yep. sure.
a quilt of agriculture
so into the pale green forest service truck we went.
allright, let´s just take a spin through town, and then i can check you off.
a bit nervously, i pushed the clutch and turned the key. i gently laid on the gas and laid off the clutch, but i let the clutch out a bit too quickly and before i knew what had happened, the engine went out. in an unfortunate addition to this, the emergency brake was still engaged. and as a result of all of this, the truck was, as if pimped out with hydraulics, bucking like an angry bronco.
oopsie...i seem to have....
hit the clutch!!! undo the brake!!!
yessir, now just give me a second here and i´m sure i can...
the car finally steadied itself. we were both out of breath.
oh, sorry about your coffee sir....i think if you put some vinegar on that it won´t stain, or is it baking soda? i read something in a book once....
what a ride! yes!
needless to say, i got off a bit on the wrong foot. but before long, i was cruising through town which thankfully had no stop signs or stop lights, so i rarely had to get going from a standstill. i got my check mark, albeit a reluctant one.
it was time for the snowmobile.
it had snowed all night and was snowing that morning. i figured we wouldn´t do much of anything that day. too much snow. but as soon as the ranger saw me, he told me we´d be leaving for my first snowmobile lesson in five minutes. get you out in some fresh powder!, he said.
as we drove along the gravel roads, i figured i´d casually ask some questions about snowmobiling. the fact was, i knew nothing.
so, where are we heading?
out to a basin, it´s wide open and flat with pine trees at the periphery, and it´s deep with snow. a perfect place to learn.
yeah, especially after last night and look at all this snow now! we´re lucky!
yes, lucky. so, i´m sure it must be easier to snowmobile in deep fresh powder then, huh?
easier? no! it´s much harder!
oh, harder...yes, of course.
but don´t worry, i´m sure you´ll pick it up quick enough.
who needs a dryer when you got the sun?
when we arrived at the edge of the basin, i, for some strange reason, decided to take a couple steps out into it from the road. i was immediately over waist deep and struggling to right myself before the ranger could see me, something i did thankfully in just the nick of time. ¨she´s deep,¨ i said with a descending whistle as i jabbed a stick into the cavity created by my body seemingly ¨measuring¨ the depth where i had broken through, and surely concealing any evidence of my misstep. ¨excellent!,¨ was his reply.
now listen, if there´s one thing you gotta know about snowmobiling it´s that you gotta keep the engine goosed, if you...
yeah, you know, full throttle, floored, whatever...you gotta go! if you don´t, or if you hesitate for a fraction of a second, you´ll sink that machine down in the snow and we´ll have a helluva time getting it out. just like you sank a couple minutes ago when you stepped into the basin....
oh. that? no, i was just....
anyway, keep the thing goosed. ok, the other thing, turning. to turn, you don´t just move the handlebars. it´s not a bike, ok? you gotta put both feet on one side of the machine, on the inside of the turn you want to make. then you gotta put both hands ··under·· the handlebar on the outside of the turn you want to make. and then, keep the thing goosed now!, you gotta push down with your legs and lift up with your hands. if you don´t, you´ll bury it. you gotta give it some muscle boy!
some muscle, ok, yes....i can do that....
now follow me, but don´t ··exactly·· follow me, because it´ll be easy to ride in my packed down tracks. stay to one side of them so you´re in the powder. ready?
yeah, i´m ready.
now kids, these are the real cowboys
and off he shot. powder flying everywhere. an exuberant fist shaking in the air. meanwhile, i did a quick review of my lesson. goose it. muscle the turns. ok, let´s do it.
i fully opened the throttle and the thing took off with such a jolt that i almost fell of the back. i regained composure and before i knew it, i was floating on the powder. this is simple!, i thought.
and then i noticed an irregularity in the landscape. curious, i let off the gas to have a look. immediately, the snowmobile dropped deep into the powder. i tried to get it out, but to no avail. the ranger saw me, turned around, and, somehow keeping his machine afloat, stopped right near me.
did you let off on the gas?
well, not really, maybe just a bit, but...
i told you, you gotta keep it goosed!
yeah, i can see that. so now what?
now? we dig!
and we dug. it took a while, but my ride was finally liberated and we were off once again. and i was goosing it. and feeling better. my rookie mistake was behind me. time to move on.
a home in the rain
moving on, a stand of pine trees was getting consternatingly closer and closer. the ranger executed a seemingly simple turn and went off towards more fresh powder. i attempted to do the same. i turned the handlebars. nothing happened. trees getting very close. though a bit panicked, i remembered and stepped to one side of the machine and reached to the opposite handlebar and pushed and pulled and leaned and grunted and cursed, but nothing happened. in my now desperate attempt to avoid a head on collision with a stationary object, i decided to slow down. i sank it. again. the ranger returned. again.
well, you see, i was trying to turn, and i think there may be something wrong with my ride, because it wouldn´t turn, so i slowed down, and well, as you can see, she´s buried...
look man, in stuff this deep, and this is deep!, you gotta keep it goosed! and when you turn, you gotta put your ··whole body·· into it.
i did! i did...i mean, basically i did...
well, let´s dig.
and we dug. when we had freed the machine, we were both exhausted and took a break.
what lonely lovely roads!
ok, now you said you think there´s something wrong with your machine. let me take it for a spin and have a feel.
uh, yes. ok. (please let there be something wrong with it, i thought)
he took off and was doing donuts and figure 8´s and hairpin turns of varying degrees. i gritted my teeth and mumbled something, not repeatable here, to myself.
she seems allright to me.
really? ok, good. i think you worked the kinks out.
i don´t really think there were any kinks...
sure, of course.
and, after a while, a long one, that involved several additional exhumes, i got the hang of it. and thankfully, most of my time in wyoming was spent on my two feet. walking. something i´m good at. have been since i was two.
now this is a long-winded way of telling you that once i´d gotten settled into my wyoming life, i began to develop, as one does, certain rituals and routines. my favorite was supper. i´d cook up some little vegetable affair, flip on my a.m. radio (yes, virginia, there is still such a thing), and i´d lay out the local paper on my little army surplus table that i could never decide if it were green or grey. i´d eat and read and enjoy whatever talk radio show i could pick up ranging from guaranteed eternal damnation if i didn´t, right then, ask jesus into my heart to how best to invest money for future financial security. then, after i cleaned everything up spic and span, never leaving things until the next morning because that´s just plain lazy, i´d sit down at that sad little table, turn on my laptop computer, get out some hand scribbled notes, and begin typing. oh, what a glorious winter that was!
a valley exploding with life, down to the river i went, up to the mountains i returned
well, one night, as i was eating and reading and doing all of these sad lonely and splendid things, i heard something. i acknowledged it, dismissed it, and resumed listening to the man telling me how, actually, there were no such things as dinosaurs and that the government ··had·· found noah´s ark, but was hiding it from us for ¨security reasons.¨ he said he´d seen it and that we should believe him. and i said, well allright then.
it´s not black and white, try hard and hunt for hIrSch!
and then i heard that something again. i acknowledged it again, but this time didn´t dismiss it. i held my breath and sat as still as a statue, as one does, so i could hear better. and i heard it again.
hell´s bells, i said. what now? so i got up and fetched my flashlight and went outside. now wyoming winter´s are wicked cold and windy such that when i opened the door, i was clobbered with a polar blast. i walked all the way around the house shining my light into all the little corners and crevices and under the bushes and i didn´t see nothing. must have been the wind, i thought, as i opened the door to go back inside. and just as i was closing it....
welcome to my office, care for some glacial melt?
and i looked down, and there was a little kitten. shaking. and barely able to hold itself up against the winds. a tear-jerking sight and that´s the truth. well, i leaned down and picked it up, such a tiny thing, and it felt like an ice cube. now what in tarnation do we have here?, i said. well, come on in.
what amazed me and got me to thinking was how this helpless little kitten needed help. and for whatever reason (or for whatever lack of reason), despite that brutal winter wyoming night, she walked up to where i was living. and i heard her. and i took her in. if i hadn´t taken her in, then what? but that hypothetical doesn´t matter. because i did. it just happened. and that´s all.
now i had that kitten in one hand and raised it to where its eyes were level with mine. and i said, ¨now you listen and you listen good you little flea-breeding varmint. i ain´t got no cat food and i´m a vegetarian so my table scraps are only going to disappoint you. now i´ll warm you up some milk, but just for tonight. tomorrow, you best get on your way then, allright?¨
i put the milk in a little saucer and that cat went at it. and just watching that little kitty drink, i felt a lump in my throat. it was so sad and happy just to watch that cat. so i warmed some more milk. and i just stood there, watching her drink, sensing her relief and gratitude, and because she was an animal, god´s most blessed of creatures, she couldn´t mess up the whole thing with words. and that was beautiful.
when she´d finished, i picked her up and again held her even with my eyes and i, sternly waving my finger, said, ¨now you can stay here, but just tonight. tomorrow, you gotta go on. now stop purring like that because it´s heartrending. i said stop that nonsense! are you listening? only tonight. you got it?¨
my head is a halo of clarity
hell´s bells, i said.
herding the goats with a bike
now of course, from the moment i picked that little kitten up, i knew that the tomorrow i kept voicing an ultimatum to would never come. and before i even knew what i was doing, i was out buying cat food and treats. dern fool!, i kept saying to myself, but inside i was beaming. i´d found me a little friend. by luck, by chance, by the grace of god; whatever suits you.
now me and that kitty got along just right. during the day, she´d go off and do whatever it is a cat does, and i´d go off and walk my trails. we´d both get back to the house at about the same time in the evening, ready to be warmed up and fed and have a nice place to call home and lay our heads. i´d made her a nice little soft place where she liked to sit. it was directly opposite of where i ate my dinner. so we´d eat together and i´d talk to that cat. ¨and another thing little kitty, you see i´ll never understand why...¨ and oh how she´d listen without interrupting even once! what a relief! to not be interrupted! course, most of the time, she´d be cleaning herself, but every now and again she´d stop and make eye contact with me as if to affirm that, yes, she was indeed following all my perfectly construed logical conclusions. she was getting ··it··! i had me a little friend ··and·· a little disciple! and all i can say is, that cat knows more about me than anything or anyone. and i´m still trying to work out whether that´s sad or perhaps the most beautiful thing there ever can be.
hot soy dog! wahoo!
well, calendar pages were ripped off, and now there was a slight problem. i needed to leave wyoming in april to begin walking the pacific crest trail. the cat needed a home, but where? wherever it was, it had to be perfect...hmmm...my uncle´s farm in minnesota! yes! so i called him up.
so i´ve got this cat and she needs a good home and i know you and your family would love her!
sure, no problem!
so in a couple of weeks i´ll be driving home to tennessee to get my stuff ready for my walk. i was thinking i could pass by your place and drop off the cat then, cool?
minnesota´s a little out of the way isn´t it?
yeah, but this cat...
ok, sure. is it a male or female?
is she ··still·· a female?
allright, the only condition is that you have the cat fixed before you bring her. i can´t have dozens of kittens to look after, allright?
right. see you in a couple weeks. and thanks!
so i had the cat fixed.
very soon after this minor operation that nonetheless sent me into a panic, the rangers and i began a winter summit bid for the highest peak in utah. i left the cat in the hands of the kind folks at the forest service office. what a trip! more snow than i´d ever seen in my life! as we made our final push towards the summit, we ran into an incredibly nasty winter storm. total white out. we started going up, as it turned out, the wrong pass. we never made the summit and none of us cared much because it was an excellent trip and summits are overrated. in fact, once in tasmania, i was climbing this mountain, and just to be a fool (and maybe a bit of a self-righteous one), i deliberately stopped about two feet short of the summit and just laughed and turned back. anyhow, that utah storm was raging and we all agreed, no summit, and we headed down. we radioed to base to relay what had happened. the message had been delivered and just before ¨10-4¨escaped the ranger´s lips, i asked if i could get on the radio. he gave me a strange look, but said sure. i kind of sequestered myself from the other two, and in a quiet voice asked
hirsch to base, sorry, but uh, how´s my cat?
base to hirsch, we didn´t catch that, repeat.
hirsch to base, i said, how´s my cat?
base to hirsch, how´s what?
hirsch to base, HOW IS MY CAT?
at this point, the two other rangers looked over at me...and despite eyelids plastered with snowflakes, i could see them jovially rolling their eyes.
base to hirsch, the cat is fine, hirsch, don´t worry, repeat, the cat is fine.
hirsch to base, copy that, thanks, 10-4.
oh how i wanted to free the monkey...
it was finally time to leave wyoming. i packed up the buick, kayak on top, bike hanging off the back, the perfect fit of those six milk crates in the trunk. and my cat in a little basket in the front seat. we were off.
but as soon as i started the engine, that kitty went mad. she hid under the seat and dug all her claws into the upholstery. no budging. i finally yanked her out, and she, after some time, began to relax. and then, we were off.
road tripping with a cat was great. we saved time by never having to stop for her to use the restroom, because she just went right in the car. and we, mostly i, talked the whole way. ¨and listen here kitty, what everybody needs to realize is that....¨ ¨it´s so strange to me how most folks just....¨ ¨one day, the world will wake up and realize this...¨ ¨now what if there were no such thing as money and we all....¨
later that evening, we were at mount rushmore. i tried to get the cat to come on a walk with me, but she took one look at those four faces (admittedly scary folks), and cowered in the car. i cracked the windows, left some food and water for her, and went to finally get a look at this national monument.
it´s like i´ve always told you johnny, it´s all about the red socks! look at that triplet of color coordination! hot dang!
it was closed. which was perfect for me because that meant it was free, after a little fence hopping. it began to rain heavily and it looked to me as if those four stalwarts were crying. perhaps for the stuff they did that we´ll never really know about. but maybe that´s the unshakable cynic in me when it comes to ¨great men¨ and politics. i took an obligatory photo and that was that. i returned to my car, my cat.
she was a little prancey in the paws and seemed to be ecstatic to see me. ecstasy is not how i would describe my reaction to the little pile she left me in my seat. she saw me look at it. she returned to it. gave it an approving sniff, as cats do, and then went lightly leaping off into the back seat.
i´m always on the clock. 168 hours a week. it´s nonstop. for the weary, there is no rest, frozen fingertips notwithstanding.
badlands national park was next, and we got to the entrance at dusk. i parked my car right at the entrance sign. got out my tripod and snapped photos of some deer silhouetted in the moon light as they fed. and then i got in the backseat for a good night´s sleep. kitty curled up on my chest. reciprocally, and with no conscious effort, we helped keep each other warm.
for several hours i kept slamming on my breaks fearing i would run over my shadow. but fear not! i never did! my shadow was just a hair faster!
i learned very quickly the next morning that hiking with a cat is not feasible. but it was a beautiful drive through those badlands with many stops, and i do long to go back there and experience it properly. but soon enough, kitty and i were back on the byways of america heading east towards minnesota.
now all during this road trip, i knew my time with this cat was drawing to an end. but, you see, i was pretending. that it wasn´t. i was just enjoying the now of being with that cat. something, with my one foot in the future mentality, that was almost impossible for me to do. but i did it and it was perfect. she´d taken to sitting up in the seat and watching the world go by with barely a blink. i could swear she was meditating. in fact, i´ve never known an animal that ··doesn´t·· meditate! what peace animals must possess! what knowledge they must have as they lick their paws! as they watch us humans rush around from cradle to casket. they must silently laugh, rightfully calling us fools. why oh why do we kill the animals and surround our feet, our waists, our shoulders, our money with them? or worse yet, put their frozen and then heated carcasses in our mouths? why i ask you? ¨me and you kitty; forever!,¨ i screamed.
pink flamingos? what the...?
we pulled up to my uncle´s farm, the first time for me to see it. i was greeted by running and hugging cousins of various sizes. i felt great! i looked around. kitty would be happy here. yes. my uncle´s family was happy to see kitty, and me. and i was happy to see them. we had a great visit, but soon enough, it was time for me to do what i do, to go. i needed to get to tennessee so i could get to san diego. and on to the mexican border. sometimes it seems that´s all i´m ever doing. going.
the morning i left, i spent some moments with kitty. i spoke to her, explained things to her, told her i was sorry and sad. i thanked her. for everything she didn´t know she had done for me. i gave her a hug, and it broke my heart that she didn´t know what was happening. i went upstairs and said goodbye to everyone, got in my car, and pointed it towards memphis. as soon i was off the gravel roads and had made all the turns; all those things that distract us; it was time to face reality. i looked at the empty basket in the passenger seat. i looked at my two eyes in the rearview mirror. and oh god how i wept. deeply and without restraint. i remember playing a sad song and putting it on repeat and i tortured myself with it. that same song, over and over and over. looking at that empty seat next to me. kitty was gone. no, i was gone. either way, we were apart. the hollowness of goodbyes. i was a mess.
she didn´t know it that night we met. but kitty needed me. and i found her. i didn´t know it that night either. but i needed kitty. and she found me.
i walked from mexico to canada. with a picture of that cat in my pocket.
now all of this is a long-winded way of telling you that, a short time ago, i was on the road as i am, and it was another late afternoon in argentina. and i was just watching this spectacular country unfold, when a dog shot out of the scrub brush. i knew what it would do. madly bark and chase my trailer. lose interest. walk off. countless experiences like this. this would just be another one.
a dead log hosting an incredible amount of life!
but it was different. no barking. just running. right next to my bike. i sped up; the dog sped up. i slowed down; the dog slowed down. i stood up on my pedals and barked and howled and growled like a madman; and the dog, seemingly encouraged, continued to follow, at quite a clip.
now why on earth would this dog do this? didn´t he ever think, ¨hey, i don´t know this joker nor where he´s going, maybe i should consider what i´m doing here¨? no. he just acted. he just did. he let it happen. tomorrow would come and that´s all. there would be ramifications, but there are ramifications to everything, so why even consider them? they´ll come and be dealt with in due time. oh god, to be a dog!
i pumped some wood
the longest distance between two points seemed to be what this dog preferred. darting off into the desert brush, back to the road, and over there to sniff that. for every one kilometer i did on the road, that dog did two. it was bizarre. i was laughing and hoop-hooping him on! the thing was, this dog looked just like my cat.
where the road goes, i go
i looked at my odometer and decided on five kilometers as the max that this fiasco with my new little sidekick would last. thirty kilometers later, even after stopping in a pueblo for bread, the dog was still at my side. i found a place to call home, called it home, and set up camp. and that dog just laid down, dog tired, and watched.
i knew the dog had to be thirsty. i was thirsty. we were in a desert. i went back out to the road to look amid the litter to find something to serve as a water bowl. i cut up a plastic bottle and crafted a bowl and shared my water. and those eyes on me, mesmerized, following each piece of food from my hand to my mouth, so, how could i not?, i shared my food with him.
these are the things i see
the horizon swallowed the sun. i got in my tent, thinking, wow, this is great, a companion! but i knew it couldn´t go on. i was going and moving, as i do. the dog did thirty kilometers today. but could he do one hundred tomorrow? and the next day? impossible. i looked outside my tent. the dog was sound asleep. i shut my own eyes.
all night long, a cat that befriended me chased a rat around this barn. i slept very little. but it beat getting pounded by rain all night!
next morning, the dog was still there. i was back on the road, and so was the dog. i began talking to it, just like i did with my cat. if you´ve never talked to an animal, and i mean talk, in your voice, not in those false voices we, strangely, assume when talking to babies and animals, then it is something i highly recommend. so i talked. ¨now listen here dog, the truth of it is simply this:...¨ ten, twenty, thirty, forty kilometers. still by my side. but noticeably slowing down, tongue hanging to one side. all told, we´d done seventy kilometers together. amazing. i couldn´t believe it. we´d arrived at a pueblo. i needed some food and water. i found a small grocery store.
a river without dams? jiminy crickets!! that just ain´t natural!
i stopped my bike, put down the kickstand, and told the dog to wait. at this very moment, he suddenly turned around, stiffened and lifted its ears and tail, and sprinted towards a pick up truck. the truck, driver´s side door open, had a man inside, and the dog, without a break in stride, lept into the driver´s lap and let out a little bark, the only sound i ever heard him make! i couldn´t believe it! i ran over and apologized to the man - he just came out of the desert, i don´t know who he belongs to, i´m sorry he jumped on you. but the man had a huge smile on his face and was petting the dog and talking to it in one of those false voices. he thanked me, said the dog was his, that he lived a hundred and something kilometers from here and he´d been looking for this, his dog, the past couple days. a bit dumbfounded, i told the owner of the remarkable athletic skills his dog possessed. i said goodbye to the dog, my seventy kilometer pal. the man thanked me again, closed his door, and drove off. and i, too, got going. solo again.
now all of this is a long-winded way of telling you about another day in argentina, a more recent one. i woke up to some drops on my tent and hurriedly packed up, hoping to keep everything as dry as possible. once i got going, i looked up into the sky and said, ¨no worries, no way will it rain.¨ but before the tip of my tongue could lower from the roof of my mouth to complete the ¨n¨in rain, the skies let loose. and for the rest of the day, i was riding in a 33 degree rain and snow slush on a road that was ¨soon¨ to be paved but for the time being was nothing but pure soft gooey mud. and the road went up and the road went down and i was averaging about 3 miles per hour. mud was everywhere. i was freezing, drenched, filthy. but i had to do what i do. i kept going.
a food stop
and after some hours of this, off in the distance, i saw some enormous houses. i was sure i was hallucinating, after all, i was in a national park. but as i got closer, i identified them as just that, houses, with rooves! i found a little road that looked like an access. in my mind, i was thinking, yes! a roof! dry! but as i went further down the access road i was met with all sorts of no trespassing, keep out, private property signs. however, the gate was open. so i had a look to my left, right, and behind. nobody. so i pushed right on through. the instant i did that, a german shepherd-ish type dog with the bark of a bear ran full stride towards me. i froze and hoped and, strangely, assumed that false voice that people do when talking to babies and animals. ¨hey boy, good boy, yeah, that´s a goooooddd boy... (i even rememberd to do it spanish)¨ i held out my hand, my right one (i´m a lefty) and hoped for a curious sniff rather than a rabid chomp. luckily the former and before long i was petting my new friend. still freezing mind you, but i wanted everything to be straight with this pooch before i took another step.
internet, with jesus´ sacred heart and maximum speed! talk about a two-for-one!
i took another few steps just wanting to be under a roof and somehow get warm when i noticed a smaller house off in the trees. and it looked like someone lived there. so i aimed for it and as i got closer, yet another dog, a little one, announced my arrival with dainty little yelps. and out stepped a man. youngish. long hair. and a beard.
i explained myself. apologized for not respecting the signs. told him if i could just have a roof he´d never know i was even there. i had food, water....needed nothing, just really wanted a roof. sure, he said, no worries. come on over to my house whenever you want. we´ll have some tea.
i have officially changed the name of this country, after 8 almost solid days of it, to raine. please make a note of it. in addition, you may be thinking, ¨oh, poor thing, he´s lost his flags...¨ but the truth of it is, chile is not only raine, but also unbelievably winde, so my flags have been sadly stowed for quite some time.
yes! i went to the roof, unloaded my stuff and set it out to dry, and went right over with the anticipation of that first sip of tea gnawing at me like a bad addiction. he´d already boiled water and even made some toast. i told him i didn´t need the toast, but i don´t think he understood what i said as i was stuffing it in my mouth. and that tea. wow. perfect! and then, ¨you want some soup?¨
i told him i didn´t want to bother him, that the tea and bread were more than enough. that i could leave him alone and go to my roof and just lay in my sleeping bag. but he said he´d make some soup. and here´s what he did. he boiled water, threw in a vegetable bouillon cube, and poured in some oats. it was a delicious tasting concoction! i asked him what he did.
maybe a long river trip is in order...one of these days...
i live here.
yes, it´s a very nice place, right here on the lake and all these mountains and right in the heart of the national park. but do you work?
supposedly yes. i´m the guard here. (and he laughed.)
yep. i get paid to live here and look after all these huge houses. used to be hotels, but they were neglected. in a year or two, they´re going to renovate everything and build new ones. until then, i stand guard.
does anything ever happen?
i´ve had a couple people vandalize some stuff. nothing serious.
how long have you lived here?
five years. i have a wife and two kids. they live about twenty miles away.
and so, what do you do all day? (for once, i was the one asking these types of questions...)
i read and study and take walks and take the boat out and shoot photos and play with my dogs and offer help if anyone needs it.
wow! perfect! what do you read and study?
ok, yeah, the bible, yes.
six years ago, i was addicted to drugs. then i found jesus. now i´m clean, at peace, and content. do you believe in god?
yes, i believe there is a god.
what else do you believe?
this was my view while repairing a flat tire!
and for the next three, yes, count them, three solid hours, only broken with sips of tea, i, pushing and straining the limits of my spanish, discussed religion with this guy. it was great. we didn´t agree on many things, we did agree on some. i find that most people get angry or frustrated when discussing religion (though they often claim they don´t), so usually i abstain because if there´s one thing i don´t deal well with, it´s with angry or frustrated people. especially the kind that reach an instant boiling point or the kind that raise their voice or the kind that try to put answers in your mouth to lead you down some sort of trap. but if i can sit down with someone, over piping hot tea, and just talk about this topic where there will always be an element of mystery and the unknown and we can say things like ¨i don´t agree¨ and the recipient of such a comment isn´t appalled, then that, my friends, is perfect. and so, for a hundred and eighty minutes that´s what we did. outside, the storm continued.
cross river, climb mountains
after a kindly mutual disagreement was established, he told me to bring my stuff on over, i could sleep inside, that he would cook some pizza. i couldn´t believe it! pizza?! sleep inside?! with heat?! praise that undefinable infinite being out there! glory be! and thanks man!
but it got better. because when i had gathered all my things and come over, he told me to have a shower and that, if i wanted, i could do my laundry! in a machine! haven´t done that since ecuador! before i knew what hit me, that layer of constantly accumulating filth had been removed from my skin, i was in clean dry warm clothes, and my funky tattered rags were being happily churned in a little washing machine! this washing machine was an interesting little contraption that had a bucket into which the rinse water drained. when it had finished, we both went to remove the clothes. and in that bucket was my rinse water. a viscous, gray-brown fluid with a curious and disturbing film floating on top. just looking at it next to him, i felt that i had sinned...
now what i´m trying to tell you, if you´ll just take a moment to listen, is that there was a church here before they put this church there
the next thing i knew, there was pizza in my mouth, apple juice in my mouth, and my twenty digits were moving limberly and were not numb! amazing! we began to talk about another topic, just as mysterious and undefinable to me, women. how i wondered if i would ever meet ¨the one, my soulmate, my completion,¨ or whatever movie-coined appellation you prefer.
oh, the places i´ve slept!
it was then that he told me i needed to be like an animal. i hoped i was missing something in the translation, or else this conversation was about to take an incredibly awkward turn.
like an animal? you mean, uh....ahem...
yes, you must be like an animal!
uhh, ok.....i guess i´ll try that....umm....
because, think about animals. think about cats. think about dogs.
i thought about them but still had no idea where he was going.
these animals, cats, dogs. they wake up. and they just let things happen. they don´t worry where their food will come from. they know it will come and if it doesn´t they will find it. the point is, they don´t look for things. they don´t search. they let things find them. that´s how it needs to be with you, friend. not only with women, but also with god. don´t worry. don´t hunt. just let things happen, and before you know it, the things that you need, the things that you are looking and searching for, well, they´ll be right in front of you.
well howdy doody!
and maybe that´s it. i mean, maybe god is that kitty in wyoming. or that dog. or that very guy i found when it had been snowing and raining on me all day.
i mean maybe god is that feeling i get when my body is in motion and everything just seems good. maybe that´s god.
in the bud on that tree waiting just a bit longer for spring. that little ladybug who landed on my shoulder and stayed there for over an hour. in the little creek tumbling over boulders towards that river.
i should have bought one of these drinks! i mean, who knows!
or that woman at the store who told me that she had made jam and would i like some because she´d like to give me some.
or that scab that i watched slowly form over my wound. i mean, i think that might be god.
perhaps the man, who saw me shivering under a piece of tin as i raised a fist to the endless rain and he pulled up in his truck and gave me a peculiar glance and i thought ¨oh great well what else now,¨ i was so miserable anyhow, and he got out of his truck, in the rain mind you, and he was an old fella with white hair and he walked right up to me, no jacket or nothing, and he extended his arm on the end of which was a hand inside of which was an apple and he said, ¨young man, here´s an apple for you¨ and that´s all he said, nothing else and i promise that to you, and then he just turned around and went right back to his truck and his family and he drove off and i said thanks and waved and i put that apple, it was a green one, in my food bag for my supper and suddenly i didn´t care about anything and i left my sad little tin roof and got back on my bike and pedalled right into that driving rain laughing and cursing myself for being so stern and dadgum serious all the time, and i was so happy at that very moment, so happy i´m telling you, so gawd-blessed incredibly happy that i was almost sad once again.