Got to travel
Til we win Death or Glory by The Clash
Travelers must be content As You Like It
The new Leonard DiCaprio movie “The Revenant,” takes you deep into the wilderness, featuring breathtaking scenes from the mountains of western Canada down to Tierra del Fuego Argentina. It takes place in 1823 in Montana and South Dakota. And despite the difficulty of his character’s journey, I’m here today to tell you that conversations for the rest of us along the trail? No walk in the park either.
First off, there’s not that much talking when communing best with the woods. As counselors up at Camp Lookout in northern Michigan, we had this rule while hiking: “Silence on the Trail!”
Beautiful idea, right?
But as an adult, please don’t yell me to shaddup for singing side two of “Abbey Road” or my favorite Dan Fogelberg choruses as we scale the high Sierra. You are supposed to sing, and loudly – try Broadway show tunes — when attempting to scare away the bears. (spoiler alert: Did Not Work for DiCaprio)
According to Joseph Campbell (and others, of course) the bear is the oldest worshipped deity in the world. And like bears, every hiker you pass out there has their own way of being. Different from city walking where you ignore everybody you come in close contact with (because FILL-IN URBAN AVOIDANCE STRATEGY HERE), far outside the megalopolis, guess what: You can actually include and welcome humans to your side. Why? Because where it’s you vs. nature out there (one cannot emphasize the “out-thereness” of outdoors enough), any chance to join forces may come in handy so I’m here to encourage it.
We’re talking about survival among the rawest elements of life! Plus, chances to relate in ways no human ever has a chance to. (Be sure to take along a Marmot rain jacket – talk about a real lifesaver.)
Backpack Banter for Urbanized Campers
To anyone crossing your path, “Have a good one,” is short and sweet. “Howdy,” is even shorter. These greetings — or say, “May the peace of the wilderness be with you!” – force the opposing trailblazer to return with a “Have a good one!” (Albeit just in passing, because I can’t stop continuing to get down this trail/up the trail/to my campsite/and am lacking breath from sweating through another dang switchback/I need to push on farther along without any help from you no thank you very mucho…)
Note: Trail Etiquette 101 gives those going uphill the right of way. Trail Etiquette 101.1 teaches that if time allows, you may offer comments about passing trekker’s t-shirts and ball caps, as in: “Star Trek, cool…” or “the Wyoming cowboy. Cool,” or “Harvard? Really?”
Advanced Trail Etiquette says avoid, “May the force be with you” or asking about their gear, because there is nothing like humblebragsters going on about having proper rain gear in places like the Grand Tetons (see Marmot) because while it may be the youngest of the Rockies range, they do create their own weather system, putting you as warily in the moment as those furry little marmots bouncing boulder to boulder just ahead of you.
But hey, it’s your gambol; you can pretty much say anything. Let’s face it, in nature one is unrestrained. And you will probably not see that hiker again. So go ahead freely: “Next summer I gotta get me one of them umbrella hats!”*
Convo To Go
Feeling burned out on your trail? Put these in your pack to poke ’em with:
“I feel absolutely tree ripened out here, don’t you?”
“That there is a Jeffrey Pine. Yep. Go on up and smell it. Yes, you can scratch the bark and smell it. Is that vanilla? Butterscotch? Crazy, right? Well, there are over 300 different kinds of pine — funny you should ask — pinus, if you will. The Jeffrey grows mostly in the Sierra range. Did you know also that the presence of trees have been shown by a study to lower violent crime?”
With just a few folks left around the campfire, folk singing & conversational storytelling having crackled down to a cool blue whisper, might be time for employing the following to blow whatever minds are still open:
“Ever tried living in Deep Time? When you slow down a little first, get away from the very next thing in front of you and go back like to when you are in nature— living in deeper and deeper time, the slower and slower it gets, stretching out in its passing to where you go all the way back and accept yourself as a part of the Story of Evolution itself. You realize you are part of this living being floating through the universe where the percentage of calcium in your tears is the same as in the oceans. That’s what aging is: part of it as all of it processes. So now you can quit worrying; humans have been here for 20 thousand years. The mammoths 10 million years. Dinosaurs 100 million years. Forget about wondering whether to get dirty in nature. And don’t worry about whether we should kiss, because there is more bacteria in your mouth than in all the humans who ever lived on the planet.”
Did you ever want to be a park ranger when you were a child?
Which national parks have you visited? How about overseas?
Did you ever get angry during a camping trip and what was the cause?
What’s the most amazing highway you’ve ever traveled upon?
What was the scariest thing to ever happen to you while camping?
Describe the coolest animal you’ve ever seen out there.
How would your friends describe you in relation to camping or hiking?
If you are in the eastern U.S., try: Did you know that “Hudson” as in the Hudson River means “great waters constantly in motion”?
If you are in the western U.S.: Did you know that “Pacific” like in the ocean means “peace”?
Take a day hike without your phone.
Ask some friends to join you for some outdoor activity or sport.
Tell a story around a campfire. (Remember that certain scary tales, like featuring Bloody Fingers! and other body parts, may drive more people into their tents than keep them conversing/smoldering by the fire.)
Relate a tale from time spent at summer camp.
Write a short letter thanking the person who introduced you to the natural world.
But is it true? or else is it your pleasure,
Like pleasant travellers, to break a jest
Upon the company you overtake?
I do assure thee, father, so it is.
The Taming of the Shrew
In my first interview with a Sierra bear we were frightened and embarrassed, both of us, but the bear’s behavior was better than mine.
Above photos by Daniel Mandil, Robert J. Rees.