18 Mar Death in the Wild
A year ago today, I was madly beginning to plan my adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail. With the approaching anniversary, I’m thinking back to the time leading up to my trip. Planning, packing, and telling my friends and family of my wild decision.
The question I got asked the most before leaving was: Are you taking a gun? I actually thought about it. Not because I thought I would need it, but just because I like guns. For me though, it seemed an odd question to get. Often times it came from people who I knew were against guns. Folks who were aghast at the prospect of a gun being in their home or in their city thought that nature was really the place for such a thing? In my mind, it was a question that spoke to people’s fear of the wilderness. Perhaps they were afraid of animals, cougars or bears. Perhaps they feared the hill people from movies like “Deliverance” or their own knowledge of backcountry meth kitchens and pot farms. Perhaps they feared hunger and knew they had lost the way to getting nourishment from the earth. Either way, it made me chuckle every time.
I wasn’t afraid of those things. And if I was, I was more afraid of who I was becoming living in the insane city. If I was afraid of bears and cougars, I was more afraid of living cautiously in mediocrity and having no stories to tell my grandchildren as machines kept me alive my final years. I found it more realistic and was more afraid of my life ending at the hands of drunk drivers or mentally unstable folks on the streets of San Francisco. What inglorious ways to go: my body finding its end in a dirty gutter next to syringes and cigarette butts soaked in urine and alcohol with yards of concrete between my flesh and the dirt of earth.
Death by bear or cougar? I’d welcome that end. And in that moment before death comes, to fight one last glorious fight for life, facing a power much greater, fiercer, and raw than I. In those moments, to find all the hope that remains within me, to realize my real love of life, and to experience a surge of adrenaline and natural instinct like no other time before. To claw and punch and kick and bite without restraint or guilt, to draw blood or take the eye of a great beast, to leave my mark on it before it took my life. And in its victory, I’d give the beast part of my soul as it found its nourishment in my flesh as I had fed on the flesh of so many other beasts in my living. And to give my soul to the vultures that soar easily and high on the warm airs. And before I was nothing again but dust in the wind, to give my soul to a hungry coyote, a hundred maggots, a million ants, and the worms in the dirt.