I always wanted to live for an extended period of time in a cabin in the woods. Spending many days at Pokagon State Park where my family often camped or lodged revealed a shelter off of one of the trails I frequented. The structure was not much, and I am quite sure I would be disappointed by both the features and location if I visited it today (assuming it is still there). As a wandering kid, I felt like it was in the middle of nowhere; barely touched by the hustles of modern civilization. I could walk inside and stare mindlessly off into the woods. A “natural” spring flowed from the ground right past the cabin. Without hesitation, I would summon pioneer-like techniques of cupping the water with my hands, drinking straight from the source. That was probably a terrible idea, though to a young boy, that water had never flowed past another living soul. It surely had to have been clean. It appeared pure, and it made me feel wild. I would lie around the area imagining that I lived there for hours. This would be my first experience that brought about a desire to discover living beyond the confines of a city.
There was always an urge to get out into the woods and explore, but growing up where I did, the pickings drew slim; slim and getting slimmer. So much so, that simply digging a hole in the ground with some wood around the base would have to do for brief periods to escape the city life. A make-shift fort. Small sections of woods remained adjacent to my neighborhood, but they were not without their own sets of problems. The older kids also enjoyed these territories, so I required caution and awareness. To them, it was just a means to get away from their parents, to smoke and drink with no one knowing. An ideal location to stash and safeguard their “nudey mags”. Those had extreme bartering value in those days. In the best-case scenario, wandering out in the woods and being discovered by troves of older kids would bring on ridicule. That was the best-case scenario. In other areas, the pollution and vivid rumors of “angry, salt-gun toting farmers” kept the adventures at bay. The ponds became a reservoir for the inbred to dump their chemicals, resulting in chemical burns to any youth that yearned for a habitable place to swim. Those problems eventually took care of themselves by the expansion of subdivisions and golf courses. The rustic stomping grounds that I had access to would become “developed”.
In 1986, we stayed with friends of my parents in cabins out in Colorado. At the foothills of the Rockies. The property seemed to go on forever, but surely there were limits. Streams teamed with trout. Horses scattered throughout the open areas. To a nine-year-old boy, they were wild horses roaming free. Drifting up into the hills where the fields ended, and the forest began, I would explore and find all sorts of multi-colored rocks and fossils.
The place illuminated as a piece of heaven and I did not want to leave. A place that set the tone of what I wanted for a few years to come. Until the memory faded in the teenage years.
Some years later, immediately after my high school graduation, my friends Matt and Andy would take a trip out west with me. Many exciting details would transpire warranting perhaps another memoir, but skipping towards the tail-end of our journey, we hiked through the Pecos Mountain with my Uncle Dave in northern New Mexico. This hike morphed into a picturesque wilderness novel that required maniacal off-road driving just to get in and out of the trailhead. Part of which transpired through heavy rain. We moved through remote terrain; rolling hills or steep muddy climbs, over large streams, and through wild fields. At one point, we stopped for a break, allowing for a chance to gaze upon a field with a stream knifing right through. The setting was truly breathtaking and serene. Back when film photography was something more deliberate, I decided to take a picture of this scene to preserve a sense of how it cleansed my soul being there. A spot just fifty yards off the waterfront could sit a cabin with me living inside. Freshwater sources. Available fish and game to subsist on, to be sure. A powerful reminder of how much of my childhood was spent trying to capture that moment in the mountains. A resurrection to the desired endeavor that would not burn dry any time soon.
The return home hosted an uncomfortable thirty-six-hour Greyhound ride from Albuquerque to Toledo to reflect. Thirty-six straight hours unfettered by sleep because my seat positioned in the last row of the bus for a harrowing majority of the trip. A section that was meant only to seat two people. Instead, there were three of us. A mother and her child, speaking endlessly in Spanish. When enough “sheep” had been enumerated to drift into a slumber, I would be hastily awakened by nature... or nature calling rather. Sitting in the back meant sitting right next to the disinfectant-emanating bathroom. My legs partly blocked the door from opening so passengers, amidst their potty-dance, would need to wake me up. My legs blocked their ability to enter. The rest of the time, I sat next to unbathed hippies that smelled worse than the bathroom disinfectant on a contrasting spectrum of funk.
I still had the most enjoyable experience between the three of us. Matt had a nearly fractured tailbone from falling while rock-climbing, and Andy had a lobster-like sunburn that he acquired at the waterpark the day before our departure. Steering back to the point meant thirty-six semi-delirious hours to reflect on the trip as well as where to be going with my life after high school.
As a fresh graduate, I had no idea what I would do specifically. I wanted something rugged and fulfilling. Throughout high school, there emerged only one desired path forward after graduation. Trying out for special forces, traveling the world, and feeding on some wanderlust was all that I could see myself doing in that next phase. The catalyst to drive those endeavors no longer splayed out on the table. I had been rejected by the Army less than a year earlier because I could not pass the hearing tests. The rejection crushed me. For the first time, I was told that I could not do something. But what else is there for someone like me? I had no desires for wealth or a normal life by any stretch of the imagination. College seemed like a prison, as I generally did well in school when I wanted to, but at the opportunity cost of pursuing what my actual interests were. Those interests were always outside any classroom.
These excerpts were pulled from the Montana Memoir "How to Unsuccessfully Promote a Fake Fight in Montana - A Parody Memoir of Thwarting Cabin Fever."