Alienation

“Mrs. Dean” affectionately calls me an alien. While I don’t come from another planet, this attribution seems figuratively true. Do I lack some mental organ that others possess, one that supplies certain kinds of feelings? Or do I possess an extra one that suppresses or surpasses these feelings? I go about under the impression that I don’t share with people the same feelings about lots of things. I wonder if they really feel what they seem to, or if they are also alienated but go through the motions to fit in with the groupthink.

Sports. I don’t express opinions about sports, so people often infer that I hate them. Certainly, I hate participating in them, unless drinking beer and throwing darts is a sport. My family didn’t watch or listen to them, so I never bonded with them when young, and I was picked on by the jocks, never befriending anybody to whom sports was important, never learning the rules of the games I endured in PE class. I can’t participate convincingly in sports conversations, and there is little to be gained by relating my a-sportic upbringing. Simply walking away is rude and attracts attenion. A lose-lose-lose situation. One reason I dread human interaction is the probability that said interaction will drift into sports talk and thus unwelcome awkwardness.

Religion. Growing up, my family took their Christianity relatively seriously. I went along and tried to believe and participate honestly. I was confirmed. I enjoyed singing and was in the choir. One of my Seattle aunts was quite religious and I enjoyed going with her to church a couple of times when I visited. But when I was no longer required to attend church weekly, I stopped. Since moving away for college I only go for weddings and funerals, and to defer unpleasant family conversations. I am aware of various atheism related societal trends, but as with other “movements” I’ve become associated with, they seem to attract performative toxicity adherents, and I have enough bullshit to fend off in my other pursuits.

Cars. For safely getting from point A to point B, I approve of cars. I have owned several and been glad of it. However, any major possession is going to be a status symbol whether or not the possessor wants it to be, just because other people see them possessing it, prompting a preening/primping response in many people that sprains my eye-rolling muscles. Beyond keeping it in safe and inoffensive running order, I have no interest in my car’s status symbology. As with sports I cannot discuss cars. I cannot contain my impression of them as a vile public nuisance, again leading to awkwardness and social trepidation.

Books, Movies, Music, TV. I have a rich inner life. I am privileged that my “job” (when I have lately been employed) is essentially what I have chosen as my life’s work, and so need little in the way of “escape”. I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, and still mostly read that. After a desert of appealing works from the late 80’s to the early 00’s, I bathe in an oasis of excellent authors. I rarely enjoy popular entertainments and don’t seek them out, although I usually enjoy Marvel superhero movies (evidently Marvel has figured out how to take nerds like me back in time to (false-memory?) fond youthful memories). There are some TV shows that I enjoy watching with Mrs. Dean, perhaps with some popcorn and a gourmet sarsaparilla, but I rarely seek them out myself. I guess the only time I don’t feel alienated is when I am enjoying times with friends and family, who either share much of my affect or at least embrace it.

One Fish

Trail Stories #2. If you can get to Monte Cristo, in the North Cascades, a mostly non-existent ghost town sometimes inaccessible to vehicles due to the bridge washing out, you can enjoy a beautiful road trip followed by some nice day-hike exploration of an old mining town that became a resort after the mines ran dry and then died. If you are an intrepid hiker with a love for strenuous schlepping, you can make your way from the remnant town up to Poodle Dog Pass (if your life is blessed by a poodle the name will surely make you smile). If you are manic, instead of hiking down to Silver Lake you can continue up up and over a rocky ridge (mind the cairns!), finally descending when you espy a pair of gemlike aquamarine basins 2,500 feet below. Ignoring or perhaps forgetting that there will be a 2,500-foot ascent in a few days, you can then enjoy a great variety of day hikes from your base camp.

Before my Twin Lakes trip, I had just recently gotten my first real job, in downtown Seattle at one of the Lesser Satans. It turns out that I often passed a North Face store between work and my commute at what was then called The Bus Tunnel. At some point, my friends “Radical”, “The Buddha”, “Snow”, and “Jack” decided, on Jack’s recommendation, to do Twin Lakes. Jack’s Suburban came into play, as it also would (as related in Everything, All at Once). Luckily, the bridge was intact, so we didn’t have to park early and pre-hike several miles to the town. Unluckily, as we were gearing up, it started to drizzle. Luckily, due to my recent enjobbedness, my frequent proximity to North Face had inspired me to acquire some excellent gear, which meant I couldn’t have cared less about the drizzle.

I continued to not care less as the drizzle enlarged into full-blown rain as we ascended to Poodle Dog, and into a downpour as we reached the aforementioned rocky ridge. As we staggered from cairn to cairn (I believe I was afflicted by both dehydration – ironic! – and altitude issues), we were  surrounded by dome shaped rock peaks off of which the storm didn’t so much cascade as explode horizontally from the mountain shoulders before curving down into a kind of radial halo-torrent. I had already emptied my water bottle, and had to resort to sucking droplets off of hemlock branches and whatnot to deal with my thirst. The storm eventually passed, and the rest of the trip was under a broken overcast, perfect hiking weather.

Among several stories that could be related here, the most memorable one involves fish. Jack had come properly equipped for his favored sport, and had established himself on the east side of the waterfall that drains the upper Twin into the lower one. Some of the rest of us were scrambling along the rocky bank on the west side of the falls. The sun was just right to penetrate the crystalline water so that we could see a school of large fish (bass?) idling at the base of the falls, perhaps enjoying enhanced oxygenation or the occasional food particle. Evidently the fish were quite ready for a bite to eat, as we found that by simply pointing at one, we could direct Jack’s aim. Even a baitless hook would trigger our indicated target into an undulating propulsion, snapping at the illusory bait, followed by panicked thrashing as it was hooked and summarily yanked towards Jack’s waiting net. In figuratively no time at all, we had the makings of a nice meal.

We fashioned a little pool by damming the runoff from one of the snow fields near camp, and resurrected the fish in it. When a fried fish was desired, we would simply haul a live one out and convert it into a fillet. Such luxury.

Tripping on the Imbue

“Imbue”: a recreational drug featured in Zelazny’s posthumous Lord Demon. Commenting on a Whatever blog post, I invented the titular phrase. Supposing I should probably unpack it, I thought: blog post!

“Mrs. Dean” and I are rambling in the Cotswolds, from one hostelry to the next. We navigate with guidance provided by the outfit that booked our lodging and handles our luggage. Each morning we don our daypacks after breakfast and trapes from town to town, care-free hobbits, while the company schlepps our chattels from last night’s lodging to tonight’s. Traversing a copse in The Slaughters, we come upon a brick pond filled with water and algae, its walls festooned with a lush brake of hart’s tongue. Yet another gift from the vacation gods – I’ve been enjoying novel ferns and mosses and algae the whole trip. Two or three times a day I am presented with an astonishment in my field of interest, like this pond, or a lichen crusted wall, or a field of Lycopodium. Each instance fulfills, hallows, imbues.

Both she and I grew up on LOTR. The Cotswolds are The Shire. Pure coincidence: the first establishment we patronized after arriving in Moreton-in-Marsh was the Bell Tavern, celebrated by a Blue Plaque marking it as an inspiration for the Prancing Pony. As with everywhere we drink or dine in Europe, publican and staff project sincere warmth and pride. Their situation is not some sullen-pretense job-stop on the way to something better, as seems so common in the US. We are laden: the luxury of ignoring our luggage starts tomorrow. They won’t hear of us paying to store our baggage while we roam the high street, insisting we let them guard it for free. The publican detects my American accent and I can tell he’s about to suggest beers he “knows” I’ll like. I won’t hear of it. He admits there’s just been a contest among the local brewers and offers me a flight of the top three competitors. All three are delicious but I remark about one that “these guys really know what they’re doing”. Turns out to be the first-place winner. I order a pint and we take a corner table. I am Strider enjoying shepherd’s pie: content, anticipant, imbued.

Tripping on the imbue: The time we were hiking from Oil City to Mosquito Beach, trudging, ten miles in with a sixty-pound pack and yearning for camp. I turn my head to nicker at some cute beastie beside the trail. I can only conclude that teleportation works but is arduous, as I am suddenly ten yards off-trail in the opposite direction and out of breath. “Cute beastie” is a tiny skunk, aiming but not pulling the trigger. Enchanted. Spent. Imbued. Christmas camping at Panorama Point. Wind on Tahoma’s shoulders spalls sparse ice-dust from high snow fields. Clear blue sky, an hour from sunset, the crystals refract into pixels: you can see the shape of the air! A frozen fist aims right at our cliffside camp. We turn our backs to it and get slammed by a micro blizzard. Suffused. Pummeled. Imbued. Hiking up from Carbon Glacier, our first day on the Wonderland, one false summit after another. We’d started at Mowich Lake and taken the old route, through two-thousand-year-old Cupressus nootkatensis. You’d never know they were so old. An illegal mountain biker passed us as we approached the glacier’s foot, but after lunch I realized he’d crossed the swinging bridge and was nowhere about. Hunter’s urge overwhelmed me until I found his fucking bike and helmet. He might want to thank me for pissing only on his derailleur and chain, though I was tempted. As we finally summited the pass, Bob Ross met Albert Bierstadt. Somewhere I have a chemical photo of it. I think I wept. Triumphant. Enraptured. Imbued.