Part 2, chapter five
As well as the little hut I built on the hill near Vancouver, on all of my past travels up and down the coast I always kept an eye out for a more permanent, more remote spot to exist- away from the ubiquitous mental detritus found any place man had scattered his limited theories into form. I would consider the farthest cliffs, the steepest mountains, the most isolated valleys, or islands in the roaring sea, anywhere to build a hidden shack, a fort, a cabin, or what have you, and to one day step off of the last street I would ever set my feet upon, and walk away calmly into the bush. I dreamed of finding my spot, of constructing a humble lean-to, of sitting down beneath it, forgetting the likes of men, and of never getting up.
I sought to be in unpeopled wilderness, and live like old Enoch, away from the temptations of the dancing, song, and sin of the sons and daughters of men, except that, unlike that ancient forefather, I planned to take one of their daughters with me. Why be totally alone in the great outdoors, I thought, when you can have some lovin’ with you?
If you like nature and don’t mind a bit of hard work and a lot of isolation, British Columbia and Alaska are the best places on earth to be a guerrilla homesteader. The choices of where to camp or build a little shanty are never ending, as long as you’re far enough away from the authorities and the concerned citizens who will get into a righteous fuss and fright every time they see something going on which is not tightly wrapped in codes and restrictions. The great, law abiding, sniveling bourgeoisie rabble will get you every time.
On one reconnaissance trip, far away from the rabble, looking for a remote building site, a couple of buddies and I took a floatplane into the mouth of one of the long, fingerlike inlets which carve up the BC coast, where we hiked up the river ten miles or so, firstly along an abandoned logging road, then onto an overgrown path, and finally we were meandering through grizzly trails which, in the thick knot of the rainforest’s salal and brambles, were only as high as a bear walks, and therefore you had to crouch right over to use such paths, so these weren’t the most physically- not to mention psychologically- comfortable thoroughfares to negotiate.
I remember reading the Alaska State Park’s pamphlet on grizzly attacks the first summer I had gone up there. It stated, in perfect, bureaucratic, now-you-can’t-sue-us-jargon, that if a grizzly charges you, you should not run but only look away from it, wave your arms about, and slowly back away; if it continued to charge, and attacked you, you should not fight back but instead play dead; and if now it persisted to maul you, you should consider it as a ‘predatory’ attack, and fight back with all of your might. I finished reading the pamphlet and was thinking- isn’t this a wonderful piece of perfectly American advice- wait until you’re damned and then try to save yourself.
During a large part of that first summer in Alaska, I was camped alone under a tarp in grizzly territory, and was piss-scared half the time and would be startled into anxious alertness at the slightest noise in the forest- of which there was an endless supply. And what with the short, northern nights- about three hours of partial darkness at best- and the perpetual rain pounding down, I didn’t rest very well at the outset of that summer. But something happened after a while which allowed me to sleep comfortably; I suppose I just inductively grew weary of leaping up whenever a branch snapped or some other sound startled me but did not produce the ursus major I had expected, nor any other frightening beast for that matter. And so eventually I just stopped reacting to the ever-present, benign noises of the forest and forgot that these might signify a bear. I got so used to sleeping out in the open like this that I remember finding fresh cougar tracks near my camp in British Columbia one time, and as I was dozing off that night I suddenly questioned myself as to whether I should be worried or not, and I remember only the slightest response inwardly, lackadaisically negating the necessity of fear, and then I must have fallen into dream because I awoke the next morning fully intact.
Occasionally a friend would confess to me that their fear of bears and cougars prevented them from going into the wilderness alone- which, being alone in the wilds, was a rewarding experience that I had declared was singularly important and a life altering necessity. And then the friend would inquire whether I was still afraid of such animals or not. My answer was, “Yes, of course I’m afraid of them.” But then I’d explain an important change which had happened to me, and apparently not to them as yet, which was this- I was not afraid of potentially meeting a bear or cougar, for I had learned that at every moment there is a false alarm if you’re willing to allow fear to give you one. However, were I to actually come upon one of the carnivores, of course I was scared, but the difference between useless fear and jungle sense was what gave me, a coward, the opportunity to bask in the glorious outdoors, and stole the same experience from those others. And that is a terrible tragedy.
I recognize this dichotomy- this liberating or imprisoning nuance of fear- in many aspects of my life now: fear of potential harm, potential loss, or potential sorrow, all of which are limiting to life, as opposed to honest-to-goodness self-preservation fear, which is life affirming.
I had come to accept that life is not complete without some fear, and that trying to avoid what I feared was impossible without concomitantly building up walls which would bury me, because to avoid fear was to avoid life. I had to learn to discern between true response to a true situation, and false response to an imagined one.
I can say these things with great humility, for I was a born and bred, hopeless neurotic- a living authority on the crippling effect of the mind. I once had a dream in which it was shown to me that there was an incurable, pathological coward within me, discoloring everything I did, and everything I thought, and I awoke knowing that I could not get rid of him, for he was a part of me. I could only take into consideration the fact that his voice was a part of the chorus of voices motivating either my fulfillment or abandonment of life, and I had to make sure that he didn’t win, because to him even the clerk at the convenience store was a grizzly, and the world was a terrifying, dark woods within which he sat cowering while the rest of me wanted to sing out and dance.
The first book I ever thought of writing was solely about fear, though luckily the coward was too afraid to write it, and so the rest of me won the pen. And soon I’ll take another hill and become a ballerina.
And yet it had taken me many bewildering years of painful confusion and struggle to finally understand and overcome the useless fears that had been driven into my innocent life from day one. The endless, justified, irrational, irrevocable, cultural fears: fear of being lost in the world, of being different, of believing in nothing but yourself, of having no job (let alone a career), of having little or no money, no home, of living illegally wherever you chose to squat. Fear of existing in squalor amongst the pimps, and prostitutes, the heroin addicts, thieves, drunks, mutants and beggars, fear of being dirty, of neither caring for, nor needing anything created by mankind, fear of owning nothing, of thinking your own thoughts, of dreaming your own dreams, of being idle, of being nobody. Fear of death, fear of life, fear of disappointing your friends and family, of being disowned or of disowning, of offending another irreparably. Fear of being absolutely alone, fear of standing your own ground while the cyclone of madness spins relentlessly about you, fear of believing in and following your own reality, fear of being wrong, of never finding truth. Fear of the wildlands, of snakes, of cold and rain, of darkness and discomfort, of wiping your ass with your own hand, of where you’d lay your head that night, of what you’d eat tomorrow, of where you’d wash, and what you’d do when you woke in the sun with nothing to do but sit in the sun. Fear, fear, fear, and more fear, all ensconcing, all pervasive, encumbering, deceiving, disfiguring fear. All of it.
Many people talked as if they understood life and knew how to properly live it, but once you sat down and got inside of them, once they opened up the can of worms contained within and came forth with candor to expose themselves truly, it was always the same thing- uncertainty, hesitation, disquiet, boredom, anger, worry, envy, disease, and panic. There it was, in all and everyone, lying buried just beneath the shining veneer of their own private lie, which itself was haplessly buried deep inside the greater lie- the lie into which they were born and because they had no imagination, no intent, and no energy to extricate themselves, it was the same lie into which they would eventually grow sick, and old, and die.
They would die in fear when they could instead have lived in faith. In faith- not in a dogmatic, religious form- but faith in nothing knowable- faith for faith’s sake, because it was the only way out of fear and death and sorrow.
But they had no faith; no faith in themselves, in God, in Creation, in Destruction, in death, or in Life. No faith, only fear. As simple and difficult as that.