Sunday, May 16, 2010

48 Hours Free

The world that surounds us is powerful and moving, but this real value is often hidden or inaccessible because of an emphasis put on consumption and ownership. Material possessions are becoming perceived prerequisites for happiness, and increasing dependence on technology is smothering our innate ability to learn and understand ourselves through surroundings and experiences. Technology has conveniently replaced the need for knowledge and independence. Instead of learning about our surroundings by being outside and experiencing things first hand, it is now possible, and often preferred, to simply purchase the experience in a safe and controlled format. If you're lost you can download a map that knows where you are, if you're life is boring you can turn on the TV to tell you when to be excited, if you're lonely you can confirm as many friends as you secretly desire, and if you want to explore the world you can always "Google Earth"... These collective conveniences now saturate our day to day lives, and our attention is focused on maintaining not what is important to our core beings, but rather what we are told is important and necessary to live in the modern world.

It only took thirty minutes of reverie on my way home from work for me to commit to the idea of abandoning as much as I could get away with to spend my time alone in the great unknown. I set a goal of being removed from technology, trivial possessions, social interactions and indoor living for 48 hours. At the time I was unsure what I would do and how I would spend my time, but I knew it would all be revealed and unfold right in front of me as the time progressed. I had a few days to make sense of my "plan" and I made a list of stuff to bring and then started crossing things off the list. What made the cut was only what I could fit in one pack and the bare essentials included a tent, sleeping bag, bicycle, dry food, water, and a camera to document my findings. My journey abruptly started with a night of backyard camping in Milwaukee and lots of anticipation thinking about the unknown adventure ahead.

I woke a few hours after sunrise and packed up my belongings into the bright orange bag which had barely contained them in the first place. My load was one bagel lighter, and the excitement grew with every minute the sun greeted my skin. As I rode I found increasing joy in looking around at my surroundings, but also noticed an increasing amount of contrast between nature and modern development. Most all the plants had been contained to one small location tucked next to a road or building, and no land could be perceived as unowned open space. What once was a thriving patch of earth has now become the grounds for sales of newly produced (now environmentally conscious) automobiles, and where trees used to stand proud, now flagpoles existed only to confirm human's ownership of the land. As I got further from the city I found larger patches of earth that seemed to have been modified less by humans. Even though I appreciated these patches just off the paved roads I was traveling, my enjoyment was obstructed by power lines and distant development, a subtle reminder of the impending take over.

When crossing on a large bridge that was under construction I looked down to see the earth below was also being developed, and the river that once ran free was now being redirected to avoid the newly paved parking lots and buildings. This new construction of roads and parking lots for the industrial parks has left is mark on the land, and it seems that not even the location of a naturally formed river is safe to remain unchanged.

As I kept riding the view started to become more naturally aesthetic, and my mind was no longer flooded with discouraging thoughts of over development and industrialization of the land. I began to ride on open country roads that snaked between vast farm fields interrupted only by large trees and humble farm houses. It was all around more enjoyable, and I began to think new thoughts, the kind of thoughts I was hoping to find after temporarily abandoning so many conveniences. The world felt a little bit new, and I felt a little bit more human having biked almost forty miles with a pack of simple belongings on my back. It was hard work, and both my mind and body could feel the benefit of this work. The old Raleigh conversion brakeless fixed gear bike I was riding ensured my legs would be working for every second of the ride, and it became one of the many subtle metaphors for life I would discover along my journey. Nothing worth while would be achieved by trying to coast along my path leisurely. The hours spent spinning the wheels with an uncomfortable pack on my back were difficult and often trying...

Once I got to the approximate area I deemed a destination, I walked as deep into the woods as I could. I looked around intensely, looking for whatever it was that I hadn't yet discovered. I took note of the sounds I was hearing in order to try and identify them before night fall, as well as looking for signs of animal life, which also included artifacts left by humans such as beer cans and shotgun shells (a reassuring reminder of potential human interactions that might be soon to come). Everything was new and the only way for me to understand was by problem solving, there was nobody to ask a question or advice. I was on my own in a small woods, and it felt gigantic. After exploring for an hour or so I decided on a spot to set up my tent. It was free of the dense growth common to the area, but still surrounded entirely by trees and wildlife.

Once settled in to this lovely spot, I knew that the time had come for my first haircut in five years. With the increasing summer heat, my "super dread" now becoming ever increasingly "super" and my admiration, enjoyment and time spent in the outdoors all meant that short hair would be the most appropriate hair style for me in the years to come. I grabbed the scissors I had packed in with my bike tools and started cutting away. The first one was probably the hardest to cut, but once I got started it was very entertaining to see them go. I snapped a few photos along the way for memory's sake and eventually was transformed into the "short hair, used to have dreads, but still unwashed and uneven" look. I have never been prouder to have cut my own hair, and to do so without looking in a mirror was exciting. I feel as if this simple act in context of my journey perhaps represented me more truthfully than the dreads ever could have. After all, the hair style I ended up with was entirely more unique...

Once all the dreads were gone, I took some time to do the final touch ups on my new do. I walked a few feet away from my tent, which was randomly located in an unnamed woods, and I bent down and cut the remnants of the dread roots from my head. As I was cutting, and subconsciously looking around the ground I found something that looked familiar, but I wasn't sure for what reason. When I took a closer look I knew that what I had found was a unique and valuable mushroom called the "Morel."

What I had found specifically was a Black Morel, and when I looked around I found approximately five more in the immediate area around my tent. Needless to say I was completely ecstatic about finding my own food, now if only I had brought a way to properly cook them! They were still on the small side, so I decided to let them be, not to mention I had no room in my pack to bring them back with me. I remembered the location very well though, and I came back in my car a few days later once my 48 hour journey was over. When I returned to the spot I had found they had grown only minimally, so I decided to focus my energy on finding others. I knew that they grew in the decaying roots of Elm tree's, so that is where I looked. Within an hour I had found nearly an entire pound of much larger Morels!

I dried them that same day to help preserve the the freshness and enable them to be eaten gradually over the next month or so... my entire apartment embodied the aroma of delicious Morels! I came back to where I found them a few times after my first harvest and continued searching for the edible mushroom, which only has a three week window to grow and be harvested during the year... (I guess my journey was well planned after all.) When it was all said and done I estimated having found almost three pounds of fresh Morels. The most fitting way I knew to celebrate was to invite friends over to my apartment to help cook and eat the tasty delights over some equally fresh beers. It was quite a treat for all, and a very unique reason to gather my friends to hang out. The Morels were a unique reward for an equally unique journey, and I will never hesitate to abandon what is convenient again... after all, I found something that can't be reproduced and controlled by man, and to me that means my trip was not only a success, but proof that perhaps the best time to explore is when you're not sure what you're looking for...


Paul Cizek said...

Hi Matt,
Two questions formulated for me as I read your post:

1) Your discomfort with "modern development" is clearly conveyed ("contained," "tucked," "no land could be perceived as unowned open space,"impending take over,"over development and industrialization.") In contrast, you seem thrilled by the "naturally formed," "unchanged," open and unowned world. But in the midst of this clear binary, you praise the "humble farm houses," which - to my mind - undoubtedly take over patches of earth and own the surrounding land. So what is it about the farm houses that make them praise worthy?

2) You write, "The world that surounds us is powerful and moving," but "instead of learning about our surroundings by being outside and experiencing things first hand, it is now possible, and often preferred, to simply purchase the experience in a safe and controlled format." Why do you think people have willingly exchanged things that are so powerful and moving ("I was on my own in a small woods, and it felt gigantic") for things which are clearly secondhand fabrications (GPS, TV, and FB friends)?

ejaaje said...

does your head feel lighter and more mobile in version 2.0 of the mattman?

ejaaje said...

it's eddie, by the way.

you going to the red this weekend?

Jess said...

I. love. this. post.

let me know when you are out west next. there are lots of oregon mountains to explore!