Far HorizonsMarch 2011
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John and Friend
John is an Emeritus Professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Studies from California State University, Northridge, and a retired Lecturer from Cal Poly. For thirty-four years he has taught classes in Commercial Recreation, Tourism Planning, Management and Leadership, and Wilderness Survival. He earned his Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in Organizational Development and Curriculum Design in Higher Education.  John also served as Lead Evaluator for the SLO Sherriff's Search & Rescue division. He is a current member of the Atascadero Writer's Club and can be contacted by calling 805-440-9529 or by email.

Deliverance of the Wild

by John Bullaro

In my youth, I often imagined I was born 150 years earlier, mostly for romantic notions of trapping and roaming the woods free to do as I please. In my adult life this wish for an earlier existence never left. I felt the lightening fast pace of modern life, the isolating effect of electronics, the mad pursuit of materialism, and society's arbitrary rules were suffocating me. Walking along a busy boulevard I often felt alone, unconnected to what was happening around me, a stranger in an artificial land. I yearned to be connected to a real life.

I often escape from this perceived social isolation and artificiality by going to the wilderness. The woods offer reality. To deal with this reality there are rules, but they are not artificial—ignore them and perish, abide by them and survive. It's my choice. The woods afford me intentional isolation that restores my spirit, yet the wilderness eschews affectation and arbitrary materialism. Each step along a wilderness path takes me back in time.

Last week, seated at my kitchen table, window open wide for fresh air, I decided to leave the suffocating world outside that window for the inscrutable world of the wilderness.  My goal was simple: make a base camp wherever the Great Spirit chooses and wander at will just because I can.  I'd return home when I felt restored and emotionally ready to engage civilization.

My first wilderness evening meal was enjoyed in the company of an impressive coyote. This fury visitor appeared friendly enough. He kept his distance and watched me eat. Later he helped with the cleanup when I set my dishes down, many feet away from my fire, so he could lick the plates clean. The next morning I found him seated nearby, and wondered if he waited for his breakfast. I cooked bacon and powdered eggs and he finished off the grease from the bacon pan. Later I left my camp and headed for an abandoned Indian village I heard was ten miles north of my camp's location. The coyote not far behind. By late afternoon my urban body felt worn out. I rested on a tree stump. I was aware the wind had  changed direction and the temperature had dropped; sure signs of a weather change. To the north I saw dark ominous clouds gathered on the horizon. My furry, four-legged friend was still behind me. For reasons I can't fathom as a human, unlike the strangers I see on my city street, I felt bonded with the animal.

I searched for a good shelter away from the wind and impending storm. Water droplets fell on my face. My shirt and pants became moist. Soon I began to shiver. I spotted a large cave nearby and crawled inside.  I looked around but my four-legged companion was nowhere to be seen. I missed his presence. 

I dropped my day pack on the cave floor and rested for about twenty minutes. I left the cave and quickly gathered dry fire wood from under a thick-limbed pine tree. Soon I had a comforting fire going. My chills subsided but hunger took its place. 

For the next day and a half I wrote in my journal and waited for the storm to pass. My clothes were dry and my hunger assuaged. I chose to lay on the ground near my fire to savor the uncomplicated moment. I told myself this is what I needed, simplicity in living; much more than my artificial and contrived city life.
The next morning, day three of my so called exile from the city, I awoke hungry with a stiff back from the hard floor. My stomach growled. My remaining food stores were low. My breakfast consisted of hot chocolate and freeze-dried macaroni and cheese. As I ate, from the back of the cave came a low growl. I turned and saw the coyote. It must have crept into the shelter during the night to seek refuge from the storm, which was raging. It pleased me he sought my space to hunker down. I sensed we were becoming "mates," as the British might say.

The next day the fog lifted and the rain ceased. The coyote ran out of the cave, only to stop twenty yards away and look back at me. I got the feeling he was saying, "Hey dude, its time to get back to base camp. I'm hungry too."

We made it back to the base camp late just as darkness settled in. I made a fire and fixed my dinner of chicken almandine, bread, and coffee. I set out a plate of food for my buddy, and set it at the perimeter of my base camp. We both ate, then settled down for a well-deserved rest.  After dinner the coyote laid down. He obviously felt safe as he was on his back. I realized at that moment I had entered into his world more than he was in mine. I came to the woods to find relief from contrivance and technology, and found that and much more.

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