I have fallen into a Sunday reading Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man. It details the life of Eustace Conway, who among other things, has been living off the land in North Carolina more or less since he was seventeen years old. He hunts, fishes, conquers in the spirit of Kit Carson, but reveres a la Native America. Then he visits schools to let kids know that they can do the same if they so desire. I found the story compelling, not just because I myself ran away to the rainforest two years ago, shedding television and automobile in the process, and not just because Eustace's story could easily be superimposed over my father's or my uncle Dave's (in fact, I had to do a double take when I saw the cover - the resemblance to Dave is uncanny) own stories. I find Gilbert's writing about masculinity, and America to be quite surprisingly aligned with much of what I have come to hold true based on my experiences here in Monteverde, and elsewhere along the road(s).
"We have fallen out of rhythm. It's this simple. If we don't cultivate our own food supply anymore, do we need to pay attention to the idea of, say, seasons? Is there any difference between winter and summer if we can eat strawberries every day? If we can keep the temperature of out house set at a comfortable 70 degrees all year, do we need to notice that the fall is coming? Do we have to prepare for that? Respect that? Much less contemplate what it means for our own mortality that things die in nature every autumn? And when spring does come round again, do we need to notice that rebirth? If we never leave our house except to drive to work, do we need to be even remotely aware of this powerful, humbling, extraordinary, and eternal life force that surges and ebbs around us all the time?"
Well, do we? These ideas are quite common, oft recognized and repeated in various forms, though few follow Eustace's wisdom to the point of donning buckskins and heading for the bush. I myself would, but I simply have to know who the next American Idol will be... I think we can count Eustace Conway out, though...
We know we are out of rhythm. I am quite sure that Elizabeth, Eustace and I are not the first to stop in our tracks among the (sub)urban throngs and say "hang on, where did all the life go? Why do I need all this stuff? And why am I in such a damned hurry, anyway?" Just as in AA meetings, isn't the all important first step admitting that we have a problem? That should count for something, even if we don't all head for the woods.
I look back on the days when I lived in Wisconsin and the fall was more about stocking up on driveway salt, warm clothes and sick days than about acknowledging the immense changes in the natural world happening all around me. I often forgot to bid the insects and birds farewell until the spring. I often regretted not saying goodbye, as I missed them dearly in the silent months of December - March.
I would read Little House in the Big Woods with my classes, and we'd celebrate the coming of winter by eating deer jerky caught by the closest thing to a frontiersman our school had - an educational assistant that went hunting whenever the Packers or Badgers weren't playing (I'd sneak in Shitake mushroom jerky for myself). That was all. That and some sledding.
I'm not going to say I'd like to meet Eustace Conway, mostly because I already have. I know him well. He is my uncle and my father. He is all around me here in Monteverde, and he is certainly welcome to stop in and spend some time at our school anytime he wishes. I know he'd be at home here. I do however, encourage anyone who happens upon this post to read The Last American Man and get to know man as he once was, and as he may in fact, still be.