The Wild Child Grows Old

From a while ago

I’m on a long solo hike, a 17-mile loop thru the Sespe wilderness. I’m without any clothing between my shoes and my hat – but the good part starts when I forget that irrelevant detail – I just exist. It becomes the default state.

If you are nervous about discovery or simply nervous about being “naked” and exposed, you have a long way to go. It takes time.

If you are thinking “What a wonderful day to be nude!” you still aren’t there.

When you have forgotten that you are nude, you’re there.

The world shrinks to the sun on my back, cool wind across sweat, the relentless pendulum of my legs. The sounds of the birds and insects and the wind in the willows. I pause to see the sunlight dancing on a brook or hear the yipping of the coyote calling for the pack to assemble. I am ever watchful for the amazing and lethal rattlesnake. Seeing the flora and fauna as a part of my world instead of me apart from it. I hunger and I thirst and the plain water and cheese I brought with me taste better than any haute cuisine. I am ageless and the world behind me doesn’t exist. Past, present and future all meld into a limitless now.

fletcher on naked hiking
Colin Fletcher understands.

What am I? Am I the relentless wolf? Am I the unrestrained wildcat? Am I the wily fox? The mighty bear? Perhaps a bit of all of them. I am a Paleolithic man enjoying what Paleolithic man enjoyed, the fundamental freedom to be himself as he was created. Above all, I am a consciousness, a self-aware being carried about by this wonderful – if timeworn and creaky – body. And enjoying the most primal of pleasures.

To thine own self be true and it shall follow as the day does the night
thou cannot be false to any other man.

And then, miles from nowhere in the wilderness, I run into a couple, a third my age, wearing day-glow everything, jacked into their iPods, who can’t stop giggling about me and the spell is broken. My hat is strategically relocated before they see me, at least until I can get a handle on their reaction. Not angry, or offended or afraid or shocked. Just amused.

“Oh wow! You’re naked, dude.”

That’s okay. Amused is not a bad thing. But…

All my Asperger angst and confusion over social cues resurfaces. I feel like a stupid old man acting silly – and worse yet – before an audience. I don’t belong anywhere, not even in this remote and wild corner of the world. Arthritis and age and fatigue and all my anxiety and general dissatisfaction with life come flooding back and – just for a minute – I feel like a nervous child caught with his hand in the cookie jar and am frightened. I have not yet completely shed a lifetime of conditioning.

I probably never will, completely.

Even the backpack interferes. It is best when I can cache it and enjoy the freedom. Not brave enough to go barefoot on-trail. Snakes and broken glass, pointy sticks and sand burrs, sharp stones and wasps, hot sand and ants. The hat is essential for heat management. You may want sunscreen.

And then a minute later I’m back. FTW!  That feeling has saved me before.

It’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.

You cannot allow other people’s opinions to shape who you are. There are no fools here, no matter what the others may think. We are each enjoying our time in nature in our own ways.

Or perhaps everybody is always a fool, somehow. And there is nothing wrong with that.

If I am a fool, maybe it is for allowing someone else to reverse the spell and haul me back kicking and screaming to civilization. Freedom is not something given but rather something found within oneself and then not to be yielded to others.

They may seem like fools – to me – for being hooked up to electronics for entertainment and separated from nature while being surrounded by the sublime – but that’s just my knee-jerk reaction. I have no right to judge. It is likely a blessing, for most anything that brings a smile to the face and one’s feet down the wild path is a good thing. Even if they can’t hear the sighing of the wind in the trees and feel the cool breeze on their skin.

Ah well! To each their own.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

I’m certainly walking to a different drummer. They have their drummer as well.

If I’d had my wits about me, perhaps I could have turned the encounter into a positive conversation instead of just a story to be shared at happy hour or in a blog. I’ve done it before. But today my wits have flown away along with the clouds. I give a smile and a nod of my head as we pass one another. My brain has gone empty. “Deer in the headlights” time. I have come to call this state the “Aspie vapor lock.”

Well, maybe for just a few hours, I was a wild child again. It will take a while for the spell to return – but I know it will.

This song always leaves me a bit weepy.

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