I looked down at my shoes, they looked dirtier than they typically were, totally not like me. Totally not me at all, then I looked around at my surroundings, what was I doing here. I reached for my shoulder bag to grab my Fuji Finepix six year old “high tech” camera to try to capture a photograph of my surroundings. Maybe, just maybe looking at the world around me would make sense through a tiny two inch monitor. I pointed the lens north and snapped a few shots. Unfortunately, upon review, it still was a mystery.
The world seemed sort of big and scary, and I wasn’t really in the mood for a living nightmare. I had been living on the edge for a long time at that point, and didn’t really see any end in sight. I had gone too far down the path of anti-society, even if I did try to go back to living in a 9-5 work lifestyle in a subdivision somewhere, I’d probably shoot myself while simultaneously bathing with a toaster and hanging myself from the curtain rod with an old belt. No, although the world was big and scary, I was going to make it out here, alone, in the woods. I was going to live off the land.
Step after step, I progessed south east, which, from what I could read on the map, was towards an area where indians used to live and gather and where there was a little talked about compound of like minded individuals that lived off the land as well. I was seeking to find other weirdos like me, and after overhearing some sandal wearing mid twenties nature types talk about this sort of “hippy mecca” I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Getting info on it wasn’t exactly easy, but after a few extra trips to where I last saw the crunchies last, I was able to bust into the conversation to find where this mysterious place was.
I kept walking and recounting the day I met Chuck and found out all the juicy details about this hidden place that I was determined to make my own home. This Chuck fella, you see, used to be one of them, he used to be a compound living nature nerd. He was raised in an extremely religous Catholic family in South West Cleveland, but as soon as his hat was thrown after high school and the robe came off, he took off in his old Honda to seek adventures. He explained to me about his resentment towards everything in pop culture, told me about where he had abandoned his car after it broke down on him and didn’t have money to get it repaired, he even went as far as to tell me what it was like to make love to a “broad with no face.”
He said more stuff, but all I could do was watch his mouth move as these words kept falling out on top of each other in what seemed like no apparent order. I looked closely at his face and tried to figure out exactly how old he was and what his birthday was, because honestly, I wasn’t digging on what he was rapping about. His eyes were this piercing green color, a color that I had only seen on cats and cartoons. They weren’t pleasing to look at, they made you feel uncomfortable, they were like little bowls of cold pea soup that has sort of congealed on the top, or better yet, they looked like two eyes that gave molded over with that nasty penicillin mold that grows on bread.
And he kept talking, and talking.
I studied his facial structure and he went into minute six of the story of the “broad with no face.” Catching pieces of it, she was still at that compound, but that was all I really picked out of the story, I ignored him until the details as to how to get there came out. I studied hard, as if I were going to be asked to identify him in the future. Chisled chin, that sort of came to a point and a face that was sort of greasy and without any distinctive marking (“and then she came into my tent and we started talking dirty, you know, probing each other verbally before getting….”. The nose, it wasn’t anything special, except he had exceptionally small nostrils, I mean, they would be too small to even fit one knuckle up, let alone get a good booger on. (I was on my sleeping bag and she was at the other end, I sort of leaned over towards her, you know, to make my move). His hair was sort of stuck down on his head, like it had been in a ball cap prior to coming to work and his ears peaked out from below the hair like two little satellites ready to get a signal from out of space. (“He was shy, man, she was shy. I was using all my smooth moves and she was playing hard to get.”)
And he still kept talking.
I couldn’t stand just standing around listening anymore, I interjected with the inquiry as to where this place beyond the trees were, by the river, under bright blue skies. He stopped his story, said simply “south west of the east fork of the Little Jackleg River. It’s not easy to get to, but if you’ve got a map from the Little Jackleg park – you can find your way. Did i tell you about my experience with skinning a beaver while it was still breathing?” It was his attempt to get back to talking to me about things other than getting to the site, the compound, the oasis, the mecca. I lied and said that he had, a couple of days prior, and he nodded, almost as if he remembered telling me.
“Dude, seriously,” Chuck said in his best cool dude voice, “If and when you go out there, make sure you tote along three things, otherwise you’ll never make it. You’ll go mad, you’ll go absolutely crazy, and not in a good way. I had seen it happen to this one chick. She was hot and all, but once you go bat shit crazy, none of that means a thing. I’m pretty sure they ended up running her off and somebody found her body mangled by wolves. Wolves, man, can you believe it?” He brushed the hair off of his forehead and ran his finger from his hair to around the back of his neck, rubbing it like it was sore.
I picked up an item on the counter, studied it, realizing that there was just a bunch of worldly possessions at that store, and oh so knowingly I proclaimed, “I’m prepared, I just want to get a move on, Chuck. Dish with the directions.”
“No, man. You need to get three more things, otherwise you’ll never survive out there. First you’ll need….”
I cut him off, and waved my had as if to make him dissapear. “Really, I’m all field ready, ready to pack it out and get on with my life. I’m ready to leave this place behind, now are you going to give me more details or what?” I placed both of my palms on the counter, leaning over as if I were going to clobber him, like I was going to scale the counter and pummel him with my small, unworked hands.
Hastily, Chuck grabbed a yellow pen that said “Allied Bank of The Hills” and scribbled a very primitive map of where the Little Jackleg River runs parallel to the interstate, but about 13 South West. From there, you’d see a small green amulet, hanging on birch trees marking the route to get to the camp. He set him pen down, shoved the piece of scrap paper over to me, and folded his arm.
I could have cared less about his stories, his life, or whatever the hell we was talking about “three things…”. As I hiked along, I kept thinking back to our little chats leading up to receiving the map. Chuck was okay, he had probably smoked his brain out when he was a bit younger and now suffers from a dysfunctional brain and a pessimistic attitude towards life. I stopped on the trail again, this time to retrieve my little scrap of paper with the map on it. I knew that I wasn’t even near the Little Jack leg, but I found comfort at least looking at it and imagining where I was in reference to that serpentine river that ran through the middle of the map. I folded it carefully and started a faster trot, the sun was sinking low, and I had a place I had to go. The woods embraced me, and I felt I was home.
“Hey, woodland people, I’m heading your way – save a seat at the feast table,” I yelled into the vacant woods, and starting imagining what they were eating for dinner. I was happy.