And that’s usually the snap in my subconscious where I yank my truck off the next exit, step out of the line, hang up the phone call, cancel the order, dump out the drink and spit out the food. It’s when I take off to the woods and try to remember what it’s like to truly be human again.
I lace up my running shoes and head down one of the innumerable dirt trails winding into the deep woods of Southern Appalachia. Once I can’t hear cars driving, people talking and the buzz of society, I can finally hear the most important thing — my soul interacting with the cosmos of nature.
The problem, perhaps ironic bullshit on my end, resides in the fact that once I get my fill of wandering the woods, I return to town. I never have lost track of my true intent in life, my interaction with mankind that is amplified by my appreciation for the woods. But at the same time, I want to slap myself when I return to society and an hour later I’m frustrated because my smart phone won’t let me use my voice activated texting and I say under my breath, “Damn you, Google,” or I await how many Facebook “likes” I’ll get when I post that I went for a hike.
Every year that passes, I find myself thinking of ways to simply my life, whether it be downsizing all the crap I own, making more time for creative endeavors, and also distancing myself more from being sucked down a hole of technology and instant gratification. Real gratification in life isn’t instant, it comes with patience, like reaching the top of a mountain after hours of hiking or putting the finishing touches on a cover story after working on it all day.
This column comes as a result of a recent Outside magazine article I came across. It was about Paul D. Paur. Without any indication of leaving or telling anyone, the 50-year-old construction worker knew where he was going and took off a few weeks ago from his home in the suburbs of Milwaukee. He went to a bank, withdrew $5,000 and headed for the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. He handed an employee $200 at the nearby interpretive center to watch his car, and then he hit the trailhead.
A few days later, Paur’s pack of brand new gear and $3,000 were found in the middle of the trail. Soon after, a man fitting Paur’s description was seen sporadically by hikers. Reportedly, he was wearing just a T-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and sleeping in a trash bag.
Family back in Wisconsin were concerned about Paur’s mental health. Rangers and authorities alike said they’re keeping their eye out for him but will not do anything until Paur appears to pose a threat to other hikes — a notion not evident by the encounters told to officials about a harmless man simply walking the AT.
Now, of course, if Paur does indeed need medical attention and if he does pose a threat to other hikers, he should be found and helped. But, and I say this with an optimistic realism, what if he just wanted to eliminate the noises surrounding him, the manual labor job he went to everyday, and just wanted to hear himself — a voice maybe not heard since childhood, like for most of us out there.
I don’t want to draw comparisons between Paur and the late Christopher McCandless (the 24-year-old who died in the Alaskan wilderness after leaving it all behind, and who was the subject of the book/film “Into The Wild”), but the basis for each is striking similar. They, like others before and after them, are folks who want to drop out of society. And I applaud that sentiment. I myself feel I’m one traffic jam or one lost cell-phone connection away from packing up whatever essentials fit in my backpack and disappearing into the woods like baseball players into Iowa cornfields.
By his timeline of sightings, Paur is most likely somewhere on the AT in Western North Carolina right now, and I’d like to think he’s perhaps finding what he was looking for. Maybe, just maybe, Paur is the sanest one of us all, heeding the call to return to the basics of being a human — relying on yourself, being grounded with Mother Nature, and learning how to stretch a moment of time in the woods into an infinite portal of existence.
1: Appalachian string band Town Mountain will perform at 7:30 p.m. July 5 at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville.
2: Magician Trey Sheehan will perform at 6 p.m. July 3 at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.
3: Country rockers The Joe Lasher Jr. Band will perform at 6:30 p.m. July 11 at the Groovin’ on the Green in Cashiers.
4: The Summer Jazz Series will kickoff with Serpentine Jazz at 7 p.m. July 5 at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.
5: The “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest” will be July 10-12 at Harrah’s Cherokee.