Yep. I admit it. I’m a bit addicted to my screen. Having returned from a few days unplugged in the beauty of Mt. Hood National Forest and adjoining wilderness areas I am even more fully aware of my reliance on it for work, life, writing. This realization took me back to October 3, 1981. My classmates and I re-entered civilization after backpacking for two weeks in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, entering and exiting through the Rocky Mountain Front. We were part of the University of Montana’s Wilderness and Civilization Program, a still popular year-long program now over 40 years old – our oldest daughter was also a lucky participant as a UM student. For me back then, the trip into the Bob followed the summer SCA “quasi-ranger” position I had at Mt. Rainier National Park: a summer bursting with solitude, hiking and huckleberries. In my journal that summer I copied a Zen quote that filled me, a quote Google instructs me today as being written by Japanese Poet Matsuo Basho.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows, by itself.
A year prior I had made, what at the time seemed like an agonizing decision, to withdraw from UM’s varsity volleyball team. I was lucky then to be a walk-on athlete, any fee waivers I received had nothing to do with my ability to play an ace serve or somersault after a errant, touched spike. I had found competition was sometimes eating at me, recognizing the things I loved most about athletics I could do without a varsity team commitment. I wanted to continue to carry a full load as a biology major, and to explore things that really spoke to my heart: like the Wilderness and Civilization Program. Ecology classes taught by the never-to-be-forgotten Bob Ream – targeted literature shared by Dexter Roberts, introducing me to Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, Edward Abby and Annie Dillard. We learned about wilderness economics from Tom Power and philosophy by Tom Birch, who kindly let us explore our beliefs in sometimes long, depressing essays (more forgiving to me than an earlier not-to-be-named philosophy professor who, upon learning I was a UM athlete made specific in-class explanations to me in the context of sports. I was too quiet (then) in a small class of mostly philosophy majors to politely ask him to stop the “dumb jock” treatment).
In my journal after our return to the Civilization of Missoula I scribbled about pace of life, noisy cars, loud people, and my rude awakening to someone stealing my sleeping bag as it aired out innocently on my clothesline. But amid all that busy-ness then – in contrast to now, returning after a few days in wilderness – there was no constant electronic messaging available every second on screen. In those Missoula days I lived without a TV, still typed my papers on a manual typewriter and shared a wall-mounted phone with roommates.
Today, on this last day of August in 2018, I understand the seduction of the connectivity surrounding us. And I do admit to often succumbing to its addictive nature. I too recognize myself to be – ironically – far more addicted to it now as a published author than before I challenged myself with such a task. Crazy? Check this! Check that! How to spread my word? Who’s doing what? How should I be doing it? My few days in the mountain reminded me of the silliness of it all, and how it does often distract me from what I truly want to be doing. It is not as if I’m going to get an email with some amazing opportunity that will self-destruct if I don’t open it within three minutes! Could it be that I was more mindful in my life as a twenty-year-old than I am so many decades later?
As they say in every good self-help book for every human problem: the first step is recognizing. Done! Next is practice. Got it. As soon as I check my email.