{#npm’17: the great outdoors}

I don’t actually know if it was an air rifle, a real rifle, or a BB gun. We were forbidden to touch it. EVER. I was terrified of my grandfather’s ancient gun in the front closet which was, to us, an instrument of death. Tech Boy, however, grew up with his family’s arsenal, so it was easy enough to go along when a friend I’ll call Irish asked if he’d be interested in testing for a gun safety certificate with him.

Irish didn’t grow up with guns quite like Tech Boy, but as he’s hiking the United States portion of the Pacific Crest Trail solo this summer, he’s had a niggling suspicion he should carry protection, especially since the election. As part of a “relocate your Zen” movement, long hikes are trending with new populations, and some hikers in the Bay Area have experienced the great outdoors in new and troubling ways since the new administration, and have felt unsafe. And yet: my seventy year old father hikes his solo eight miles, daily. A (white) teacher of mine solo hiked the Crest Trail every summer, from turning fifty until her retirement, with never an uneasy moment except from stepping too close to the odd rattlesnake or finding herself across a stream from a bear. It’s troubling how a simple walk in open space trails near the Golden Gate Bridge is suddenly fraught with conflict from the human species. It’s no longer negotiating the simple incivilities of the obstreperously backwards; it seems like an entirely new population has emerged from beneath Jim Crow’s graveyard rocks, dragging outdated and putrefying attitudes like a reek of decomposing flesh.

For Irish, it was the bizarre and dreadful incident on the United flight which steeply pitched the thought of taking protection on this hike from amorphous idea to an urgent determination. Raised in a typical Midwestern family, he’d identified as Michigander first, ethnicity second. But, realized that no longer mattered, if it ever did, not to racists. Irish was an infant adoption from Asia, and no longer feels invisible, American, safe.

Now there will be a gun, in a conflict on an isolated trail. A gun will certainly change things, in a stretch of deep woods, on a lonely piece of high desert scrub. But, I’m not sure I know how a gun will help. The whole thing is, honestly, troubling me.

a part of the walk

*with apologies to Henry Reed

today we have the naming of parts
yesterday was the naming of fears
tomorrow we shall have what to do
what to do if we are still afraid
but today, we have
the naming of parts

today, it is twenty-one hundred miles,
solo, but for the soundless steps
of bears, of birds; of catamount, crouching
tomorrow we shall meet those beasts
of whom we should be most afraid,
but today, we have the trail, the trees,
a man against nature

today it is five foot six, size nine boots hiking
twelve hours a day, seven days a week
can three thousand calories a meal
weigh in on a hiking human’s worth?
on a single heartbeat
the world turns

count back to when
we reached a time past turning
tomorrow, we shall have regret
today, we have only this



5 Replies to “{#npm’17: the great outdoors}”

  1. Hmmm. Maybe this is part of what was triggering (see what I did there?) my deep sense of unease on my latest hike. I won’t be going back to that specific trail because I felt like jumping out of my skin the entire loop. I do carry pepper spray, but it’s only so useful in self-defense. Not sure I’m ready to upgrade to carrying a fire arm.

    The poem is a beautiful example of juxtaposition~if it’s okay, I may pass it along to some of my writing lab students as they’re reading lots of WWI poetry right now.

  2. Sigh. Yes. What to do. I totally identify with the not feeling safe doing ordinary things outdoors, in public, anymore. But I’m with you. The gun scares me, because it is too often used against the innocent one carrying the weapon.

    Excellent poem, maybe my favorite of the month so far. As Tricia said, the juxtaposition of the beauty of nature with the terribleness of gun violence is very powerful. It hits the mark.

  3. A small part of me understands such motivations, but a bigger part feels less safe with a firearm. Isn’t that strange? In this poem, the juxtaposition of the beauty of nature with the ugliness wrought by a gun is jarring and terrible.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. @Miss Rumphius: I am so scared that the gun will escalate everything. And yet: without it, he isn’t that big. He is kind, and smart, but so soft-spoken. And yet. And yet. And yet. Must we be bigger? Scarier? Is that how the fight is won? But even walking his dog now has become not the same mundane activity; dusk in parking lots, snarled slurs.

      What else is he to do?
      Give up the out doors, like I have?
      I don’t want to judge him. But the gun scares the crap out of me.

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