We are fortunate to note that as we approach this fifty-fourth year, we continue to observe wonderful things. Maybe you are wondering first, who this “We” refers to. Well, I was thinking how remarkable it was that my consciousness, memory, and by all appearances, this physical body belongs to the same person that occupied it, say, at a Grateful Dead concert in 1977. And yet, the person who attended that concert is long gone. I couldn’t go back and occupy that consciousness anymore than I could travel to Venus and camp out for the weekend. So what is going on here? We are dying, don’t you know, every minute of every day. We lumber on from one stray thought to another, and every moment, we die and are reborn. But of course we know none of it. We stubbornly hold to the tenuous agreement, from moment to moment, that we know precisely who we are and what we are doing here. In fact, we are many. We are infinite. This “I” should be thought of as the summary of all that came before it. So how could we be anything but “We?”
But no matter who we are, and how mired or entrenched we are in our tiny bubbles and mirrors that we call our minds, we are occasionally awakened, even if for a moment. It could happen at any time, but mainly it only happens when we see something truly extraordinary. And that happened recently.
I was on a trail in the San Bernardino mountains, scouting unlikely and decidedly unpopular micro-lots of land that were coming up for auction at a tax sale, when I glimpsed, appearing out of the mist like some kind of movie trailer, a figure that I couldn’t quite believe I was seeing. It was a man, slowly walking toward me, but clothed entirely in buckskin. He paused as he approached, as surprised to see me as I was to see him, and as he came closer I began to see just how remarkable this person really was. His clothes were entirely hand-sewn with homemade leather strips. He wore an elaborate buckskin jacket with what I suppose was a gray fox pelt draped over the shoulders – head still attached – and which had a true function, as the water that was coming from the sky in an early-morning light shower, rolled off the pelt to the ground, missing his back by inches. His hat was covered in feathers, and also hand-sewn from deer hide. He carried two long knives, one clearly hand-made with an antler for a handle, the other a more traditional Buck or maybe even a Shrade.
I fumbled over my introduction, nervous and out of place as I felt, with my GPS and my clipboard with printed land plats. He regarded me for a moment and I quickly explained about the auction. He nodded, and said, “Ah yeah, you guys come up here every once in a while, with your GPS and your clipboards, but I nothing much ever comes out of it.’. And I could tell he was happy about that. I explained that I might be a bit different, and talked about the project with my son in the Catskills where I had spent a week or so constructing a half a lean-to out of logs not too long ago. His attitude changed a bit after that, and he opened up about himself. Told me not to bother with buying a piece of property when there was so much Federal land around. He himself had arrived six years before and disappeared into those mountains,. He told me that if I kept walking and paid enough attention I would find the house that he had built deep in those woods, where he raised ducks and chickens for food, and hunted deer to stay alive.
He was the real deal, of that I was sure, and I have never met anyone quite like him – despite years in Alaska and the Adirondacks. How unlikely that I would have this sort of encounter in southern California, of all places. It was the drive down the mountain to this extreme version of suburbia that underscores my original point – that person who had those few words with a true mountain man is not the same person as that which pushes through each day as an expert in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Neither is more real than the other, They make up this concept of “we.”. How else are we to reconcile the endless myriad moments of this life but to separate them into a million different lives?