Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jedidiah the Mountain Man, part two

The footpath up the mountain was well worn, but appeared to end abruptly at the high rock outcropping from which Jedidiah first emerged.  What was unseen from my vantage below was the narrow space between the limestone boulders.  This shadowy crevice wove back through the rock face with a serpentine series of switchbacks, rising in crests and dropping into troughs.  The canyon path was deprived of direct sunlight by the towering walls of stone.  The hike, climbing up and down through blind twists and turns, soon bewildered both my sense of direction and perception of elevation.  At the crest of a steep climb, the path appeared to split in two directions.  Jed turned with a sly smirk and said, “You’en dun neber go dat way; not lest you gots a parachute.”  A glance to my left revealed wide open space and a bright sunlit trail.  Curiosity got the better of me and I ventured a few steps in the direction of his warning.  The trail ran alongside a cliff, it was graveled, but looked entirely navigable.  As I scanned the terrain in search of the forewarned peril, a rock, several inches in diameter, flew past my head landing 15 or 20 feet ahead of me on the path.  Its concussion started a sizable avalanche of gravel cascading down the mountain and over the cliff.  Jed’s voice filled with laughter, “Dats why.”  
The old mountain man led me back into the dark maze of crevices emerging eventually onto a forested slope that led down to a primitive hand-hewn log cabin.  The ancient shelter appeared no larger than 20 foot long and its greyed timbers were chinked in red clay so that from a distance it took on the resemblance of a weathered flag.  There were two small out buildings, one chinked and one open, as well as what looked to my unindoctrinated eyes to be a bricked barbeque pit emitting a wisp of bluish smoke from a short chimney.  I could hear but not see a stream running nearby, but the sound blended with the view of his shaded homestead giving the entire scene the air of a nineteenth century John Muir narrative.
I was winded from the trek and had trouble keeping pace with my strange and aged guide.  My legs and buttocks burned with fatigue and I was looking forward to a much needed respite.  Making our way into the campsite, I dropped the weight of the stowage I carried from the 4-wheeler and began to notice the pioneering craftsmanship of the homestead.  The bricks on the chimney were kiln dried clay and straw; there were numerous seats and tables made of poplar wood shaped by a skilled hand and adze; there were cords upon cords of ax-split firewood; a rocking chair of tied bent birch sat on the covered porch; and the barbeque revealed itself, even to my novice eyes, as a mash pot cooling after last evening’s run.
Jedidiah lives his life in near seclusion with no neighbors, no electricity, no running water (except for his icy stream), no sanitary sewer, cell phone or Internet.  The prospect of living wholly connected to the Earth and isolated from everything else seemed frightening to me to say the least, but then as Jed began to teach me his ways, I came to understand that it is our on-the-grid society that is lacking.  The gadgetry and innovation of connectivity has left our civilization exiled from the true essence and spirit of life.  We have gorged ourselves on the fruits of the tree of knowledge for so long that we now suffer from a collective forgetfulness.

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