How Far We've Come

Call it a late birthday present. After a day of rest, I awaken, hoping to do something fun on my remaining off-days before the workweek resumes. I head out to my cousin's ranch, a nice 630 acres of wild delight. Not knowing what we plan to do or how we will spend our time, I bring a case of booze and a laptop. I arrive, we talk, eat, I plug my notebook in and begin to crank out some articles, but for some reason, I don't feel like writing. I want to head outside and appreciate the savory country atmosphere while I'm in it. So after some prodding, my cousin and I both headed outside.

Away from the overcast reflection of big city lights, out here the skies at night are dark but contrasted by the brilliant and piercing beams of starlight, with the spiral aura of the distant galaxy in the background. With crystal clarity, it can all be seen. A trash pile still burning a ways off, we walk through the half-fallen, rusty gate that leads out to the open pasture. The thick, moist air quickly fills my lungs. The lush assemblies of trees, the long rows of knee and waist-high bushes and weeds bring to me that uncomfortable feeling of being out of my element. I feel muggy and hot. I came in shorts and sandals, hardly protection against the high, prickly grass, the anthills, and fallen brush (not to mention the cow patties) that lie all around me. After a few sticks and pricks from burrs and blades of unfriendly frondescence, I consider heading back in. I truck on. Poison oak and bulnettle rub against my legs. Swarms of gnats and biting flies slam into me. The burning and itching begins. Now I know I want to go back in, but my cousin is enjoying himself. He prods me on, "Come on! This is the way we used to live!" He was right.

Here I was, listening to the crickets and a symphony of noisy bugs, humming and singing through their simplistic lives, a beautiful display of nature around me in every direction, and all I can think about is going back inside where I'll spend the rest of my miserable existence, close to a Whirlpool air conditioner set on high, pecking out pieces of literature! Disgusted at myself as I continued frantically watching where each foot landed, complaining every step of the way, I decide to tough things out a little longer.

Now we get to the trash burning pile, still with a few flames lit from use earlier in the day. A wall of hovering smoke is around it. It smells like a chimney in the dead of winter. We pick up some limbs, those that seemed drier than the rest. We approach the dying blaze, careful to step over wires, crushed cans, and broken bottles, and we set the sticks on fire. I smell the smoke, watching as the mesmerizing waves of incense sail past me as I swing the stick in circles. I hold out my free hand in front of me and I point my fingers away from my body. It was like my hand was a passing spaceship through a nebula in a science fiction movie. It was at this moment that a meaningless trip outside became a fascinating wilderness adventure for me. I felt like a kid again, watching The Goonies!

I was in the world of my ancestors. Go back in time only two hundred years and you find a world much different than the one I live in. Go back beyond fifteen thousand years and you come to a time when our ancestors slept in trees to avoid being eaten by jumbo-sized predators. They made fire. They talked around it. They communed as cozy family units. They slept together, they sung, they chanted, they danced, and they made tools. They didn't fear mosquitoes. They didn't need allergy medication. They didn't run for a bottle of Tums after a rich, fatty meal. They didn't worry about germs or parasites or microbacterial infections, and they sure as Hell didn't fill out W2 forms when getting work! The only "current events" they kept up with were the latest tales on a warrior's being able to bring down powerful beasts, or the meaning of an unusually colored bird landing somewhere in their vicinity. If you wanted to be famous or impress anyone, you didn't talk yourself up from behind a 15-inch screen on Myspace, Friendster, or YouTube. You exhibited great power or cunning. You helped your tribe be the best it could be. Our distant ancestors didn't catch glimpses on the news of three car pile-ups, and they never heard stories about families being kicked off of their lands because the city decided to use eminent domain powers to build a mall or a highway on them. I might also add – much to my satisfaction – they never delayed a hunting trip in favor of text messaging their friends like a bunch of damn, giggly-ass, preteens!

Their lives were simple, but they were not empty. They imagined, they played, they planned, they laughed, they cried, and they wondered about the nature of the stars, strong winds, lightening, and thunder. The world was different back then. And here I am, all these millennia later, out in the same environment, and only in this most fleeting and sobering of moments can I begin to relate. It is a sad tale really; with each passing generation, mankind grows further and further away from his roots. In time, man has become alienated from his natural environment, an enemy of his native world, you could say. How far we've come!

With this sudden, newly found appreciation for my circumstance, I become initiated into my new world, at home with the way things used to be. I smell the air, an odor of burnt mesquite and hay that has now grafted itself into my shirt. I point my flashlight out into the field. The powerful beam is paled by the lightlessness. I turn out the light and learn to see things as men saw them long ago. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the disconcerting darkness. It is as though I digress in years. My mannerisms change. The burning tree branch I hold in my hand now becomes a club. I am holding it tightly, appreciating the ridged bark that acts as a handle with near-perfect grip. I begin to swing the stick ferociously. The cinders ignite into a flame as I swing it more violently than before. I am now carrying a torch, imagining I am a guard making his rounds in ancient times. Then I am a barbarian swinging a massive club, pulverizing his enemies in the opposing tribe. I am wild again! I don't want to go back in now. To hell with the sweat in my eyes! Damn the bug bites! I grit my teeth. I want to strip off my clothes, let my beard and my hair grow long, and hide behind a tree, kneeling down, waiting to pounce on the approaching cattle. Burning cinders from our swinging clubs floated around us in the air. Leaping from side to side, assuming aggressive, childish combat postures, we act like Neanderthals for the space of another hour.

In a small way, I was reluctant to go back inside and resume my life, but I knew that trying to preserve this little sample of a world that used to be was futile. But would I really want to? If I could choose such a life, would I truly want to give up the one I'm living for a world of Neolithic farmers? Would picking beans be as satisfying as playing on the internet? Call me foolhardy or just call me a fool, but I dare say it would!



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