Cross-purposes

As part of planning for what I’m going to do next, after the New York chapter of my life is over, I looked on the internet the other day for wilderness skills schools. I found something that’s not exactly a wilderness school, but is certainly an event where I could learn some good stuff. It’s called, by various people, either the Falling Leaves Rendezvous or the Earth Skills Rendezvous, and it’s in Georgia from October 5th to 10th. As I understand it, the idea is that a bunch of people who know, or want to know, things about how to live in the wilderness get together and teach each other things. There’s always more to learn. So I’m going to plan my countrywide journey around getting to Georgia around the 5th. This looks like it’ll be fun.

Another thing I noticed while searching this rendezvous out, though, was how expensive a lot of these wilderness skills places are. For a lot of them you can pay upwards of $800 for a week of being taught skills. I guess they’re priced that way because of supply and demand, and I’m guessing the demand is mainly among disaffected yuppies who want to get back to what life was like before there was any such thing as being a yuppie. These people have money, so why not take it? The places aren’t all so profit-driven. I think in a lot of them you can do work-study to pay for your time there. There’s one that’s not too bad where you can spend a semester there for around $4000, which is considerably cheaper than a college semester. And I suppose they do have their expenses to pay, for supplies and especially for property taxes and such. So I’m not blaming them so much, but I think at least some of them could be cheaper.

From there I got to thinking how I would run a wilderness school, and then I backtracked a moment and realized that I had just been thinking about having a job in teaching wilderness skills, something I’d never really considered before. I’m glad I stopped to consider it then, because the more I think about it, the better it sounds.

My plan up to now has been vaguely this. It’s not terrible, and a lot of it is staying in, but here it is. Once I got out of college, I was going to pay off all my student loans as quick as possible. This would start out with going to teach English in Korea for a year or so, which, as I blogged about before, would leave me with about $10,000 saved up at the end of the year, or more if I was cheap, which I would be. After getting back from Korea, I would probably take an office job, hopefully in publishing, and eventually pay back the rest of my student loans. Once that debt was off my shoulders, I’d be free. This is the part where my plan got a little hazier, but I was planning to probably, I don’t know, take some sort of part-time job or something, or write books, or design fonts, or all three, and use that money to house myself while mainly living off the land. Probably have a garden and a cellar full of jarred produce from it in the off-season. Hunt stuff too. That sort of stuff.

I realize now that this plan is built on a cross-purpose. Basically, I would be working a job that I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about in order to finance my pastime, or hobby, or true passion, of learning more and more how to live off the land. This opposition would probably lead me to doing as little “real” work as possible in order to have just enough money to keep financially afloat. I’m guessing this would end up in neither my “real” job nor my outdoorsy pastime being as fulfilling as they could be. I’d be forever having to take time away from one in order to do the other one. Maybe it wouldn’t work out too terribly, but I think my newest idea is way better.

The new plan goes something like this. After I graduate from college, I’ll still pay off my student loans as quick as possible, and I think this will still involve teaching English in Korea for a year or so, because that’s something that still sounds like fun to me. Also I want to get out into the rest of the world. Did you know that when I went to Costa Rica, it was the first time I left North America? Heck, the first time I left the Canada-USA cultural conglomerate. (The Canadians may be adamant that they’re not Statesiders, but their culture is probably the most Statesy of all the cultures in the world… despite Japan’s best efforts.) Getting back to the plan: after coming back from Korea, I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to train myself up to be excellent at wilderness life and also at teaching it. There are actually a few organizations that do this sort of training. One of them is Outward Bound, although I actually know practically nothing about that organization. I believe I know a few people who’ve gone on a trip with them. Another one is that place I mentioned earlier that does the wilderness semester. It’s called Jack Mountain Bushcraft, and it’s in Maine. (I would guess that they’ll probably accept college graduates as well as current students, as long as I could pay them money, even though they bill their course as a “semester”.) Once I have some experience, I’ll see what I can do about finding a job in the field of teaching bushcraft. That’s the key, because this way, instead of making money to finance time outdoors, I’ll be making money by spending time outdoors. Probably the money won’t be terrific, but you never know, and anyhow I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the lifestyle, which to me is the ultimate prize—money for me would only ever really be a means to the end of living in the wilderness. And what’s more, this plan allows me to plan a little further, into the next stages of my life, which I think about even now. One of them is getting married, and another one is raising a kid. In my plan Mark 1, these were going to be a bit difficult. Getting married would be a trick because, as someone with what would look like no ambition and no money, I’d have trouble finding a woman who’d be very hot on the idea of living with me and my lifestyle. And the kid would be tricky because, as I’m aware, kids cost money to raise. The cost of parenting would make me work a lot more hours at whatever uninteresting job I’d have, and I’d probably end up cursing the day I got into this financial commitment, even though I’d love the kid. In the new plan these problems pretty much vanish. As for the ladies, I can boast that not only do I have a steady job, but it’s a job as a rugged woodsman. And as for kids, not only would I save up college money from my job as a rugged woodsman, I’d also be the coolest dad around.

I’m not sure if it’s a common conception that I don’t plan for life after college very well, but if it was, I hope I’ve wrecked that conception. If anything I may be planning too far ahead. But while we’re at it, I’m just going to put out there that I’m really sold on fatherhood. It’ll be a blast.

Of course, there are potential dangers with the new plan. One of them is that it’ll be hard to find a job as a wilderness skills teacher, and it probably will be. I have no idea what that job market is like, but I imagine it’s full of interested and dedicated people. But I’m the persevering type, and I’ll get through eventually. Another danger is that after finding such a job I’ll suddenly find that having to do it every day, teaching wilderness skills to a succession of disaffected yuppies who can’t tell poke greens from poison ivy, will take the magic out of it and I’ll stop liking the time I spend outdoors. But really, I just can’t see myself ever losing interest in the outdoors. And even if I found the job unbearable, I could use my college degree and publishing experience to find some other, normal job. So, I think I’ve hit on a solid plan. It might take a while of working in office jobs to get the money to get the training, but hey, that’s what my current internship is for, huh?

Every week at EcoHouse, we would have a Sunday dinner meeting, and we would start it with highs and lows for the week. I remember that in one of the last few weeks of the year, Ethan—a guy with whom I went on a 36-mile biking/camping trip in the days after the school year ended and before I left—told the house that his high for the week was that he was pretty sure he’d figured out what he wanted to do with his life. He said it was a pretty nice feeling, and I imagined it must be. Now I think I have a flavor of that myself.

I suppose I should write a little about my time here in New York too. The Celebrate Brooklyn! program has started up for the summer. Celebrate Brooklyn! is a series of concerts and such events that all happen in Prospect Park, which is about five minutes’ walk from where I’m staying here. These are high-end things. For example, they kicked off the season with Norah Jones. Unluckily, it was raining pretty resolutely when the time of the concert came around, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a free concert. I didn’t bring my raingear here, so I poked a neckhole in a garbage bag and walked up the street to the bandshell. On my way, a fellow rain-walker told me, “You’ve got the right idea.” The concert was rather good, although there were a lot of umbrellas in my way. The president of the Borough of Brooklyn called us all meshuggenehs (“Michiganers?”), and then Norah played a Johnny Cash song and some other good stuff. I stayed nice and dry and enjoyed the music. On my way back a woman with an umbrella said to me, “I need one of those. Seriously.”

My friend Darwin, whose mom I’m renting from, came home on the 10th, and so far it’s been parties ever since. His birthday was the 8th, so we’ve been packing the parties in, and his friends have been coming over in number. Today we had a delicious barbecue and everyone there talked. This is a really nice place, I discovered. Out of necessity, people know their neighbors well here. For example, Darwin’s family shares a deck with their neighbors Mary and Steve. So they’ve all gotten to know each other well enough that Mary made a cake from scratch and brought it to the barbecue. Mary and Steve are instantly likeable, which seems to be the case with lots of people around here. Steve shared with me his views on the drinking age, and it was the first time I’ve heard a person over the age of 21 get upset about that law. (He’s in his 50s.) We talked about where there is to kayak around here (New Jersey is apparently nice for it), and about what people they all know are doing these days. This neighborhood has a feeling of being an actual neighborhood that I haven’t gotten in any of my time living in the suburbs. It probably has something to do with the old, cramped architecture, but I think people are also just generally nice here. I think I’ve gotten a great deal coming here: not only is my rent pretty cheap, but over the last few days I’ve been given free food too, even when I’ve tried to pay it back by offering some split pea & ham soup that I made. I do chores here and there to earn my barbecuing keep, but really I’ve got it incredibly nice.

As for work, I’ve been rejecting book proposals left, right, and center, still looking for the next bestseller among all the crap, semi-crap, and actually-fairly-good-but-not-quite-good-enough stuff we get. One of these days I’ll find something I can really be happy about. I’m pretty happy with this internship, but there’s not too much more to say about it than there was last time.

Enough of my blathering. Go get on with your lives.

File under: deep thoughts, land skills


Anonymous

History

Outdoor wilderness school instructor. It has a nice ring to it. While you will find some of the disaffected yuppie types, you will still find some hardcore wilderness junkies.

While you can learn lots in a school, necessity is the mother of invention. If you spent a spring/summer hiking the appalachian trail, you will have skills that range from late spring mountain snows, to early autumn mountain snows, and everything inbetween, covering quite a bit of latitude.

I like the neighborhood thing. Now in burbland, most neighbors spend time determining how to keep your neighbors at bay. Things have changed and finding a REAL neighborhood is a treasure now.

Dave

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Anonymous

History

Glad you are doing so well there. I can just see you with your head poking out of that garbage bag. Say, tell us about the local spelling bee–how did you like it and what kind of words did you have to spell? Grandma

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Oxtrox

History

/// WARNING! /// ACHTUNG! ///

GEOGRAPHY LESSON AHEAD…

I hate to break it to you, but, Costa Rica is part of North America. So I guess you’re back to square one on continent hoping.

I hope you are able to realize your dream of wilderness guru. IT sounds like a lot of fun!

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Chuck

History

I prefer to think of it as Central America.

I just had a first. Blogger told me I wrote too much for a blog comment, so I'll have to split it in two.

Part one:


Oh yeah, the spelling bee!

I found out about it from the internet, scant days before it happened, and immediately I planned on going to it. It's a bit different from my previous spelling bee, in that it's held inside a little bar. The bar is called Pete's Candy Store, but I sure didn't see any candy there. After a little while of standing around awkwardly and not knowing what to do and not knowing I was supposed to tip the bartender because it was my first time going to a bar and being able to get a drink, I went to the little back room where there's a stage and chairs and such. Near the sign-up sheet there was an intimidating-looking shiny-headed bald man in a three-piece suit, but I signed up as contestant 13 of 18 spots available, and sat down with a beer and waited for the bee to begin.

Since it's open to just anyone who wants to spell words, there were some people who weren't very good. The bar had changed the rules a bit to give these people at least half a chance to have fun, by giving everyone three strikes before they were out. One guy who was sitting next to me spelled laity LAITIY. He just kind of crashed and burned on the end, and he knew it. The first round was one word, the second was two back-to-back, and the third was three; in the fourth round people just spelled words until they exhausted their strikes. For my first round I spelled corrodible… I spelled it -ABLE. What a dirty-tricky word. I was pretty happy about having three strikes. I came back and spelled some words correctly, though I don't remember most of them now. There was spinnaker and… actually, that's all I can remember right now, except for one other word I got wrong, which was parure, a fashionable kind of jewelry that comes in a pair. (I went with PARREUR. I think it was a more solid misspelling than MARATE was.) Jen, the host, and Eric, her shiny-headed co-host, gave the words a little differently than they do at the national bee. Mainly there was a lot more swearing and sexual innuendo. One of the words' definitions got a "That's what she said" from someone. This wouldn't fly with Jacques Bailly, but it was perfect here, where people were in the mood not just for spelling words, but also for getting slightly tipsy.

I was the first person to have a really good run of rightly-spelled words. But there were two other people who had a lot in store. Johann (who, counterintuitively, is actually Chinese) came first and just would not stop effing spelling. He got out eventually and I told him, "I don't know whether it's you or me!" I hadn't been keeping track very well. And then there was Dominique, who worried me too, although I knew I had at least 3rd place in the bag, since only Johann had spelled anywhere close to as many as I had, and Dominique was #18.

After she struck out, they took a moment to tally up the places. In third, Joel! Joel was a pretty cool guy I had sat near. I couldn't understand how he had third, though, because he got out about three words into round 4. But anyhow. In second, Dominique! So did that mean I had beat Johann and Dominique and Joel both had too? Huh? And in first place, Johann!

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Chuck

History

Part two:

I was confused and annoyed. They had given the counts for Joel (13), Dominique (15) and Johann (17), and to try and figure this out, I went up and asked what my count was. "Thirteen," said Jen. "Oh, tied with Joel, then?" I asked. Jen and the shiny-headed man shuffled around and looked over the scoresheet. "Oh!" they said. It turned out they had confused me with Joel. I was the rightful third-place winner. Yeah! Score one for me and score another for asking questions!

After the bee, Jen offered to buy me a drink for the mix-up, but I told her I don't really drink much and not to worry about it. Then I stood around and talked with Johann and another speller, Tessa. Turned out Tessa has a sister who graduated Grinnell in 2000, and she herself worked at McNally's, the grocery store in town, for a month or so. That was pretty cool. We all got along well, and Johann, knowing he wasn't going to be able to finish off his prize of a $25 tab, bought us both drinks. Eventually Johann had to go because he had an early morning, and so we all walked to the subway together.

One final note: on my way back, I got nice and disoriented by the subways, and ended up waiting about half an hour in a station with a busker playing the guitar. I snapped along with him. He wrote his own songs and seemed like the kind of guy who might know John Houx. I asked him. "Yeah, I met John Houx a few years ago," he said. So that was cool too. New York can be a small place in some ways. (Another example: Michael, a guy who hangs around with Darwin's mom a lot, once knew the guy who founded the press I'm working with, and he's good friends with Seth Tobocman, the author we published who had a release party that I went to after my first day working there. That's the Lower East Side for you, I guess.)

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Oxtrox

History

It sounds like you are having a great time and I am jealous.

However I must point out that "Central America" is part of the larger North America and as such has captured the right to be a continent. I digress.

Reply

Anonymous

History

It couldn't happen twice–a tricky French word. I guess you don't remember the story by Guy de Maupassant called The Necklace. No doubt you had to read it in some long ago English class. Well, that story in French is La Parure. If you'd been in my fourth year French class you'd have read it in the original French. It's one of the best short stories ever written, I'd say.

Anyway, good luck on the final, and I sure hope you have a lot of fun with it, because it sure sounds like your kind of place and people. Grandma

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