This is the second installment of a new series. The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.
I watched a National Park Ranger talk down a tourist from Ohio who was enraged that you couldn’t just stop your car in the middle of a busy road to take a picture of deer in a meadow. The driver clearly did not want to consider parking forty yards away and hauling the bulk of himself and family out of the car for a clearer look and contemplation of the beauty at hand.
I emerged from the trees where I had been watching the deer and contemplating the beauty at hand. “That was really hard for you,” I told the ranger after the car harrumphed away. “You just want to be liked.”
“Sorry, nothing. Why are people so angry?”
“I think they just want what they want when they want it.”
We watched the deer, unhurried and silent, eating in a sunset meadow backed by 12,000 foot mountains.
“The internet,” I said. “We’ve confused convenience with an advance in civilization.”
“That’s a bit of a leap.”
I had to concede that he was right. It’s one of the traps of wandering alone most of the time. You’ve already filled in all the logic between observation and conclusion and take it as given, very tidy in your own head. Hence, tourist is angry in national park because of the internet and it’s illusion of easy attainment. I often get that puzzled look from people when I present my conclusions without my logic. Not that they want to hear my logic either. Still, I try.
“Guy from Ohio and his family want to get off their couch and have a vacation. They research national parks online because that’s getting back to nature. They read reviews and read about wildlife and stupendous scenery. They miss the parts about crowds and altitude. They use a GPS. They have no adventures on the way, except when little Daisy drops her plastic tray of gas station nachos and the flourescent cheese sauce gets on the upholstery. Dad is pissed. They get here to discover traffic in the gateway town. Straight-up traffic. And it’s hot. Then they go to the hotel to watch TV. The WiFi is spotty. The continental breakfast is free and there are as many sausage patties as you can eat. By the time they get out of there, it’s 9:30 or so, the same time that every other family is leaving their hotels. They discover another traffic jam at the entrance. Then there’s no parking at the lake they want to see and they have to take a shuttle which is packed like a New York subway at rush hour. On the way back to town, they see these deer, these beautiful tranquil deer grazing with a backdrop of awesome mountains. They slow down and stop to take pictures. Then you, the ranger, comes to move them along.”
“We’ve made it too easy to get here. Now we do crowd control all summer.”
“It’s supposed to be hard to get here. Instead of a physical challenge it’s a game of patience.”
“You don’t seem challenged.” He looked at my backpack. “Where are you camping?”
“Up there,” I said and gestured with my chin to the mountains.
“In the backcountry?”
“Can I see your backcountry permit?”
I fished it out of my pocket and he looked at it.
“This is supposed to be displayed on the outside of your pack.”
“I don’t like the sound it makes when it flutters.”
He thought about this a second. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll let it go.”
I started off, away from the road, down the trail.
“Hey,” the ranger said. “Be careful up there.”
“You be careful down here,” I said as another car slowed and stopped so mom could lean out of the passenger side window and take a picture of the ranger in the meadow with deer in the background.
“Move along please,” the ranger said. “You can park right over there.”
“Jesus Christ,” the mom said and dad gunned the engine and the car leapt away.