April 23, 2020
Zone-tailed Hawk screaming, the poetry of the wilderness
Zone-tailed Hawk screaming, the poetry of the wilderness
In high school English I suffered through two years of instructors asking me to tell them what I thought the words of the poets meant to the writers of those words.  Then I went to college, promptly lost interest in an engineering track, discovered English professors asking me to tell them what the words of the poets meant to me, and I spent the rest of my life exploring the nuances of language.

I grew up the only child of a single mother whose goal in life was to mold me into a copy of the man who had made me.  A man I never knew.  He was career army and that career intersected with a sniper’s bullet in the Pacific Theater of World War II before I was born.  Did I become a better man because I was raised by and around women or because as a young adult I recognized and embraced my father’s love of nature?  Or do I still need to become better?  And what does “better” mean anyway?

In a recent article Chris Colin, an outdoor writer from the Bay area, dives into why men suffer more depression, addiction, and suicide than women.  The article, entitled “The Best a Man Can Get?” is a short but deep dive down through the surface waters of how boys are raised and on into the depths of how they in turn raise their own sons, a subject engendered all over again in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.  For me the article read like the stuff of poetry—more questions than answers.

I began reading with great skepticism, but finished with admiration for the writer, thinking him a poet masquerading as a columnist despite his occasional sprinkling of the eff and ess words, seemingly only to enhance his manhood cred.  The article is based on his signing up with his six-year-old son for a “Dads and Kiddos” adventure with a touring company called Wilderness Collective.

Wilderness Collective is the brainchild of an ex-clothing entrepreneur from Canada who ten years ago came up with the idea of combining character improvement for men with machine based adventure, and touts the “improving power of wild lands and loud machinery.”  If this sounds to you like an oxymoron, then you know why my skepticism hackles arose.  The company’s motto is “Wilderness Makes You Better,” and Colin and his son join a group of dads and sons (and a few daughters), mostly but not all under age ten, on a UTV (utility terrain vehicle) trip through backcountry roads out of St. George, Utah.

Colin duly notes the dangers inherent in inexperienced men using these machines in this terrain, the “insane noise” of it all, the “shredding” as he calls it, a new meaning for an old, familiar word, a gerund or verbal noun, which has insinuated itself into our vernacular via an urban dictionary definition which reads “to play so amazingly fast on a guitar that you almost destroy its strings.”  Well, yes, and is there a true outdoor lover out there that doesn’t think UTVs shred and destroy our wild lands?

When I recovered from throwing up inside my mouth, I realized “Wilderness” and “machine” are, indeed, an oxymoron, not only in the vernacular, but in the literal legal definition of “wilderness area” as that entity is the constituted in the laws of the land.  I have always gone to wilderness seeking solitude, and I have long considered off-road vehicles amongst the worst three inventions (television and leaf blowers) of our species.  Did I mention Wilderness Collective’s menu of adventures also includes snowmobiles and dirt bikes?

Colin characterizes their adventure as “Walden meets Mad Max,” and tells us the founder of the company believes the cause of men’s loss of their place in the world, their angst, and their insecurity around women, has arisen because our frontier is gone and they no longer have bears and Indians to defeat.  Good to know, right?  Just go shoot a bear or an Indian and you’ll be the best you can be.  I wonder if my mother ever thought of this?

I’m thinking (hoping) Chris Colin’s title is tongue in cheek.  If you check out the Wilderness Collective website you’ll see a lot of rugged looking men engaging in dangerous stunts in beautiful country.  At least half of these scenic infoteasers don’t include the drinking of alcoholic beverages.  And, get this!  Wilderness Collective is now offering co-ed trips, so grab your spouse and your earplugs and get in line.  But don’t look for me on the trip.  I’m taking Walden, maybe a book of poetry, and my camera, and I’m going for a quiet walk in the desert.