Into The Wild With Flowers In Your Hair

I walked into the airport in Seattle, ready to fly to San Francisco. I was checking in, and the kiosk I was using gave me the option to change my seat. I mostly fly on the East Coast, and really only on Airtran Airways, and on Airtran it costs money to change your seat. This time however, it was free, so I decided “What the hell” and hit the button. I immediately noticed I was in the back row, all the way on the left. There wasn’t even a window, it was almost as if it used to be additional storage, but decided to put half a seat there to make an extra couple of dollars. There were two other seats open, one center seat about 3 rows from the back, and one in center of the very first row of coach. “Hot damn,” I thought, and I grabbed the seat at the front of coach.

I got onto my plane, and noticed there was no where in front of me to put my bag, and the flight attendant made me put it in overhead storage (which I hate using). The plane was about half filled when another guy who looked about my age (19) sat down in the window seat next to me. He had kind of scraggly, unkempt hair, and an earring that looked like (and probably was) just a woodchip through his left ear. He sat down next to me, and the flight attendant immediately yelled at him to put his bags up above. We exchanged grumblings about having to put our stuff up, and then we started talking.

“It’s weird being in an airplane again,” Marty commented, looking around uncomfortably. “In fact it’s kind of weird to be surrounded by people.” I asked if it was his first time flying, and he responded “No, I’ve just been… out of touch with the world for a while.” He then went on to tell me about how he had just spent the past four months by himself in a log cabin in the woods of Northern Minnesota, fifty miles from the nearest road. He told me about how he was in the backwater bar in Minnesota, talking to some loggers. This one logger was telling Marty about his grandfather had built a log cabin up north a long time ago, but no one had had time to go there in fifteen years. Marty thought about it for a second, and then asked the logger “How much?” The logger was a bit taken back, and replied cautiously “Nine hundred dollars?” Marty wrote him a check on the spot, and then met back up with the logger the next day for a topographical map. “It’s the only way you can find it,” the logger said. Since it’s so far from any roads, you have to find the right hills, follow streams and rivers, and take the correct forks. Marty got some equipment, and then headed off.

He arrived in the closest town (50 miles from the cabin) and proceeded to make three trips to the cabin. He was hiking the whole time, so he could only carry so much. He arrived towards the end of winter, and had some trouble the first month. He shot three bucks, but didn’t preserve the meat of the first two correctly and the bodies were covered in flies and maggots within 45 minutes. The third one he did right, but had to dry the meat in a corner of his cabin for a month. He said “it smelled like a dead animal.” He paused, and then laughed and added “Well I guess it was a dead animal.” The cabin had a wood stove, a wooden desk, some candles, and not much else.

He spent a lot of time cleaning up the cabin and the surrounding area (no one had been there for 15 years), and spent the rest of his days hunting small game (rabbit, squirrel), fishing (in lakes so clear you could see 30 feet below the surface), and exploring. He told me about how he used a series of pink bandannas to tie around trees, so he could find his way home. When exploring, he’d tie them around trees as he was about to get out of sight of the previous one. On the way back home, he’d untie and collect them, leaving no trace he was ever there. When he arrived back home, he would sit at his desk and read books, write, and draw.

He had the most amazing books. He had several books of Plato and Socrates, he also had a book, done in the same conversation-style of Plato, about the differences between Plato’s time and “modern times,” and whether or not the same philosophies were applicable. The book was written in the 1700s. He had a book, first edition, from the 1890s. He showed me a book called “Two Minutes Till Midnight” which was written, I think in the 1930s, about the horrors of hydrogen bomb. Well before the Manhattan Project was even started. Almost every book Marty had taken with him to his cabin was written before 1950, and most of them were first editions. I’m not huge into antiques and old things, but just holding a book that was printed in 1890 was an amazing experience. Paging carefully through it, examining paper and ink so durable it lasted 120 years, and was still in excellent condition, was a very cool experience. Then I realized the book I was holding was six times older than I was. It gave me a whole new appreciation for old books. Very, very cool.

He mentioned again how strange it was to be back in society, and I asked him why he left his cabin. He made it through winter, and it was summer now so food must not be a problem. He looked at me, smiled sheepishly, and replied “I ran out of books to read.” That was the only reason he left. Because he needed more books. So he trekked back to town, called his parents who, when they found out it was him, said “Oh, good. You’re still alive.” They bought him a ticket to visit his uncle in San Francisco. Marty is convinced their ulterior motive was to convince him to get a job and settle down. Marty’s reason for agreeing to go to San Francisco was because he heard there were some awesome used book stores there. He was going to hang out for a few weeks, buy a bunch more books, sell enough art on the street to finance a ticket back to Minneapolis, and then go back to his cabin.

Then he asked me why I was going to San Francisco, and I told him about Parkour, about my trip, and I showed him some videos I had stored on my laptop. He was absolutely enthralled. He was really excited and enthusiastic, and thought Parkour and my trip was pretty much the coolest thing ever. Frankly, I disagree, and I think living in a cabin in the woods is pretty much the coolest thing ever, but Parkour comes in a close second. After watching some more videos and listening to me explain it a bit more, he realized that he had been doing something similar in the woods. His goal was to, save the cabin, leave no trace that he was there (the bandannas are a good example). When he moved through the forest, which was completely wild and untamed, he climbed, crawled and jumped in order to get around without damaging the environment. Often when he was tracking a deer, he had to move silently, slowly, and be totally aware of his environment so he didn’t scare his prey away. It wasn’t exactly Parkour, but his goals were basically the same. Move efficiently through his environment. In his case, efficiency meant silence and without cutting, breaking, or snapping anything.

We decided, as we were landing, that we were the most interesting “single serving friends” we’d ever had. I got his phone number and email so I could invite him to the San Francisco monthly jam that was happening that weekend. The next morning, before I called him, I saw a used bookstore. I wandered in, and saw their “First Editions” collection. I looked through the titles and saw Jack Keuroak (s?)’s “On The Road Again.” Autographed. I considered purchasing it as a gift, if we were able to meet up.

I emailed him but he never emailed me back, and I called a few times but his voice-mail was full (which doesn’t surprise me. He was gone for four freaking months) and he never picked up.

I guess Marty will truly remain a single serving friend. My best, single serving, friend.

Written on January 8, 2008