Brushland and desert travelers face obstacles those living in milder temperate regions seldom think about. For example, I’m amazed at the way northern campers set their bedding directly on the ground. That’s a luxury we in the Southwest dare not contemplate unless we’re willing to wake up to the sting of a scorpion, pamorana ant, velvet ant (a wingless wasp), centipede or la vibora cascabel. In my book, Adios to the Brushlands, I chronicle a story that was drummed into us as kids. It’s the account of my Uncle Trini Valverde Jr. who was bitten by a rattlesnake as he lay in his bed at the family home in El Centro, Texas. The year was 1935 or 1937 and Uncle Trini was eight or ten years old. None of his surviving siblings can remember the exact date. He recovered with no ill effects but it was over 45 miles to the town of Mission and the road was nothing but a two rut sendero composed of varying parts sand, clay or rock depending on the location. In addition, people traveling that route had to open 14 ranch gates and that slowed things down considerably. Fortunately, a doctor had started towards the ranch and he and my grandparents met halfway. In the doctor’s haste to get on the road he forgot the antivenin. He had the better and faster auto and I’ve wondered what went through my grandparent’s minds as they saw their little boy racing off with the doctor back towards town.
I know a few things about ranch gates. We go through three gates before we enter the world beyond. I don’t mind because it keeps the world at bay but it does make for a sort of go/stop/go/stop/go/stop/go experience.
When it comes to solitude there are essentially two types of mindsets. Some people love it; some people hate it. Most of us in these far off woods own the former attitude. The need for solitude, if innate and well entrenched, takes an un-meandering route despite whatever gates one must unlock in the quest. I knew a fellow who was always telling me, “I’d love to live in a cabin in the woods.” But he never did and I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “A man who truly wants to live in a cabin in the woods will go and live in a cabin in the woods. All else is but fantasy.”
We have a bit more than a cabin in the woods but not by much. We’re quite content. Others might find it difficult to live so quietly. But I see it as part of a journey: Like opening a gate leading onto a road few will ever discover. A moment of comprehension, perspicacity, sagaciousness…oh but none of those words really make the point. In its simplest form, we choose not to live our lives through the eyes of others.
And so it is that we seldom go into town. Traffic jams, road rage, interminable noise, congestion, odd smells. I know another fellow who inherited a goodly portion of land and yet chooses to live in a gated subdivision where his neighbors are twelve feet from him on either side. There’s a five lane thoroughfare directly in front of the subdivision. He’s in the middle of a city and surrounded by buildings, traffic and people. There’s a message there for those willing to think on it.
A relative who said he was in desperate need of solitude came out here once. But I think he’d confused solitude with peace of mind. His personal turmoil did not cease once he arrived and in short order he said he had to leave. It seems that somewhere along the line—in that two rut sendero humans travel in their journeys through life—some people put more emphasis on measuring the value of their lives in terms of things acquired instead of insights gained. As I have written in other places too many people gauge the quality of their lives on quantitative terms. But that’s to be expected in a world that runs on an algorithm that maintains that following a path steeped in material acquisition leads to happiness. A foolish road trip based on faulty logic and skewed equations. In truth, like solitude in the deepest woods, happiness arrives as much from acquired attitudes as it does from those things that arrive for free or by work. And yet it seems, at least in our modern cultures, we’ve lost sight of that simple truth.