I often suspect I’ve begun down the path to insanity. I realize, during more lucid moments, that I’ve convinced myself I’m a walking daguerreotype of some embellished breed of Timeless Man, that woodsman that lives outside of town in the novel, who gives the sissy city characters valuable transcendental insight regarding the infinitely universal weight of their petty problems, that is, on the off-chance that they should find themselves in his company, perhaps out on a walk or at the General Store in town. Smoke-scented, covered in a muddy film, perpetually wiping the blood of some expendable fauna off of his knife and hands, this Man will frowningly spout off something that sounds like it came from an almanac in regards to why any given thing, from the economy to the protagonist’s love life to the hunting season, is in the condition it so happens to be in, before departing, tall, in a westerly direction to prepare for his next violent victory. Also—and this is where I feel the strongest connection—he frequently finds himself flummoxed in cosmopolitan situations and has a laughably misguided approach to current fashion or trends.

In truth I don’t really see myself like this. I use expensive shampoo, subscribe to Netflix and put pesto on my poppyseed bagel as much as the next city boy. I suspect that my aforementioned diversion from sanity has much to do with justifying lazy social awkwardness and complete ignorance towards trends and fashions by comparing myself to Leonard Smalls. But deep down, in order to get through the day, not because life is sullen but because most neighborhoods within fifty miles of my house are, it helps to convince myself that there is an epic vein running through this corporate-sheltered age; more wonderful still to feel myself a part of it. For instance, when, between myself and the opposite sex, the inevitable domestic disagreements arise, what is this wall of stubbornness I build around myself? Is it a deepseated reluctance to love, sacrifice and commitment which I could perhaps work to resolve over time with some serious introspection and genuine attempts at empathy and surrender? Nah. Think of ancient Babylon, of the Spartan warriors, of our boys in Normandy: none of these Men would worry themselves with “Maybe she doesn’t like me,” or “Maybe she likes me too much.” Sorry honey, I’ve gotta keep movin’ on. The world’s just sittin’ there, waitin’ for me to take it over. It’s just what men always do. You wouldn’t understand. Depart in westerly direction. It goes without saying that this caliber of humanity is dependent on a number of key items—and who cares how developed you are emotionally—including the obligatory rustic house just over the crest of the hill. But have you ever looked into adopting the rugged lifestyle? Illusions of simplicity are put quickly to rest. First step, live out in the country: high cost of living. See that bucolic cabin with the tell-tale smoke trailing from the chimney? Yeah. It’s pushing $300k. Oh, you’re going to build it yourself? On whose

land? You understand what property taxes are, right? Next: contact the county about getting power lines out to your property, which will cost you a pretty penny. Where are you going? You say you’re just going to rent an apartment in town? Before this modern obsession with exerting as little physical will as possible, Real Men were Real because reality necessitated that only the really fit survived. But now, what with all the advances in urban climate-control, what could once be called “the hard life” is now a luxury which men work all their lives to achieve. It’s like wealth: if you aren’t born into it, it’s tricky to nail down. Somewhere down the line, a greedy pencilpusher won a few battles and decided that humanity’s rustic standard of living endangered him and his kind. Thanks to him, today you have to build up strength both physical and mental in your leisure time, usually during retirement, after all your muscles are shot. Now, the real trial is holding a sit-down job indoors in the city for decades, trying to save up enough money to go get rugged, hopefully before the computer fries your brain into forgetting why it was you even decided to accrue so much student loan debt in the first place. Real heroism is in the job interview, and today’s villains attack with paperwork. Hypocritical and self-hating? Yes. I spend most days on my ass in front of a laptop and haven’t spent a night outside of central heat and air in almost a year. But hear me out—my notions are only somewhat grandiose and my image of the Hero is not limited to literature or imagination. These musings stem from an experience that is very real indeed.

In the Spring of 2010, I traveled hundreds of miles into the wilderness, crested the hill and discovered that Timeless Man in the hand-built cabin with the smoking chimney. I had escaped the city in a sleek four-wheel-drive sedan, rejecting urban conventions, looking for farm work in exchange for room and board. Some of the trip was spent on a little fruit and vegetable outfit nestled on the side of a hill on the coast of Pistol River, Oregon. The property was run by a less-than-disconcertingly odd couple, her a wildly noisy red-headed ex-fire-chief (Laurie Wynn was a founder of the Pistol River Fire Brigade) who once tried to convince me to sit under the Hawthorne tree and “just listen” in order to assuage my congenital heart condition; him an ex-pro-windsurfer (and exuser) with a conversational knack for socioeconomic theory, who hailed from southern Texas and touted a bushy mustache, a hot temper, a cold scowl and a deafening laugh. Meet John f*cking Rose. Did you appreciate the driveway carved into the steep embankment as you came in? Thank John Rose, he built it with his hands. How’s that roof treating you during the soggy Oregon Spring? Rose, John. In fact, everything you see around you at Wyndham

Rose farm that isn’t brambles and mud is a product of his hard work and attention, with a dash of Laurie’s love. “What the hell are you talkin’ about?” He had asked me, the last time I ever saw him, with an almost humorous helplessness through his typical frustrated growl. “Who’s runnin’ this place?” This in response to my naive suggestion that he look me up if he found himself in Portland, an eight hour drive, while in the background a couple dozen chickens flapped aimlessly through the yard, the dogs whining at his feet. And if the four acres of blueberries, foxglove, fruit trees, boysenberries, nut trees, artichokes, sugar snap peas, aronia berries, green beans, summer squash, gooseberries, cucumber, tomatoes, and the greenhouse full of fresh salad greens all could’ve whined too, they would’ve. For him to leave would be like the brain strolling outside of the body for a little R&R. With his wife’s help of course (besides having a hell of a green thumb, Laurie sold the goods out of her van up and down the coast and worked part time at the Gold Beach Nutrition Center), John Rose was responsible for the living organism that is Wyndham Rose farm. Not easy in Pistol River. Major factors determining coastal Oregon's climate include the large, semi-permanent high and low pressure systems of the north Pacific Ocean, creating here what is known as the “west coast marine climate” within which the notion of a “dry season” is but a fleeting fancy. Annual rainfall averages around 115 inches. Wind can reach over 70mph. Over the course of many years, John Rose planted his feet into the wet soil, his balance wavering on the steep slope of the hill, the wind and rain spitting horizontally at him from the sea. He squashed the wild, clingy brush and conquered the troublesome trees, his skin raw and red from the wrath of the thorns and brambles; he expunged countless truckloads of rocks out from under the soil, mud caked

permanently under nails both toe and finger, mud, bleeding into his body and pulsing through his veins; he built greenhouses and work-sheds and fixed up Laurie’s driveway and her log cabin, as his lifeforce left the confines of his physical body bent and pained to live permanently inside his handiwork. Before long, the wilderness lay soaking wet and wounded beneath John’s warm and thoughtful farmgarden, saturated with the steady rain, rain that nourished every plant both weed and fruit-bearing, rain that penetrated every inch of the property. All of it began as a labor of love back in the 1980s, an after-work project John took on after he met and was melted by Laurie. But as the drywall business threw multiple injuries his way, affecting his back and shoulder to the point of early retirement, he and Laurie decided to lean towards depending completely on the land. Today, it’s finished: there’s even a few places around the hidden edges of the property where (weather permitting) you can sit on a handmade bench in the dark shade of the forest by a creek, or swing on a wooden swing under a low-hanging branch of an old tree. Walking from the back edge of the property, past the natural spring, past the old silver Kit Companion where work-exchange volunteers such as myself would live, down the driveway, towards the house, you’ll see the greenhouse down the steep hill to the south, just past the pear, plum and apple trees. Then, if you walked a little further and swerved to the west into the front yard, you’d be in the blueberry and tomato patches by the old woodshed. To the west side of the house was the chicken coop, and down the hill to the southwest towards the ocean was the hemlock nursery and blackberry patches.

Walking into the dark cabin, lit by an endearingly leaky skylight, you’re welcomed into the Rose’s cozy home. The cold wind and rain fade into a muffled roar with the slam of the door. A wood-burning warmth envelops you as you take off your coat and boots. Smell the smell of an intimacy that’s smoldered and burned through decades of struggles and joy. Hear the “Iron Mike” weather reports from the Coast guard, a robotic monotony of wind speeds and precipitation forecasts spoken from the small crank-powered radio on the windowsill; look and see the heart of two true blue farmers, that is, if you can pick it out under all the stuff, things, and items, piled, cluttered, and stacked on the floor, counters, and chairs. The cabin is awash with a smorgasbord of things dirtying up and concealing the rugged soul of the place. The wood-burning stove, the heart of the house surrounded by a cluttered and disorganized marriage of items both farm and city, is the only thing that stands exposed and obvious. Giant jugs full of drinking water sit beneath a forest of muddy rain jackets and coveralls hanging by the front entrance. Books, magazines and newspapers are everywhere, on the floors, jutting out of bookshelves, covering the kitchen table and the king-sized bed which sit right next to each other by the window in the living room. Plants, too, abound: jades, small ficus, ferns, adding as much atmosphere as they can with their dirty dust coating. The breadmaker hides subtly behind the television, a large old beast with a good picture used for documentaries and the occasional blockbuster. The fridge, its top covered in glass- and cookware, holds some of the recent produce harvest alongside mostly eggs, tortillas, juices, butter, and a variety of basic condiments. The kitchen appliances can hardly be seen for the loose dishes. Across the

house towards the far exit out to the chicken coop, there is so much clutter, unused tools, anonymous things, volume after volume of Time magazines, that I cannot even manage to venture in that direction, the clutter weighs so heavy. These folks aren’t hoarders, they simply don’t have the physical means to categorize their nostalgia. The sinks, the shower and the washer-dryer depend on the natural spring at the east edge of the property. Drinking water comes from town, a ten-mile round trip. While they’re at the store they pick up grain and dairy products as well. Despite these Waldenesque trips to town, and even despite the microwave and television, the Roses are doing it all-natural to an extent most of us would be highly unprepared for. This means that in the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the United States of America, there are still people whose livelihoods are subject to the whims and dips of nature. The woodsman over the hill lives.

***** But here I am on Highway 96 about thirty miles south of Nashville, Tennessee. Status of mental health: dubious. With the temperature at about sixty degrees, it’s a glorious morning, the wind is gentle and persistent, the sky is clear, the leaves hinting at a change, and yet I am the only person sitting outdoors. Inside the Starbucks, conversations are garbled, seating is cramped and “Help” is blaring over distorted speakers. Statistically speaking, one would expect that out of a total of twenty-five customers, more than one would prefer perfect weather and fresh air to a crowded room playing the world’s most overplayed song of all time at top volume. But this patio is lonely. Fine. Let them all feed

their addiction for controlled climate; here outside, as the sun slowly runs its hands up my body, I’m wondering how long it would be before they kicked me out if I took my shirt off. In the parking lot nearby, a slick looking guy in designer glasses and a dress shirt has been sitting in his car with his laptop and latte, letting the engine run for almost an hour now. The coffee shop does not meet his standards. He would rather sit in his car with his latte, engine idling, and milk the wireless signal in peace. I’ve seen him here doing this exact thing almost every time I’ve been here for the past few months. He went out and bought the world’s most valuable commodity just to turn around and drain it out in a public area, as if to taunt the very idea of economics. He can probably see the fuel gage sinking as he sits in one stationary place, and I wonder what sort of inane neoconservative banter ravages his mind when he does. These and other observations generate within me a mild concern for the whereabouts of my marbles, that is, the looseness of my screws. But I observe within most of my neighbors and peers an alien set of norms and values; every day we communicate with each other adequately, but we speak different languages, come from different realms. Doesn’t anyone else want to take their shirts off? Doesn’t anyone else want to feel on their skin the breath and mystery belying the incomprehensible odds of our existing on a spherical mass rotating at a rather convenient distance from a gigantic ball of fire-gas? Doesn’t the question of what consciousness really is take precedence over résumés and online presences and Droids and Dolce & Gabbana? I try to remain fascinated with life and its surprises, but continually find myself sinking into the flustered

distraction of everyone around me. Maybe all the kindred spirits have headed to the Wilderness. Most of my drive to be and live like the Timeless Man rests on the hope that he speaks the same language as me. My compulsion to compare myself to him reflects a need for escape, a need to bring my woes and frustrations back down to earth, back down to the level of survival (where most of the world’s are and always have been). He may laugh at me when I butter my bagel, but we’re both laughing at the guy who sits in a running car in a Starbucks parking lot. It wouldn’t occur to The Timeless Man (or myself) to waste a single salted cashew let alone a quarter tank of gas. I firmly believe that there is a distinguished breed of humanity, set apart from others, who have no concept of mystery or beauty, and whose sense of fulfillment relies largely on growth, profit and competition, no matter who or what they damage along the way. Whether or not this is something I’ll be muttering at tourists while sitting in a pile of overcoats on third avenue next April, I truly feel deep down I should go find more John Roses and learn everything I can from them about “skinning a pig,” as my father would say in reference to survival skills. Looking at the behavior of our leaders since the outset of the new millennium—recognizing that I blindly and willingly depend on them to protect me from things I can’t even define—has grown a not-small knot in my gut. Pardon the rough generalization, but if our empire ever falls and the electricity starts blinking, I suspect these folks who are crowding an air conditioned coffee shop on the nicest day of the season will probably fight for a different team than me. But is that justification for simply packing up and leaving? Is turning my back on personal dilemmas something I want to make a habit of? Can’t I use my frustration as

energy to grow stronger and make a difference where I am? Is this connection I’ve made between living well and living in the woods even remotely rational? It’s true John Rose has something I lack, but is it his handmade log cabin?


When I arrived at Wyndham Rose Farm in the Spring of 2010, everything revolved around the salad greens. Mizuna, arugula, two varieties of mustard (Osaka Purple and Ruby Streak), Persian Cress, and 7 varieties of leaf lettuce all grew in the greenhouse and were harvested every Sunday. I loved the stark realness of fixing breakfast and coffee in the dimly lit cabin, shadows creeping under bare incandescent lighting, while the large, floor-to-ceiling windows remained as cold, wet and pitch black as the morning behind them. We needed to be ready to work hard at 6am: John would get in that greenhouse with a knife gripped tightly in hand, hunching down painfully, trying to cut it all as cleanly as possible before the sun hit too hard, at which point the heat would force him out. Just outside the greenhouse, after tuning in to the most agreeable radio station we could find from the wrong side of a mountain range, Laurie and I, usually with a neighbor or friend to help, would take all the fresh cut greens as fast as John could deliver them (“Hurry up dammit!” he yelled scowling with every load) and dump them in a bathtub of frigid water that sat just low enough to disturb your back. We rinsed them, picking out the bugs and dirt and bad leaves, before two of us would drain the tub and spray down whatever had sunk to the bottom after Laurie dumped the harvested greens in a huge, custom-made salad spinner to dry them.

The spinner was a converted honey extractor—John used to have bees back in Texas, and had his welder buddies in Bandon turn the extractor into a giant, superefficient salad spinner (which could be turned back into a honey extractor if they ever ended up with bees). Laurie loved that big toy, leaning all one hundred pounds of her body weight into the stubborn crank, chortling “Here...we...GO!” through a toothy grin as the spinner started slowly, slowly, picking up more and more speed until it was nearly out of control. Then she’d let go of the crank, step back and wipe her brow as the spinner slowly whirred to a halt, full of fresh, dry salad greens. We’d usually work straight until one or one thirty, and then stuff it all into various-sized bags after dinner, through the sunset, depending on the number of preorders. Seventy-five pounds was a good total cut. Then, while John stayed home to take care of the farm, Laurie would spend the next two days delivering the orders door to door (her clients ranged from large restaurants to individual homes) and selling what was leftover in front of the C&K Market in Brookings. Sometimes, when she’d have to go as far as Port Orford or Crescent City, she’d begin her deliveries Sunday night as soon as we finished bagging, having woken up before five for harvest that same morning. At this point, her brain’s organizational skills had decided their workday was over, which caused Laurie to count the bags and recount them and then count again, the clock ticking, while she got sidetracked by snacks and conversations with me, John shadowing her at every step between the house and the van, growling “Hurry up, dammit!” every three minutes or so. Sunday mornings were no fun, partially because of the temperature of the water we were dipping our hands into for so many hours at a time, backs bent over

uncomfortably, but mostly because of John’s temper. We heard it blaring out, muffled, as we washed outside, the volume of his voice increasing with the time of day and the temperature of the greenhouse. The temper was inevitable no matter the circumstances, but especially vengeful when inconvenience struck, usually something out of his or anyone’s control, like a bad harvest due to a week of strange weather. John took his rage out on us and himself, yelling profanities, roaring incoherencies, snapping at us as if we were incompetent children. It would start with sharp bright single syllables, puncturing our otherwise peaceful routine every other minute or so. “Uh-oh” Laurie would mutter to me under her breath, turning to look at me with narrowed eyes, before going back into what she was saying about holistic medicine, her history in Pistol River or the most recent drama at the Nutrition Center. Next, these staccato bursts would evolve into sentences, loudly specifying exactly what was to be damned and how, followed by a variety of depraved suggestions regarding what the Japanese mustard could do to itself. Then came the rumbles. Words, too brittle to contain the pain and frustration of a working man’s plan gone wrong, disintegrated in place of a low growl, increasing in pitch and volume until finally it was an open-mouthed roar punctuated by the sound of a tool being flung to the ground. Finally, in climax, the door would burst open. The first time this happened, I was looking for the quickest way to my car before it became obvious that this was nothing more than a short tantrum (if that’s what you want to call the frustration of realizing your main source of income is stunted and wilting). Laurie was consoling and empathetic to her husband, providing space for the fire to burn but no place for it to spread; if he blindly blamed her for anything she was

quick to concede. Then, every time, he’d end up on his ass, spent, apologizing over a joint, sad, briefly describing his childhood, his physical pain and the history of his trials and tribulations. “I have a rage inside of me I just can’t take control of,” he said, looking me in the eye, certainly aware I was uncomfortably teetering on the brink of permanently vacating the premises. Retrospect convinced me his words were only half-true; while the tantrums themselves were involuntary, he had learned over the years to kill them naturally. He had stopped using hard drugs, he had stopped drinking liquor, he had conquered chemical dependencies, and now let the rage burn itself out into an almost comical embarrassment. How quick he was to see the silliness of his anger, how genuine his apologies. It was strange to see this unbridled anger come out of a man who, voice low and focused, hands cradling roots and soil like a baby, taught me to transplant blueberry bushes without changing which side faced the sunrise. Indeed, most of my memories of John with his receding speckled gray hair and his bushy mustache aren’t of that reckless frustration, that rattling cough his spirit caught before he could even get a driver’s license, loudly interrupting us as we washed the greens; they’re of the overgrown boy in sweatpants and Muck boots spouting off jokes and conspiracy theories in a smoky room, Michelle Norris crackling through the background, John browsing the latest Wall Street Journal, commentating every piece of news with the self-assured authority of a college freshman, almost childish but for the surrounding farm he built with his hands; they’re of the Sunday night greens-packing sessions, of the three of us welcoming the evening out by the greenhouse, our headlamps throwing long, dancing beams through the wet black air as we bagged, sealed and organized the product to the garbled harmonies of classic

60’s and 70’s rock struggling over the radio waves, John and Laurie making dirty puns to the lyrics, giggling and bumping into each other with their hips and singing loudly, after a hard day of work, when weight and urgency held their breath in honor of the sun’s slumber beneath a cool and pungent Pacific wind. I remember him too as a man who decided one morning to set aside his busy day, graciously, because he knew it would remain in my memory forever, and take me and the chocolate lab on a drive in the clunky old work van through the perfect desolation of Southern Oregon, early in the morning, the sun occasionally peeking through the slits of a four-day stretch of perpetual rain, us driving the old back roads, the old parents of the much younger Highway 101, down the hill past the Pistol River Fire Department, his wife’s legacy, east along Pistol River, through the rolling wooded valleys while the sea disappeared behind us, past ponds sparkling with the dance of the rain, the sheen of the veiled sun, to a large house with a flooded driveway where John’s ex-windsurfer friend hand-built some of the best guitars in the world out of one-of-a-kind Port Orford cedar. That morning I remember John (who didn’t seem interested in talking, knew nothing about guitars and had little appreciation for music) simply throwing in some conversation primers and then sitting back and watching us two guitarists chatter nerdily, seemingly pleased with the social interaction he had left his farm and driven into the valley to bring about He just listened, genuinely happy that other people were happy, knowing he had gone out of his way as a boss and a host. The next day I asked him about

his past as a pro-windsurfer, and we got in the van again. He took me down to the ocean on that blustery day to sit on the edge of the parking lot and coolly watch the surfers, men with whom he had once competed with and conquered before arthritis and the drywall industry took him permanently away from the world of windsurfing, John and I watching them catch fleeting gusts of wind, watching them roil and battle over the waves, he lost in a quiet conceding approval, briefly greeting his old peers, they who were proud to be the new top dogs but highly respectful of this old one, shaking his hand and chatting as they came up and down the steep, rocky path to and from the lot, younger guys, embodiments of health and happiness wearing great big smiles for Volkswagen vans full of girls holding microbrews who had set up video cameras and tripods to capture the afternoon. John occasionally pointed out the best spots to watch for big tricks and identified the most talented surfers along with their hometowns and back-stories, and in between words he stared intently out at the Pacific, lost in thought, perhaps simply unwinding but perhaps lusting for something else, longing for the icy bite of that cold murky stew, that dark abyss that the ocean merely symbolizes, his bushy eyebrows low and serious, wrestling something far heavier than his replacement, far more enigmatic than retirement and the passing of years.

Along with the Wyndham Rose Farm, John had conquered what was crude and untamed within himself, cropping it and nurturing it until it was habitable. He blew into Laurie’s life on a tryst back in the eighties, when she lived by herself in her cabin hidden in the raw, unkempt forest, and stayed because he fell in love. An angry, blustery man with countless scars from defeated addictions, John pitched a vat of hot energy into that love like it was an overgrown forest, turning it, with a scowl, into a tame and producing farm. And while their financial situation was far from ideal, they had succeeded; while they often emitted the tired, familiar sighs of an old married couple, you couldn’t help but envy their love as it warmed by the fire smiling in that log cabin in the woods overlooking the Pacific in silent solitude. I’d be foolish to compare myself to him. Besides escaping his hometown and striking out West, besides preferring open flame to central heat, we have little in common. However, maybe because he really is a hero, or maybe because our culture has become so hollow that I’m hungry for heroes, he remains in my memory as the embodiment of character. Along with his lasting impression, I’ve taken many other things from my experiences in Pistol River. My vision of rural life, while in no way diminished, has been thrust into a naked light exposing painfully numb fingers working before sunrise, the fear of seeing dollar bills wilting right along with your cash crop, and the inability to pack up and take a weekend off without letting your entire property drown in brambles and coyotes. I also know now how much safer I’d feel experiencing the course of twenty-first century American history from the direction of John’s life rather than my current one. Most pertinently, I know that even after I defeat my demons, even after I

learn to love and craft the ideal existence for myself, there’s a healthy chance I’ll end up staring longingly out into something, dreaming of flipping everything upside down, regrets, forks in the road.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful