Thursday, October 7, 2010

We're No Longer Hunter-Gatherers

Humans are strange things, or at least some of us are. Sitting in my office or these days at my desk studying, I've often thought that paradise would be cruising around North America, camping wherever the mood strikes me, seeing national parks and forests and swimming in rivers and running trails and climbing mountains. If I won the lottery, I used to think, I'd buy some property, put the rest away, and take off into the wilderness with no set return date, like some best-of-both-worlds modern synthesis of post-industrial man and hunter-gatherers. In fact I'm lucky, and I've had the chance to do exactly that, several times, often with absolutely no financial constraints. That last part isn't as true now that I'm in school as it used to be during my past life, between consulting gigs.

And you know what happened? Each and every time? I got bored. Within a week and a half. It happened again this summer, although by now I kind of expect it. Not that I started actively disliking the sweeping, soul-expanding spaces I was trying to memorize and ingest and inhale - but there's always something that just didn't sit right about the structurelessness of my time. A coworker told me that before she met her husband, he was a contract programmer, who would drive around to parks in the U.S. and Canada and only stay in motels or campgrounds that had WiFi, and he could work out of his tent. He did this for over a year. I would love to do that, or so I think as I sit at my desk while I'm supposed to be studying. On top of it, now that I'm old, some switch seems to have been tripped and I no longer get a kick out of beating myself up with pointless endurance exercises and generally making myself uncomfortable in nature. Yes, a lot of my time in nature as a younger man was to prove a point, and I realize this isn't universal. But just this weekend when I hiked up San Gorgonio, by the time I got back down, I was glad I was going back to civilization. And to think I once considered doing the Pacific Crest Trail. Are you kidding me?

While I'm reflecting in public, I should add that traveling in the developing world is no longer so thrilling for me either. The most practical consequence is that in most places, you won't have a smartphone that tells you where you are (or indeed locals who know directions more than five miles away); you might not even have roads, period. More importantly, it's often not safe. Here in North America, we take for granted that we can wander out into a canyon fifty miles from nowhere and not get robbed or kidnapped. Still not true in half the world. I was most acutely aware of this two years ago when I would have loved to go running on the volcanoes around San Salvador. But I generally like to keep my body habitus intact, so at the strong urging of locals, I didn't.

I used to feel guilty about not wanting "adventure" anymore, but in a way it's a relief. Ironically, now I can just head out to a park for a day and do what I feel like.

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