Don’t make the mistake of comparing your twisted-up insides to other people’s blow-dried outsides. Even the most privileged person in this stadium suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human.”
I’ve never been labeled rich before, unless we’re referring to life experience. I have, however, been called crunchy. The first time, I didn’t know what I was being called. This beautiful hunk of a man told me, verbatim, “I sensed you were a crunchy kind of woman,” and at the time, I was pretty sure he was insulting me. I cheer for the trees and everything that lives among them, but I’ve never felt at home in a crowd of crunchers. They’re a little too granola for my liking, if you catch my drift. Maybe if I smoked pot or ate questionable mushrooms periodically, I’d feel differently.
After years of living in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, I returned to my native Washington. I met up with a local tracking club, thinking I’d meet fellow wildlife enthusiasts and maybe learn something about my backyard. Instead, we gathered in a circle, and I was the only newbie, they didn’t feel it was necessary to cover names. We were to go around the circle and say what we were thankful for. Simple enough, I thought. The first person, wearing what looked like handmade shoes, took a deep breath with his eyes closed and said, “Daffodils, I am just so thankful for daffodils.” Everyone in the circle chanted back, “Daffodils!” I looked around, waiting for someone to match my raised eyebrow. I was alone in this. The next man, looking more cowboy than hippie, followed closing his eyes with a deep breath, and sighed, “Clouds.” The circle chanted back sighs and reached their hands up towards the sky as they repeated, “Clouds!” I’d like to add it was pissing rain that morning. This was not the same wildlife crowd I’d discovered back in Wyoming.
I thought I’d struck gold working as a wildlife guide where I met previous students of granola schools who were now wildlife biologists. They were in it for the wildlife aspect and didn’t preach their beliefs about eating or shampoo onto anyone. This was the granola crowd who didn’t mind showering (no judgement). Time revealed that many of the biologists were just as passionate about proving themselves smarter than their cohorts than they were about the animals we tracked everyday. Wildlife biologists are not a collaborative bunch. Many are introverts and can spend months at a time completely without human contact, happily. This fascinated me, but was not the life I wanted to lead. I was only hired for my people skills, the sole guide whose enthusiasm — not her degrees— had landed her the position.
But I wasn’t a biologist either. I kept my distance with each group, learning as much as possible in the observer role. But I also didn’t sense that I had much of a choice when my clients were CEOs of major corporations, deep in the Hollywood scene, or simply a person who considered themselves very important. The rich crowd always proved fascinating. Their standards were beyond what I could imagine striving for. More than a few were not impressed easily, and a handful had not the slightest understanding of the natural world nor understood how they were part of it.
Perhaps it’s my background in anthropology, or maybe it was my way of separating myself from truly being part of any of these groups, and not my own independent individual. Maybe I have a writer’s mindset.
And perhaps that’s why I chose it. I’ve never felt like I belonged in any particular group, so I joined all of them, unable to give my full commitment to any single one. It was ideal. I joined the wildlife biologists, the oddball seasonal crowd aimlessly ping-ponging their way around the world, the granola crowd and the environmentalists, the hunters and the vegans, the homesteaders and the city dwellers, the gardeners and the ranchers, the sailors and the backpackers, the cycling tourists and the park rangers, the hicks and progressives, the reds and the blues, the scientists and the poets, the CEOs and the dirtbags. I could fit into anyone’ mold — for a time, until I needed to be myself again and find balance, in both the world and in myself.
I had so much fun gaining insight to all these different ways one can spend their time on earth that I forgot to consider picking one for myself. I didn’t want to close any doors, so I picked the one that would still allow me to peer through all of them— writer. Or rather, it chose me.
There is no “us” or “them.” We are all approaching the human experience in the best way we see fit. We are all trying. To waste time and energy on bullying or pointing fingers takes the focus away from the truly interesting people and stories behind them.
My time among bears, if anything, taught me that we are much more similar than we think. We’re all just apes with wardrobes, some fancier than others. We all want to matter. We all want to leave our mark. Some people spend their time working towards their dream job and barely come up for air until they get there. Some work to save money, and some follow opportunity and hope it leads them to where they want to go. I was lucky, the latter has been me. This is how I got to where I wanted to be. This is how I came to put pen to paper. I’m not any one thing, so I became one thing that would allow me to still interact with everything and everyone.
If I was standing under moody clouds back in the crunchy circle again, I’d tell them I was thankful for knowing my place at last. And if I listen closely, I can hear distant voices chanting, “Place!”