Thursday, January 4, 2007

I'm Not Grizzly Adams No More

I miss being in the forest, hiking, camping, backpacking. They are a part of me, but my crazy life hardly allows for time out in the forest any more. I have too much work, two toddlers in diapers, a busy personal life, and absolutely no energy. Grumble, grumble.

Many of my recent friends have no idea what I used to be like. To most of them I'm an overweight lab rat. On the outside, my skin would probably glow with the fluorescent dyes I use at my lab bench, but if you pulled me apart I'm pretty sure you'd find that a significant portion of my guts are made up of pine needles, moss, and oak leaves. My love of biology started as a little kid, wandering around the woods where I grew up, poking at bugs in streams and rummaging through the undergrowth. It was this early curiosity that fed my lifelong love of nature and its workings. I'm guessing most scientists could figure their love of science started through the curiosity of their childhood.

By the time I was in college, I could live for a week in the woods with practically nothing besides a bedroll and a pocket knife. Really. I proved it by working a couple summers in the wilderness areas of Idaho, backpacking the Rockies, studying endangered plants, and doing stream surveys miles from the nearest trail. The experience nearly killed me (literally), but those memories are close to my heart.

Do you remember the TV show, Grizzly Adams? I could relate to that guy back then. Alone in the wilderness, at one with the animals (like his grizzly bear companion, Ben), living independently and loving nature. Except I didn't care for the cheesy plotlines – how is it so many non-woodsman people in desperate need of help would just *happen* to run into Adams way out in the middle of the wilderness, I'd like to know? And what was up with the sidekick, "Mad Jack", and the sidekick's sidekick, a mule called "Number 7"? Didn't they seem superfluous and "unfunny" to you?

But somehow I moved away from ecology to follow my interest in lab work. I still get the same thrill I had as a child when I peer through a microscope at cells or come upon some new, innovative method. I think part of the reason I don't do ecological work is that nearly all the jobs (that don't involve timber) are jobs which are seasonal, temporary, and pay diddly-squat.

Now I live in western Oregon. Old growth forests and mountains are tantalizingly within sight on clear days, less than an hour's drive away. But I haven't been camping in years, and even day-hikes on flat, easy trails are a rarity. It's understandable, I guess. My adorably kids aren't old enough for serious outings (both are in diapers), and I would feel selfish going out there without the family included for more than a few hours. I'd strapped the kids into those backpack carriers, but I'm too out of shape to lug them around for long, and they're getting too big for those, anyhow (but still too small to hike far). So I pretty much have to wait until the kids are older. Love of the woods never dies, and I hope to instill that love into the hearts of my kids.

Maybe I'll be Grizzly Adams again someday, but I'm not going to have a stupid sidekick with a mule.


Maggie said...

Yay for no stupid mule sidekicks. Its true when you have younguns its very difficult to do those things which we treasured when childless like hiking. When we lived in Las Vegas we loved going to Red Rock every weekend with my son who was then six, and we would hike up into the rocks. It was such a soul cleansing.

When your little ones are out of diapers, or even now depending on your confidence level, perhaps you could take them camping at National Parks where you get to see the woods but still have enough conveniences to feel safe with little ones...its a beginning of appreciation for them.

That said, I wouldn't give up on your Grizzly Adams dreams. You will get back to it.

Btw, sorry about the long long comment, but I have two little diaper donners too! Welcome to the little club of insanity.

Reid said...

That's why I always preferred Jeremiah Johnson. A couple of friends and when you help someone your family is slaughtered. When we moved out to Oregon from Minnesota I knew it would only be a matter of time before I disapear into the hills. I just need to decide between the coastal range and the Cascades.

Angry Lab Rat said...

Ha! Sounds like you could be a neighbor of mine, Reid.

Forget the Coastal Range. Too many clearcuts and not enough protected wilderness. You need a vast tract of old growth if you're going to have a grizzly bear companion, don't you know.

Reid said...

Didn't know until I showed her my post, but apparently my wife works in a neighboring lab to you. One of her coworkers in production introduced the blog to her. We like your writing, and have also swollen since our hiking days.