Saturday, March 08, 2008

March 2008 Returning to ‘Civilization’ : Part 1

Hi Everyone!
This update is a long time coming. For a while now I’ve been writing various blog updates in my head (and some have even been pretty good!). But, each time I sat down to write I found that I couldn’t put my experiences into any kind of perspective. My experiences were just that – moments in time with very little cohesion. I guess I thought that ‘culture shock’ meant that sounds would be loud and traffic fast and within a month I would be back to my good ‘ole ‘civilized self’. But battling culture shock was not that simple. I think it is only now that I am starting to feel semi comfortable in my old societal role. I was not aware, at the time, exactly how much my life up north had affected the core of who I am - not just my senses. I’ve felt so lucky to have Ryan to speak to as we both readjust to a world that doesn’t seem as normal as it once did. Although he lives hundreds of miles away we talk often and I find some comfort in the fact that our minds and bodies have reacted similarly over the last 6+ months.

This blog will be the first of (hopefully) several that speak about my thoughts and feelings of adjusting back to living in CA. I believe it was Steinbeck who said: “I can’t write hot on a subject, it has to ferment.” I wouldn’t consider this blog fully fermented by any means, but I fear that to make a fine fermented blog it might take years.

My initial return to ‘society’ was discombobulating and overwhelming but yet exciting and adventurous.

While at the lake I wondered often what it will be like to return to ‘civilization’. What would be the first thing I would want to eat when the possibilities were endless? What would be the first thing I would want to do when I could drive in an hour the distance that it took days of hard hiking to accomplish?
When I first arrived back in Fairbanks, I immediately sat down on the sidewalk and took in the assault of sounds and smells. It was all very strange, like waking up from a dream or going into a different dream. It felt like deja vue –like a strong far away memory that I couldn’t exactly remember the details of but that I somehow knew had occurred.

Therefore, I was mildly amused to find myself craving two very specific things that seemed so meaningless when my options seemed so limitless. I craved a milkshake and a new book to read. Strangely these cravings didn’t seem like minor cravings they seemed guttural - I would have got up and walked 10 miles to get them (luckily my friend had a car, so it took me 20 minutes).

Looking back now, however, my supposed odd cravings made a lot more sense then I realized at first. While we were up there – fat was one of the most important items. We were constantly aware of how much fat we had and how much we needed to put in the food. In a world of lean meat and basic staples fat was the key to our survival. The milkshake, then, was the perfect example of living turned luxury. Looking through the lens of about the last year and half of carefully watching and rationing sugar, flour, salt and above all else FAT, it felt like true riches to pour that much whole milk (not even powered), sugar and chocolate into one drink - my body enjoyed every moment of that fine creamy shake like no other shake before.

The book made sense as well. Books for us, represented knowledge of course and was our key to learning many important skills, but just as important they also represented friends and community. We spoke of the books we were reading as if we spoke of actual people: in agreement, in disappointment, in awe, in frustration and in gossip. I absorbed books like I have never absorbed the written word before. With nothing to distract me, the words seemed to create their own reality in parallel to mine. Even today, when I’m feeling lonely, I take down one of those many books I’d read about people living in northern Alaska and carry it around in my bag. It’s like hanging out with an old friend, I can read it’s words and it’s as if I called a friend and heard her babbling on about the life we shared together up north. I suppose in my new land of East Bay CA cement and traffic and people who never look at you – those books have become my secret security blanket, dragging them from one place to another, if for no other reason than to remind myself that multiple realities exist in the same time frame, and that where I am now is not the only reality inside me or anyone else for that matter.

After I got my hands on my milkshake and book I pretty much holed up in my friends cabin right outside of Fairbanks, and tried to let sounds and smells and electrical heat and hot showers (that I enjoyed thoroughly) and people, come back into being part of my daily reality.

And so there I was, a mere 48 hours after leaving the Brooks Range. Car sounds would send me flying out of the sleeping bag thinking a plane was landing on the lake – only to find me standing in the drive way in my long underwear with no lake or plane in sight. The taste of foods and spices was so overwhelming that I lost my appetite and there were many foods I couldn’t digest well anymore. People’s body language was no longer as clear to me and I spent far too long in confusion. Driving in cars felt as unreal as watching TV – I couldn’t figure out a single sane reason to be hurtling down a street in a metal box at 50 mph. I dreaded the phone, no longer familiar with its tennis match communication style. Things seemed strange and discombobulating but yet I felt healthier, stronger, more grounded and happier then I’d ever felt. I felt like I could do anything, that the future was endless in possibilities if you had a good plan and worked hard and paid attention to your surroundings. I suppose I felt empowered. I had nearly a year and a half of hard work, thinking, dreaming and planning and I had had very little societal influence of what is possible and not, of what you should be and shouldn’t be…without the constant barrage of societal opinions in the form of media, friends, family, government, schools etc. my mind, heart and body did something it had never done before – it simply lived, because living is what comes naturally when we aren’t battling the constraints of the correct way to be in ‘civilization’.

“The individual has always had to work hard to avoid being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try, you will be lonely often and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.” - Nietzsche


Blogger Scott said...

I am going to have to go back and read all of your posts. You have put into words something that is so hard to explain to someone that has not experienced it. I live in Alaska and have found how strange it is to go back into town and be around all the noise and people that are in such a hurry. Being in the woods for over a year sounds great. I have stayed out of town on my property for 6 to 8 weeks at a time and loved every minute of it. I never planned on staying gone that long but the longer I was there the more I dreaded having to leave. Your comments on food cravings hit right on the nose. I started streching my food out so I could stay longer. Finally got down to crackers and tuna fish and then just tuna fish. About 7 weeks out I was getting ready to head to town and packing things up when I found a small jar of peanut butter. It was the first sweets and fat that I had in a month. I lasted another week because of that peanut butter. 2 tea spoons full with each can of tuna fish. I never knew how good peanut butter really was until then. Even my 2 dogs got 1 spoon full each meal for a treat. That was after only being out for 2 months so it is hard to imagine what it would be like for over a year. My friends do not understand how I can stay gone and not even talk to anyone. I read a couple hundred pages a day and studied different things that I wanted to learn about. I was never bored. I could of left anytime I wanted. First thing I did when I got to town was eat fast food. While it tasted good my body did not like it. My dogs and I had a hard time with all the noise so stocked up on supplies and headed back out. I still am to close to the road system and get some noise but am looking forward to staying out even longer this winter. I enjoy your writing.

12:29 AM  

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