“I’m ready for my scolding.” I draped my arm out the SUV window, desperately hoping my half-hearted smile would be enough to melt the ridge-runner’s stiff jaw line.
“Was that your trail magic?” He gestured towards the now-vacant trail-head. “I have to tell you, the food you left here was a very poor choice towards preserving our state forest lands. When I arrived there was trash scattered everywhere. An open invitation to bears….” His KTA hat was tilted at a stern angle, nodding its agreement to every parently jerk of his head.
I sighed silently and felt prickles of embarrassment creep up my neck. You deserve this. Just grin and bear it.
“When I hiked the trail, I loved coming across trail magic. But you’ve got to stay with your coolers. I know it takes a chunk out of your day, but the hikers love meeting you. Then you won’t create a scenario for animals to become accustomed to being fed. I know–” he lifted his hand, “I saw the buckets and your notes about securing trash inside them, but a bucket lid won’t hold up to a raccoon or a bear.”
I started in on my I-Camp-in-Bear-Country-Regularly-and-They’ve-Never-Plundered-My-Food-Buckets speech, and then cut it off. “I know leaving food unattended was a poor life decision, and I am genuinely sorry.” He could tell I felt ashamed. I saw his face soften.
“I never properly introduced myself. I’m Tinker.”
“Nike. Nice to meet you.” I said, and fist-bumped him. “I’d like to see the carnage. Could you send me a picture of it?” I didn’t have to ask if he had taken photographs of the mess. He was a millennial, and that is what millennials do. I tapped my number into his filthy i-phone.
“I’m glad you came along when you did. I was about to post the photos on our page.”
Super! Local dis-fame for my wilderness guide reputation.
“–But you’ll be happy to know I didn’t remove your coolers immediately. I let the hikers enjoy them. There was a forest fire here. The fire teams wouldn’t let me back in. I had to wait to come again until they had the flames under control….”
I lost track of what Tinker was saying. I wasn’t interested in fire stories. My coolers were nowhere to be seen. I’d combed the area looking for them. There wasn’t so much as a snippet of Coke bottle wrapper. “Could you tell me where to find my things?”
Tinker’s head jerked to attention, and immediately swiveled towards the road. “I had your chairs and coolers stacked right beside that tree. I thought you loaded them up already!”
If I’d have loaded them up already, I’d be GONE right now, brother!
“Go ahead so this guy can drive through, and I’ll see if he saw anything.”
Tinker talked to the forest service man, and I sat on the dashboard and stared at my shriveled-up self on the damp, dirty SUV seat. It was unusual for me to see myself so humiliated. Awkward, always. But shamed, rarely. I wanted to churn the gravel and disappear into the fog, but the thought of replacing $120 worth of camping gear held me back. Tinker darted towards me through the raindrops.
“He hasn’t seen anything. I have your number, and I’ll let you know what the police say after I report this. There have been other petty thefts in the area.”
Police? No thank you! “I’m not from here…” I started a desperate attempt to remove myself from the scenario.
Sternly. “I will update you. It was your things that were stolen.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it!” I said mechanically. This time I did let my tires eat the gravel. I pulled slowly onto the mountain road. The neatly-stacked pizza in the take-out dish beside me smelled nauseating.
How could I have been so stupid? I KNOW better than to leave food unattended in the wilderness. I’ve given Leave No Trace speeches to my trainees at least a dozen times.
I scowled at the pizza, as if it was to blame. I’d shivered in an air-conditioned pizza shop 30 minutes for it under the slim chance that I’d cross paths with a rain-soaked hiker while collecting my coolers. The pretty little waitress had understood what I wanted when I said it was for a hiker. She’d separated each stacked piece with a square of waxed paper and wrapped the take-out dish in aluminum foil. Tinker had left my things unattended for only 30 minutes. That’s what he had said.
I scowled at the box again.
You know, it’s amazing how much effort a person can spend to escape the fact they were wrong about something.
I heard a faint voice in my head. It came from Zvek, my adventure buddy, and the words had been spoken several months ago. “Do you really believe that? Or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?”
Ah, Zvek, you hit the nail on the head even without being here. I like to feel good–yep, I do say things that I don’t really believe in order to make myself feel better.
I grabbed my mind by its invisible bootstraps and repeated: “I made a mistake, but I am not stupid. The hikers should have properly disposed their trash, but this is not their fault. There might be bears here. I really don’t know. No one is to blame here but me, and it’s ok. I am not irresponsible. I made a mistake, but I still have a good heart.”
Isn’t it crazy how much time and energy I spend to convince myself and others that I AM OK?
Why try to prove that there is such a thing as wind? Realities do not change.
No self-blame allowed, Jesus-kiddo. No shifting blame either. Just save time and sift out the truth. Throw away the lies and place the truth on the table. Then move on.
The Lord does not need our help to prove what is true.
And who knows, maybe the purpose of it all is for you to make friends with a wiry ridge-runner from Florida.