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The Cage, A Living Sculpture – Gettysburg College, May 1, 1971.
I had been reading Franz Kafka in German class and was particularly taken by his story “Ein Hungerkünstler” (A Hunger Artist). This is the story of a circus performer who earns his living by starving himself inside a cage. This starvation constitutes his performance, and the public gives him more money for each day he can extend his vigil.
In my environmental sculpture class, I envisioned a tribute of sorts to Franz Kafka and without the knowledge of my professor, I proceeded with my plan to occupy a cage somewhere on campus. The only problem was that I required the raw materials necessary to construct the cage in a fashion that would be visually convincing. I had already acquired enough two by fours to construct a large frame. What I really needed were the bars and 3/4" electrical conduit seemed to suit the bill. These strong tubes were perfect for domes as well, but I just didn’t have any money at the time.
So one night my friend Tucker and I went out on the caper. Tuck had a van capable of concealing most forms of contraband. I had cased the scenario the night before and was well equipped with the correct-sized wrenches and screwdrivers to accomplish the job. We pulled up to the electrical supply house on the outskirts of town. Tuck parked the van and went through the motions of getting the jack out to change the rear tire. This enabled him to remain by the side of the road for an extended period of time without evoking suspicion. We worked out a system of hand signals. I ran through the tall grass to the back of the building that was offset from the road by nearly 100 yards. There was a long erector set rack system that housed various diameters of conduit – all in ten-foot lengths – stored vertically in packs of ten. That translated to one hundred linear feet per pack. The packs were padlocked in position with a waist-high lateral steel bar. I spent fifteen minutes with my assorted wrenches and screwdrivers disassembling one end of the rack and removing several bundles. Each pack made a manageable haul back through the tall grass toward the van. If lights from a car appeared, I would lay down in the grass until the car passed, and then proceed. Tuck and I continued this process for nearly half an hour until enough packs were accumulated in the van. There were more than enough tubes for my cage.
The next day I drilled evenly spaced 3/4” holes in the wooden frame of the cage, so that the frame could be transported in a pre-fabricated state. That way, setup could be accomplished in a matter of minutes by simply sliding the bars into place. I painted the frame black and made a small placard to go with it. The sign simply said: “Freedom – A Three Day Living Sculpture.” I spent a lot of time thinking about dramatic methods I could use to accentuate the effect of my living sculpture. I planned to set the cage up in the middle of the night so that I wouldn't run into any bureaucratic hassles. Homecoming weekend was coming up. That's when all the preppy fraternity jocks would import their prissy high school girlfriends. Coincidentally, it was also Parent’s Weekend and May Day weekend too. A huge peace rally was planned in Washington, DC. Kafka was laughing in his grave.
Tuck helped me assemble the cage. We picked the most traveled spot on campus, which was directly in front of the college dining hall across from the Student Union building. One of the campus security guards came by and asked us what we were doing. I told him we were setting up an exhibit for Parent’s Weekend. He wrinkled his chin and nodded as if in deep thought.
“Seems reasonable enough.” He shrugged.
We slid the bars into place and spread some hay on the grass to make it look like a real animal cage. I had a sleeping bag, a drawing tablet, one of my blank book journals and a frayed leopard skin loin cloth that was intended to make me look like a caveman. My intention was to make snorting sounds, climb around inside the cage and scratch my armpits like a gorilla. I had it all figured out. I went to sleep and woke up to the thaw of dawn streaming in through the bars. It felt pretty strange.
I waited for my first victim. At 6:45 AM, I saw her walking toward the cage about two blocks down. She was a classic example – a stack of books under each arm – her body straining to compensate. This was a crack of dawn, fear of God, nose to the grindstone, straight-A student. In my three years at college, I had never seen anything like her before. I suppose we kept different hours and traveled in slightly different circles. As she came closer, I noticed that her rather thick-lensed glasses had drifted down toward the end of her nose. Since neither of her hands was free, she was squinting and jerking her head back to try to flip them up into place. She hadn't noticed me yet. I snorted and swung my arms from side to side, waiting for her reaction.
She was absolutely horrified and made a beeline for the dining hall entrance. She dropped a few books in her haste. I growled and snorted some more. It was quite effective.
While she was inside, I assessed my performance and began to feel a sense of remorse about having put this poor introverted bookworm into such a state of shock. I decided to apologize to her when she came out, but she never did. She must have asked the cooks to let her out the side door. That clinched it. I made up my mind to speak and behave like a human being. I put my jeans on and greeted passersby cheerfully throughout the course of the day, as if the cage were a perfectly usual part of campus life.
The cage was a hit, except for a few isolated incidents. The Assistant Dean came by to find out whether I had permission to do whatever it was that I was doing. I told him that it was part of my sculpture course, which was clearly an embellishment of the truth. When he tried to verify my story later on in the afternoon, my infuriated sculpture professor and primary collegiate inspiration came to the cage “somewhat agitated.” Though he insisted that I (have someone) return his electric drill to the art studio in fifteen minutes or else, he didn't rescind my permission to occupy the cage. And so I was allowed to remain. I think there was a renegade inside him that appreciated the conceptual aspect of what I was doing.
My first full evening in the cage was fairly uneventful. Two drunken football players threatened me and a car full of rowdy frat boys pummeled the cage with empty beer cans while their girlfriends giggled with embarrassment.
On Friday, one of the local television stations came by to film a short human-interest segment for the tail end of the news. The newspapers came too and did a great interview that is one of the only remaining tangible souvenirs of that era. The headline exclaimed boldly: “Student Puts Self Behind Bars.”
Oddly, these three days were among the most liberating days of my life.
The Legend Of Egor
With the help of Weed and Sandy, Marty and I had made significant progress on our luxurious contraband cabin for four, complete with a trap door in the floor, on the southwestern corner of the property.
We were always busy accumulating any useful items. Somehow, we had managed to find two Coleman stoves in working order, and we decided to barter one of them with a couple from Wheeler’s Ranch, who oddly enough had two Coleman lanterns. Wheeler’s was about fifteen miles west toward Bodega Bay and I had been assigned the task of making the simultaneous delivery and pickup early one Monday morning.
I awoke at about seven and mixed my usual 50% coffee, 50% cocoa concoction. I got dressed and made my way down toward Dave and Georgia’s tree house where our Dodge van was parked. This very same van had delivered us miraculously from Brattleboro, Vermont down through the Carolinas to New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Los Angeles to our humble dwelling, and though the vehicle was on its last legs, it was our only tangible asset and form of transportation.
As I started the engine, I heard the familiar squeal of Egor, a pathetic excuse for a dog who, like us, had chosen Morningstar as his haven. Egor was probably going on three or four years. He was small yet quite plump, off-white in color, perhaps the shade and texture of curdled milk. His fur provided an excellent canvas upon which a vast array of mud, automobile grease, bacon fat and worse could accumulate. Egor had earned himself the unfortunate distinction of being the most destitute, despicable, and despised creature on the grounds. This was not an easy task, given the many mangy animals and tenuous human beings on the property, but Egor, no doubt the product of an endless parade of human neglect, had somehow descended to the challenge.
Egor had no scruples, no couth. He could, however, ferret out our very few valuables with his wet sniveling nostrils. He could successfully straddle an available thigh with relentless energy and he always mistook scolding for encouragement. These were Egor’s strong points.
In search of hydration, Egor would lick tree trunks where other dogs had just relieved themselves, and to satisfy his insatiable hunger, he would feast upon such delicacies as could be found at the bottom of the orchard outhouse. Or he would eagerly drag the carcass of a local road kill into the midst of an otherwise enjoyable community meal. Of course, Egor endured tremendous abuse, well deserved I might add, but I felt an ounce of pity for him on that sunny morning as he waddled sideways toward the van, slobbering and quivering with his clumsy sway.
It occurred to me that Egor might respond favorably to affectionate treatment. Behavior modification, positive feedback, I’m OK – You’re OK; all of the contemporary psychological trends seemed to bear some validity, in human circles anyway. And so I patted him on the head and opened the passenger door, thinking that it just might be a real treat for Egor to accompany me on a morning ride through the countryside, breathing some fresh air and taking in a change of scenery. Egor seemed to like the idea, for he hopped up onto my lap with great confidence. Smelling like a fermented garbage heap, he blurted a little fart of joy, flung a tiny missile of drool onto my blue jeans and assumed his designated shotgun position. Away we went, Egor and I, down the twisting dirt road toward Occidental. Egor got a little seasick from the bumpy ride and chose to retire to the back of the van. Although I couldn’t get a good look at him from behind the wheel, I was privileged to hear his convulsive coughing and smell the fetid aroma of his regurgitation. The gas station in Occidental provided me with the setting to survey the damage and sure enough, there were two little piles; one from the front end and one from the rear, but both of similar color and texture. On the verge of gagging, I completed cleaning Egor’s mess with an excessive allocation of heavy-duty blue windshield towels donated by a skeptical but sympathetic attendant. With a perplexing look at Egor, and vice versa, we resumed our journey.
Egor seemed in better spirits, for he was frolicking around in the back of the van chewing on an old boot and ripping tiny pieces of vinyl from the seats. I knew from experience that this was an indication of his genuine and thorough contentment.
The road from Occidental to Bodega Bay gets progressively more treacherous as you approach the jagged hills of the coast, so I decided to pay more attention to my driving and less to Egor. I think he picked up on this immediately though, for he tried to distract me by crouching down on the back seat, then springing up with swift ungraceful lunges upon my neck, followed by his trademark straddle and hump. By that time, I had ceased to be amused with Egor’s antics, as my earlier strategy of positive reinforcement didn’t seem to be effective. I gave him a good block with my arm on about his tenth jump to keep him off my shoulder, and he retired to the back of the van with a seemingly apologetic whimper. As I cornered a poorly banked curve, I was weighing the merits of strict canine discipline against the mild pangs of pity I was feeling, when all of a sudden from the very back of the van I heard Egor begin a galloping charge that brought him airborne directly on top of my head, the van swerved out of control and SMASH... right into a giant redwood tree.
Egor snickered. The right headlight was completely demolished and the frame had buckled into the tree. The sound of hissing air broke the silence as the van sunk defeatedly forward and to the right. I got out to take a look. Egor followed, eagerly wagging his hips while his tail remained stationary.
Scraping bark off the front grill, I mumbled curses under my breath. Egor was scurrying up the side of a wooded knoll where I’m sure he was plotting new terrorist acts. I take that back. Egor was incapable of thinking in any remote sense of the word. All of his actions were, by some drastic oversight of God, instinctive.
I got the jack out and propped up the front end to remove the flat tire, but the axle was bent and the mangled sheet metal prevented the flat tire from being removed anyway. In anger, I kicked the rim, hurt my toe, cursed for ten minutes more, then glanced over at a field of cows. Egor, thinking that he had found some better companions, waddled bravely toward them.
Just then a farmer pulled up in a heavy pickup truck. He got out, took his hat off, scratched his head and evaluated my situation. “Got a little problem here.” he understated, as I relayed a synopsis of the whole sordid story from start to tragic finish pointing over at Egor and the cows, who at this juncture were becoming increasingly annoyed with his nipping.
The farmer had a chain hitch on the bed of his truck and he suggested that we back it up to the frame of the van and give it a healthy yank to free up the tire and straighten out the axle. We rigged it all up, allowing several yards of slack in the chain. The farmer got into his truck and started the engine while I supervised the operation with hand signals. Egor, having caused a near stampede, had been given a resentful kick by a cow that didn’t appreciate having his hooves gnawed upon. He tore across the meadow up a slight embankment and onto the road where he waddled over and nonchalantly positioned himself directly over the chain that linked the two vehicles, front paws on one side, rear paws on the other. In spite of my frantic arm waving, it was too late. The truck had surged forward, the chain tightened and snapped, and Egor went somersaulting upward in what appeared to be a fifteen-foot vertical lift. He landed miraculously on all fours, and with a steady yelp, he tore off like lightning up the hill.
I didn’t think I would ever see Egor again, and in a sadistic sense I was relieved at the prospect.
The chain was as effective on the van as it had been on Egor. I changed the tire, hammered some torn metal out of the way, thanked the farmer, bid him on his way, and prepared to depart myself, picking up several scattered tools and loading them into the back of the van. I was just about finished when Egor came tearing down the hill and jumped into the open side door of the van. Apart from a faint paranoid evasiveness in Egor’s eyes, he appeared to have conveniently forgotten the gist of the morning’s activities.
Off again we went, against all better judgment, Egor nursing his front paw and I attempting to contain my inner rage. We arrived at Wheeler’s Ranch two hours late, but the lantern people had been patient. We made our brief exchange and with a mild bark from Egor, we headed back for Morningstar via an alternate, more level route.
My conscience would not rest well if I were not to mention the fact that on several prior occasions, usually late in the evening, Egor’s name had come up in casual conversation among the many inhabitants of Morningstar. These talks invariably hinged upon open conspiracies and ingenious plots all designed with one single thought in mind – to put Egor out of his misery, assuming that misery was indeed the best word to describe the perpetual disaster that followed in his path. These conversations provided a humorous release for our cumulative Egor-inspired angst. No one really took the idea of euthanasia seriously, although such thoughts certainly did occur to everyone upon sight of Egor in his frenzied and obnoxious intrusions to otherwise peaceful days. To be entirely truthful, it did occur to me briefly at the beginning of our journey together that Egor might stray away from the van long enough to become attached to the people over at Wheeler’s, or some such incident, thereby relieving us of his presence. That thought, however, only occurred to me. It certainly was not my conscious intention while cruising en route to Freestone Junction at 45 miles an hour, that Egor would once again take an unsuspecting leap from the back seat, ricochet off my left shoulder blade, and plummet out of my open driver’s window onto the macadam. Perhaps it was cruel that after recovering my direction and composure, I didn’t slow down or turn around. It may, however, be of some interest that in my rearview mirror, I witnessed that plump little bundle of beige bristle bounce like a water balloon into the tall grass, flip over once or twice, shake himself off and trot apparently unharmed, impervious and ready for new adventures across California’s smooth hillsides.
I couldn’t get Egor out of my mind for weeks, in spite of the damage to my van that thereafter limped worse than Egor ever did. Soon it gasped and sputtered to a halt, its engine rusted and corroded, its body dented and deformed, its brakes worn down to bare hot steel, its battery completely devoid of spark. Not so with Egor. He was a survivor.
And survive he did, though it took him nearly a full month to sniff and waddle his way back to Graton Road and our tiny dirt path. There I met his gaze in complete disbelief. He maintained a safe distance, as did I, for with both fear and respect we knew not to test destiny any further.
Sue and I had planned to take a camping trip to Vermont. I hadn’t been back to Stowe since my teaching career had crumbled a decade and a half earlier. I still romanticized about the rugged hikes I had made along the Green Mountain Trail and looked forward to retracing some of the more memorable steps with Sue.
About three weeks prior to our scheduled departure, I broke out in a rather excruciating rash that itched like the dickens. I wasted no time in getting across the street to Dr. Snyder’s office. He took a quick look and nonchalantly determined that I had contracted a case of “scabies.” He explained that this was a rather contagious form of parasitic mite, the notion of which created great anxiety for me as well as my confused wife. The question of exactly how I had contracted such an affliction was especially disconcerting.
With tremendous reticence and embarrassment, I handed my prescription to our neighborhood pharmacist, who shaded his temple in confusion but promptly filled a small green jar full of Quell, a slightly toxic lather designed to discourage the little critters from making themselves comfortable in my proximity.
With great anxiety, I followed the shampooing directions and precautions, but there was no relief. The rash worsened and the itch became unbearable. I returned in defeat to the doctor’s office for an updated diagnosis.
This time Doc Snyder took a more discerning look and after great consideration pronounced to my extreme delight that it wasn’t scabies after all, but rather a chronic case of poison ivy. This time, he scribbled out a prescription for high-intensity cortisone cream supplemented with alternating swabs of calamine lotion. Inbetween treatments, I took hot and cold showers to try to ease the itch, but it was little use. I was clearly on a beeline path to stark raving madness.
The redness had now spread from my trunk to my neck and thighs, but in spite of this I put my faith and hope in medical science and packed the car for our northward trip. Equipped with every conceivable brand of anti-itching liquid from rubbing alcohol to aloe vera gel, we departed and I actually found some solace in a constant and agitated rotation of assorted ointments. We arrived in Vermont and eventually set our tent in the field outside Liz Macfarlane’s mountain cabin. The fact that Liz had been a previous girlfriend lent little consolation to Susan’s increasing disillusionment over our supposed vacation.
Nonetheless, the three-way conversation that night acknowledged the great humor of my unsolvable predicament. It was decided that Liz’s country doctor should be consulted in the morning. He inspected me with great empathy, and then examined a skin scraping under his microscope, informing me that I had neither poison ivy nor scabies. He suggested that it might be some form of virus and that Benadryl might give me some temporary comfort until our return home, at which point he strongly recommended making an appointment with a dermatologist. I stocked up on Benadryl and eked out a few more tenuous days until torrential rains found us immersed in our tent at 3:00 am. So concluded our enchanting Vermont excursion.
I followed he doctor's advice and promptly set up an appointment with a popular dermatologist in my locality. I had never visited such a specialist and enthusiastically took my place in the overcrowded waiting room, filling out my medical history with unswerving accuracy.
The office procedure was curious. Nurses would guide each patient into a hallway full of closet-sized cubicles, after which the solitary doctor would scurry from room to room, spending little more than 30 seconds with each patient. There was a waiting line with the cashier who was processing insurance claims and payments at an unprecedented rate. After filling out my payment forms, I used my borrowed pencil to calculate the hourly intake. I figured a conservative $3,000 an hour – an eight-hour shift clearing an easy $25,000. Leaving plenty of time for golf weekends and several flights to the Grand Caymans, two hundred working days a year totaled a clean five million. What a racket!
My turn eventually came. I was nestled in my little room where I was instructed to remove my garments and don a skimpy blue gown that tied loosely in the back. Finally the doctor came in, directing me to drop the gown and lift my arms above my head like a bank teller in a holdup. In two seconds, he blurted the prognosis “pityriasis rosea.” Positioning me onto my side, he wasted no time in swinging a large blue-bulbed lamp in proximity to my torso, then he flicked the switch.
“Stay still,” he said as he scurried away to the next cubicles. In five minutes, he returned, flipped me over onto my other side, repositioned the blue light, and vanished. The light was warm and ultraviolet. Upon his return, he beckoned the nurse. “He’s done. Pityriasis rosea,” he rifled. “P107 Cream, 8 ounce tube.” And off he went.
As I put my clothes back on, I glanced at the dozen or so inspection rooms, all of which were occupied, emanating their eerie luminous blue glow. As the nurse led me to the cashier, I asked her about the blue light. Hastily she explained that it’s rarely effective and urged me to use the cream. Confused, I asked her to write the name of my affliction on a sheet of paper. She handed me an immense tube of P107 and my handwritten diagnosis on a scrap of paper as the cashier’s window opened.
“That will be $180.00 for the office visit and $60.00 for the ointment.” Amazed, I wrote the check.
That evening, I still itched as I imparted my incredible experience to Susan. That night, we headed out to the library to return the hiking trail guides that we had signed out and I found myself straying over toward the reference books. There on the shelf was the Complete Medical Glossary & Reference – a 70-pound tome of technical dribble. I slid it off the shelf and with the tiny slip of paper in hand I flipped through the Ps.
There it was: “Pityriasis Rosea – The Dermatologist’s Delight: Thought to be one of the most misdiagnosed skin disorders in dermatology, pityriasis rosea, a bright pink rash typically originating in (but not limited to) the upper extremities, is generally misdiagnosed a minimum of three times prior to being correctly, if ever, identified. The virus, which arises typically in the spring and fall, is accompanied with extreme itching that renders the patient willing to relinquish excessive remuneration for any comfort or cure, but ironically at present there is no cure. The virus does, however, run its course in due time, generally coinciding with the eventually correct diagnosis, hence The Dermatologist’s Delight.”
Sure enough, in about a week my Pityriasis rosea did run its course and I was left with $55 worth of P107 Cream that sat wastefully on the shelf until reaching its disconcerting expiration date. In hindsight, I got off cheap, though – this story emerging from my itchless relief at the bargain rate of a mere twenty cents per word.
I was humbled by Mt. Mansfield – its legendary slopes looming over the tiny town of Stowe. The school was perched on a hillside at the knees of the mountain, somewhat isolated from the commercialism of the community. The Trapp Family Lodge was nearby, as were a hundred cozy restaurants, resorts and A-frames that awaited the annual deluge of skiers who would arrive with the first snowfall and remain until the spring thaw.
The school was Jack Handy’s vision. He had founded it as an alternative to more conventional private schools, believing that character could be built more effectively in a setting that focused on outdoor experiences such as hiking, camping and communing with nature. Students and faculty would gather in the mountains of northeastern New York for the pre-school summer trek in late August. After two weeks of navigating the mountainous terrain and canoeing Lake Champlain, dozens of weak and insecure greenhorns were miraculously transformed into confident tough mountaineers. Ten-day treks were repeated in the fall, winter and spring. The winter trek, typically to the nearby White Mountains of New Hampshire, was the most intense and treacherous.
My apartment was on the middle floor of the main school building toward the end of a long corridor that was lined with student rooms. There were more student rooms above me. Downstairs was the community room, the kitchen, the dining commons and a few small administrative offices.
The school accommodated about a hundred high school aged students. They were much different from the students at Blair. Given that there was less emphasis on discipline or traditional curriculum, the students were considerably more unruly during their out-of-class time. Skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping were encouraged. There were a few dozen makeshift shelters scattered across the hillside behind the school and after dinner, a third of the students would bundle up with their sleeping bags and backpacks and tough it up to their snowcaves and huts. It was a genuine surprise to see these same students appear in the dining commons fully refreshed at the crack of dawn for hot coffee and oatmeal.
I immersed myself in teaching. There was an active ceramics program. I did my best to learn as much common sense alchemy as possible, but clearly, some of my students knew more than I did about wheel throwing and kiln firing. I caught up quickly out of necessity.
I was able to organize a nice woodworking area using the existing maintenance shop. This was a new course offering for the school and I had a sizeable group of interested students who joined in my experimentation with lathe turnings, inlaid boxes, and primitive musical instruments.
A local writer, David Budbill, was holding a writer’s workshop and I signed up. In twelve short weeks, I produced an impressively prolific pile of immature dribble, but I did get exposed to some extraordinary contemporary writers who expanded my horizons. About ten percent of what I wrote had some redeeming value, which I suppose is par for the course.
Tom Haney was as enthralled with geodesic domes as much as I was. Prior to my arrival, he had completed the basic shell of a plywood dome. I helped him with the finishing touches that involved painting and leak-proofing the seams with a rubber-based roofing cement.
Our math instructor, Bob Paine, had initiated an independent student radio station. WMTF 91.5 FM broadcast at a meager ten watts in the valley leading down to the town of Stowe, but on clear nights the signal could reach as far as Montpelier. Our challenge was keeping the students from jeopardizing their radio broadcasting license by playing The Fish Cheer or other four letter clips buried on select rock n’ roll albums. I had my own show and even though the audience was miniscule, I loved the unbridled creativity that was possible with two turntables, a microphone, a tape machine, and a barrage of beat poetry. I would always sign on with Jeff Beck’s Diamond Dust infused with the instrumental bombardment of Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun, and I would sign off with Goodnight, Ringo’s sleepy track from The White Album. Beyond this, my radio career did not florish.
One Saturday morning, I arose at the crack of dawn to keep an early appointment with The Stowe Pottery. The owner had offered to share some of his glazing formulas with me and given my shortcoming in this area, I couldn’t pass up such a generous offer. Overnight, a half a foot of snow had fallen. In Vermont, you don’t measure snow in inches and you certainly don’t let it slow you down. I bundled up and went out to the school parking lot to get my Mustang warmed up. Instead of shoveling, I decided to back up and make a run for the road. By gaining enough acceleration, it was possible to break through the plowed snow that separated the lot from the road. This was standard Vermont procedure.
The only problem was that my back tires were spinning in a rut. It was much too early to wake anyone for a push, so I opened the driver’s door, put the car in reverse and standing with half my body outside the car, I started to rock the chassis and forth with my left leg. After a few tries, this turned out to be a bit too effective. The car lifted up and out of the ruts and took off backwards with me in tow, holding onto the car door for dear life. Since I was unable to get back in the driver’s seat to apply the needed brakes, my car plowed right into the back bumpers of not one but two cars: an MG owned by Jack Handy, and a Corvette owned by Miles Bryant. Two little sports cars with one simple blow! It took particular courage to awaken them to explain the damage that had been inflicted upon their cherished automobiles.
My car was already so mutilated with fenderbenders that my vehicle may have actually improved, but my bank account and insurance premium suffered. This occurence was one of the early indications that I would never win any awards for my driving skills.
My friend and fellow faculty member, Wolf Fulton, offered to team up with me for the annual Winter Trek. I deferred to Wolf’s better judgement as to our choice of destination, since he had been on many winter treks and I had been on none. He chose Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Garfield in the Presidential Range. This was considered easier than Tuckerman’s Ravine but still quite challenging, especially the gusty and barren section of Jefferson Pass connecting the two summits.
About nine students signed up for our trek. We had a fairly strong group with some prior experience. There were a few hiking blisters to contend with and our packet of Polaroid film had frozen, but otherwise the first half of our journey went without a hitch. As we gradually increased in elevation, the temperature dropped, the weather worsened and the winds picked up. We reached the summit of Mt. Garfield in the midst of a blizzard on our sixth day. It must have been 30º below zero up there. We found a low stone wall in which we were able to huddle for several minutes, but it was smarter to keep moving. The cold had us somewhat disoriented. In spite of the fact that all of the trail markers were buried beneath the snow, Wolf managed to thread us onto the icy windblown Jefferson Pass that arched its way over to Mt. Lincoln. The wind was so strong that it actually pushed us unwillingly on the ice in our snowshoes. When we made it to Lincoln, we were exhausted and frozen. It was too cold to stay up there and the daylight was beginning to wane. Wolf couldn’t find the exact location of the trail, but using his compass and topographic map, he determined the optimum direction. When we arrived at the edge of a 45º precipice, we decided it best that I proceed first, then the students, then Wolf sweeping up the rear. I took one step and was immediately startled that there was nothing beneath me. It was an immense snowdrift. I sank quickly, hit ground, then tumbled out of the drift falling and tumbling, falling and tumbling for two hundred feet, after which I landed in a ten-foot drift, upside down with my snowshoes overhead. My heavy pack kept me inverted and unable to move. In the fall, I had lost one of my ski poles and the inner and outer gloves on my right hand. I could feel the blood in my veins begin to freeze.
Fabien was next in line behind me. After he watched what had happened, he took a slower and safer route down to where I was. It took him several minutes to reach me. He helped remove my pack, then he removed his glove and helped me slip it onto my right hand. In the shuffle, he handed me his Accutron watch and asked me to hold it for him while he worked to set me upright. Fifteen minutes later, the whole crew was standing near us, I was upright and mobile, and we headed down the mountain as quickly as possible.
The snow and the angle of the slope made an ideal condition for snowshoeing. You could take one step and glide on the heel for twenty yards. In no time at all, we dropped a few thousand feet in elevation.
I caught up to Fabien to thank him. He replied that it was no problem, then asked for his watch. I reached in my pocket and it wasn’t there. He was very upset; so much so that he wanted to go back up the mountain to look for it in the snow. This was clearly impossible, so we hiked to our shelter and set up camp and tried to put the incident out of our minds.
The rest of our descent was without incident and in a few days we were back at the school. There Fabien informed me that the watch had been a special gift from his father, the head of a Swiss bank. It was a specially made prototype that was worth more than $1,000. I was remorseful about what had happened and wrote him a check for the full amount. This was nearly a quarter year’s salary for me. I came away financially wounded if not slightly bitter, though of course, I was glad to be alive.
Georgian Bay To Las Vegas
I had been friends with the Macfarlanes for as long as I could remember. Like all of the families in camp, they had been coming to Iron City nearly every summer for their entire lives. Liz Macfarlane was my age. She was smart and attractive and I had always been captivated by her personality. We had become pretty good friends over the years and occasionally our friendship would cross a line and try to be something more. Invariably though, for one reason or another, we would return to our friendship which was generally solid and comfortable.
At the time, Liz lived in Burlington, Vermont, which wasn’t that far from Stowe. We visited each other from time to time, but she was generally involved in a relationship when I was available and vice versa, so our intersections were quite often platonic. She was nevertheless a soulmate.
Liz was at Iron City when I arrived. She had planned a trip out west for several months and I was entertaining the idea of going with her part way. I had sold quite a few prints, plus a number of original drawings of the local surroundings, so my finances were in better shape. After nearly two weeks in Iron City, we left together in Liz’s car heading north along the top edge of Georgian Bay toward Sudbury. We racked up as many miles as possible by day and camped by night, edging our way along the North Bay to Sault Saint Marie, then up and over the endless expanse of Lake Superior. We planned to reenter the United States just below Thunder Bay.
As we approached the border, we were greeted by a rather large, overly-buxom Customs agent in a sour mood. Her grey uniform perfectly matched the color of her hair, skin and eyes.
The interior of our car was a mishmash of dishoveled sleeping bags, tent stakes, food wrappers, wrinkled clothes, sketchbooks and roadmaps. She instructed me to open the door and get out of the car, which I promptly did, after which she knelt down for a close inspection of the rug on the passenger side of the car. Miraculously, she emerged instantaneously with a tiny seed pinched between her thumb and forefinger.
“This looks like a marijuana seed to me!” she boldly blurted. Liz was ushered out of the car. We were informed that our vehicle would be impounded and that a group of Customs officials would be searching the contents thoroughly. I was assigned to a male agent who led me to a toiletless bathroom stall where I was prompted to remove my garments one by one and hand them out to the agent for his scrutiny: pants, shirt, socks, shoes. When I got down to my skivvies, I figured it might be time to come clean with the agent. I did in fact have a very small quantity of pot in a film canister and a tiny pipe, both tucked away in the front flap of my Fruit Of The Looms.
Busted! “Ya got anything else?” he threatened. If I did have anything else, it seemed it might be a good idea to let him know right then and there, but the fortunate fact was, I didn’t.
Liz made it through a similarly invasive inspection with our unpleasant female agent. Eventually, the team that was tearing the car apart came inside holding a small prescription bottle of unidentified pills from deep within Liz’s suitcase. She explained that they were just Tylenols, Benedryls, lozenges and aspirins, and that was the truth. Our credibility, however, had been tainted.
After three hours of suspicion, interrogation and processing, a fee of three hundred and ten U.S. dollars was extracted as payment in full for my indiscretion. Our impounded automobile was eventually released and our conviction documents were permanently sealed. Off we sputtered, proud citizens, heading south toward Duluth.
There was a beautiful campground near Silver Bay along the tall western cliffs of Lake Superior. There we restablished our emotional bearings, drank a bottle of wine, went swimming, and treated ourselves to a good meal.
The next morning we headed west to the small strip mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, the home of Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan). I wanted to pay tribute to Dylan and see if I could discover any local clues that might unlock some of the mystery. We stopped at a drugstore on Main Street and asked whether anyone knew where the legendary folksinger had grown up.
“Sure, Zimmerman’s place.” and they pointed us over a few blocks to an address in a small residential area. The house was typical and nondescript, painted lime green with a side door that entered a screened in porch. I sat on the curbstone next to a fire hydrant with Liz and played Love Minus Zero No Limit and It’s All Over Now Baby Blue with my autoharp and harmonica. That was sufficient.
We headed northwest to Fargo, then to Bismarck and Billings before veering south into the grandeur of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole. With our sights set on Denver, we drove south to Steamboat Springs where for some odd reason, I bought myself a Stetson hat that fit perfectly, but didn’t really suit me.
My cousin Carol lived in Denver with her family. Carol knew Liz very well from Canada. She provided a calm and relaxing oasis for us, then she drove us up to the gorge of the Green River where we rafted in the sun and the furious rapids. Several days later, we stood atop the lateral arch of the Hoover Dam with the neon lights of Las Vegas beckoning. There, I gambled for the first time in my life, losing $14 in the slots next to an endless row of pathetic overweight women depositing their hard-earned sustenance into the bottomless one-armed bandits. We said our goodbyes at the Las Vegas airport. Liz continued driving west to California and I boarded a plane to Detroit. There, sporting my new Stetson like a rhinestone cowboy, I boarded a bus for Ann Arbor where my cousin JC was firmly located. After leaving the MC5, he had done a successful stint as one of the top DJs for WKNR in Detroit, but his real passion was the music. His house had become the communal headquarters of his latest endeavor, The Mojo Boogie Band. There were amps, drums, guitars and stage equipment everywhere and a healthy hoard of band-related partiers. I stayed for two days – long enough to hear JC’s band perform their hard-edged Detroit blues at a local club, have my precious short-lived Stetson stolen from the hat rack, and temporarily bond with my charismatic cousin. I hitchhiked back to Detroit where I boarded a plane for Bethlehem. There I picked up my dented Mustang and rushed back to Stowe in time for the pre-school summer trek.
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