Monday, October 28, 2013

181. Loss of Standards, Part 2

A bright spot of blue stopped me in my tracks. I had been hiking, head-down, focused only on forward momentum. The ground was a wash of brown leaves, as the snow of winter had melted away but spring had not yet made its presence known. The only thing green on the trail so far had been rhododendrons, which muscle on in spite of whatever weather they may weather. We hiked in a muted palette. I felt like a roving boulder in my brown pants, a strangely mobile part of the landscape. This lack of color stimulation left me with a lot of time to think, which led to me coming up with all sorts of cheesy descriptions of my environment, to which you have now been subjected. Barf.

I stopped walking and squinted down at the blue thing in my path. What could it be? This did not seem to be a natural color. I hoisted up my pant legs and crouched down like the catcher at the old folks' home baseball game, groaning with the weight of my wobbly backpack. I narrowed my eyes at the mystery item, reaching out a gloved hand and gently pushing some dirt aside, like an anthropologist dusting for dinosaur bones.

My efforts were not in vain, as I unveiled a perfectly preserved blue M & M. Because it was halfway buried in the ground, I can only imagine that it had been there for at least a few days. I put it in my mouth without even thinking about it, and let myself savor the sweet, surprise treat. Lucky me! I thought, casting about to see if there were any other discarded nuggets of joy laying half-buried in the dirt around my feet.

It was like Easter, if the Easter Bunny had gotten addicted to playing Tetris on his iPhone and forgot to get any chocolate eggs until the night before the holiday, and when he went to the store, they were completely cleaned out of candy and the only thing left was one bag of regular M & Ms, and he had to sprinkle them far and wide around the world, which means there would be only one M & M for every 100 square miles. It's okay, Easter Bunny. I've been there.

Otto once explained to me that the difference between types of hikers can be easily distinguished based on their reaction to finding a dropped M & M on the trail. This is funny to me because it's absolutely true, and it also gives the impression that lost M & Ms is a big enough occurrence as to be used as a litmus test for hikers. The company should change its slogan to: Melts in your mouth, not on the ground even after it's been left there for several days/weeks/months.

Reactions to finding a lost M & M, as explained by Otto:

1. Day Hiker: Will notice the M & M, feel sorry for the person who dropped it, and keep hiking.
2. Weekend Hiker: Will pick up the M & M, briefly consider eating it, look around furtively and may actually eat it ONLY if no one else is around to see their shameful behavior. They will then scurry away as quickly as possible, pretending like it never happened.
3. Long Distance Hiker: Will eat the M & M without hesitation (even if there is a passing boy scout troop watching in horror) and immediately look around for more discarded candy.

This seems so normal to me now that I almost didn't even consider writing it up as a blog post regarding the lowering of standards. However, I realized that you simply CANNOT USE this same litmus test to gauge how comfortable people are in other environments. For example, it is helpful to remind myself of the place I lived before I went on the trail: New York City. I like to imagine myself walking down Canal Street with thousands and thousands of strangers all going who-knows-where and dropping god-knows-what on the sidewalk. And there's that open fish market with all of the live crabs just crawling all over the place, in between the store with the full duck carcasses hanging in the window and the place that sells fake Prada handbags stuffed with I <3 NY t-shirts.

And there, in the puddle of water pooling underneath the Home Depot paint buckets teeming with live crustaceans that just want to die, maybe there would be a dropped M & M.

Reactions to finding this lost M & M:

1. Tourist: Will take notice of the M & M, find it disgusting, and use it as an example to tell their friends back home about how gross the city is.
2. Man who is in NY frequently for business: Will kick the M & M to the side to get it out of their line of site.
3. New Yorker: Will simply not notice it. Ever.

Just because someone becomes comfortable somewhere doesn't mean that their standards start to slip away. This is a trait unique to the trail. Part of becoming comfortable with the life of the trail involves acting really gross sometimes and not even realizing it. Because we have to carry all of our things, whenever there is something surprising and special, we don't really realize how dirty it might be. Furthermore, I like to distinguish that things on the trail are dirty, because they are just covered in natural dirt from the Earth. Whereas things in a city are filthy, because they are covered in a cocktail of chemical filth from every echelon of horror.  This difference makes me feel better.

I think it's like turning into a neanderthal.

It's pretty great.

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Like the thought of Hansel and Gretel hiking the AT, dropping M&Ms along the way to get home, then noticing all these white blazes. "Hey...wait...we could be eating these M&Ms..."