There I was, enjoying the daylights out of these long, long days of June, reading the local paper in the backyard of my urban cabin, when a headline caught my eye:
It’s been a while but here we have our first sighting of the Wildman for 2013, timed perfectly to the first super-moon of summer.
Ain’t that just like Coyote?
The Wildman has been lurking on the outskirts of our civilization since the very beginning of tamed society, usually appearing as figments and fancies of the imagination: centaurs, minotaurs, mermaids and werewolves, shamans turning into eagles, hunters becoming the hunted, husbands waking up as buffalo, bear or antelope…
…doomed souls who answer too frequently the call of the wild: Merlin and the Green Knight, Tarzan and Mogwai, Santa Claus, the shipwrecked kids from The Lord of the Flies and, my favorite, the half-man half-plant superhero called Swamp Thing.
But it’s wrong to pigeonhole the Wildman as pure fiction. Sometimes, he is as real as you and me, right there in black and white.
That’s Joseph Knowles, one of the most famous Wildmen in American history. That’s a publicity shot, when he made his triumphant return to Mother, and civilization, after spending two months, living like a primitive, in the Maine Woods near Bear Lake.
He turned wild in August 1913.
Surrounded by the New England mass media of the day, he stripped down to his jockstrap, took a few drags of a cigarette, said a hearty “See you later, boys!” and jumped, head-first and barefoot, into the wilds.
According to his memoirs, he constructed a little lean-to shelter in the pine woods, learned how to forage and hunt and fish, how to build fire, carve weapons and make clothing.
Before leaving the rat-race, he was an illustrator and cartoonist, so he also spent the free days observing the College of Nature, as he liked to call it, drawing the placid, pastoral scenes on the backsides of birch bark.
It was a story that captivated the nation back in 1913.
Have you ever noticed that stories of the Wildman, no matter what’s happening in the bigger world, always make it through the scuttlebutt, always seem to get some sort of headline?
According to the press, Wildman has legs.
Now, let’s see what he’s doing over there in California.
A 56-year old man with long wild hair and beard tossed a spear at a passing vehicle in Sacramento, California.
A caller told police that a man standing on the road had hurled the spear at the vehicle. The spear then became stuck in the vehicle’s front fender.
It was not clear why the wild man threw the spear.
Ha! Not clear why? Open your eyes, Reuters! The answer is very clear.
It’s called traffic, man.
And sometimes it’s a doozy.
Cars and more cars everywhere you turn, major roadways closed, construction around every corner, watching out for bicyclists and pedestrians and jaywalkers, bumper to bumper all along the highways, nothing but volume up and down the Roosevelt Boulevard all the way from Academy to the Blue Route…
…it ain’t easy being cooped up in a sweltering car, inching forward to the next detour or the next red light.
If you got any bit of Wildman in you, it’s horrible…just a bunch of expensive cages sitting still on the hot asphalt, pumping exhaust and burning fuel, going nowhere.
And as far as trees go, there’s not much to see along most highways…
It’s enough to make anyone batty.
That’s why I keep a few road-side trees on my mental map, just a few notable and rare trees always on my radar, sturdy and dependable landmarks right along the roads and highways that make the slog through traffic just a little more bearable.