I'm back from vacation and suitably refreshed in mind and body and spirit(s).
This year, our trip to Schuylkill County began with a stop-over in the idyllic Hegins Valley to visit with my childhood friend at her mother's sister's house (that's two degrees short of Kevin Bacon's aunt's cousin's dogwalker) and lounge in her pool and stuff ourselves with ham sandwiches and Middleswarth barbecue potato chips. My good friend and hobo, Jor Jazaar, joined us on his way through hobo-ing toward Wilkes-Barre, and let me tell you, there's just nothing like giving your young children the perception-altering and horizon-widening experience of hanging out with a honest-to-goodness hobo. Ever since Mr. Jazaar has become a part of my children's lives, they've learned that homelessness and a person's choice to live simply and rely on less does not necessarily mean that person is a) without "human value" as defined predominantly by participation in consumer culture, b) immoral, or c) insane.
My kids have also learned how to hop a freight train, smoke a stogie, and fish barely used shoes out of dumpsters, so they should be all set for fourth grade Social Studies. Hanging out with a hobo is like un-schooling for anarchists.
All that said, Jor Jazaar is a hobo with a blog - a hoblog? - so he hasn't entirely turned his back on the 21st century, and from there the lesson in moderation in all things: Sure it's grand and just to tear down at the materialism and even the technologies that sometimes work to separate ourselves from ourselves and from all humanity, but let's not get too crazy all at once. For instance, Jor Jazaar also has a laptop and a cell phone. However, instead of getting picky about just who can or can't rightfully call themselves a hobo, I think it's the definition of "hobo" that needs expanding, don't you? Let's not get particular about pork pie hats and the fact that our favorite hobo is less likely to be caught heating up a can of beans for dinner and is instead much more likely to be seen sitting down to a plate of quinoa and a mug of green tea.
He's more of a Metrohobo.
By the way, that photo was nicked from the Internets and is not (yet) Hobo Jor Jazaar. It's just another funny, more ornery hobo.
Our second day of vacationing was spent hiking up the mountain behind my mom's house to pick blueberries.
I have no idea what the difference between huckleberry and blueberry is, and oddly, Wikipedia is no help on this matter. My mother insists that huckleberries are simply the feral relatives of cultivated blueberries, but I'm not so sure. Hobo Jor Jazaar only pondered Mark Twain's choice of Huckleberry Finn over Blueberry Finn, commenting that one sounded more folk-heroish and the other moreso a great name for a breakfast cereal character. Oh, if only I knew a yonko horticulturist named Kenny to clarify the differences between huckleberries and blueberries!
Back when I was a kid, picking huckleberries went something like this:
- Dad announces that it's July and that last week during his walk up the mountain, the berry bushes were loaded along the pole line (i.e. a huge swath of land cut through the mountains over which electrical wires are run along honking big poles) and gosh gee wouldn't it be swell to go pick some berries as a family outing.
- Kids yell "Yipee!" and mom gathers buckets.
- Kids pile into back of pickup truck and dad proceeds to barrel up the side of the rocky mountain while the buckets bounce around in the back of the truck like loose cannonballs, and the kids are slapped alongside the head by sapling branches and sticker bushes.
- Dad stops truck on a precarious incline and kids get out and start scrambling over rocks, throwing rocks, slipping down rocks, and banging the buckets along the rocks. Mom and dad set about picking berries.
- Kids pick berries. Kids eat berries. Kids pick berries. Kids spill berries. Kids get to pee in the woods. Kids eat berries not peed on. Kids spill more berries.
- Repeat for five hours in the boiling July sun until mom has picked enough huckleberries to fill back of pick-up truck.
As a kid, after about the first fifteen minutes of this routine, I was hating picking huckleberries. But what could I do? I was up the mountain, it was hot, bringing a water bottle was considered a pansy-assed show of weakness and so prolonged activity other than sitting and picking berries was intuitively prohibitive, and my parents were astoundingly and blissfully deaf to any complaining or whining.
And so, at the age of about 7, I had my first of many experiences with the mind-clearing selflessness and annihilation of desire brought about by enforced ascetic meditation. Frankly, it stunk. Even for an era before melanoma and the highly publicized child-snatcher craze, my parents took the whole "Leave No Child Inside" thing way too far.
Of course, this was an exercise in nature literacy and meditative selflessness that I thought my children should experience, and so on Wednesday afternoon, me, my two older kids, and Hobo Jor Jazaar headed up the mountain and into the distant graying skies.
Normally, I wouldn't bring my kids out in nature when I have Doppler radar and the Internets and Weather.com all keeping me abreast of any trending severe weather that may or may not wash my way and crash around me and keep me indoors waiting for it to happen. But because my mother's house is currently without Internet, you actually have to wait until the top of each hour to get a television weather report that covers half the state, and it's a report that from June through September unvaryingly limits any daily prediction to "Eh. Might rain, might not."
So with only the spirit gods to guide us, I asked out loud, "Will it rain or not?" Hobo Jor Jazaar took a look at the sky, squinched up his eyes, shrugged his shoulders and gave essentially the same prognostication as the local weatherman: "Naw. Maybe. Naw."
We didn't get to barrel up the side the rocky road in a pick-up truck and tear through scrub oak, but I did try to keep the kids at a brisk trot over the rockiest patches, just so the journey had the same bracing effect as I remember.
And although I did slather my kids in sunscreen and deigned to allow some beverages and victuals, as a consolation, they did have to maneuver more trash and broken glass than back in my day. On the other hand, instead of the mind-clearing effects of being in the great outdoors without man-made media adversely diverting their thoughts to things other than the berries and the bears, they did have reading material in the way of beer bottle labels and the words "Shit Happens" spray-painted across a grand large rock at the head of the trail.
In the end, however, they did get to pick berries and spill berries and eat berries right off the bushes, and it's amazing how the whining and complaining gets lost along the mountain ridge and the sound diminishes when there aren't four walls to bounce off and no grown-up readily acknowledging the lamentations and supplications of "I'm bored" or "I'm tired" or "I heard a growl over there in the bushes" or "I don't even like huckleberries to begin with." Eventually, the whining died down and their tummies were full and finally they got around to staring at rocks, chanting mantras to the insects, and really beginning to get a grip on the The Four Noble Truths.
- Between Mom's idea of fun and my idea of fun lies the definition of suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment to worldly possessions such as air-conditioning and cushy chairs and Nintendo DS.
- The cessation of suffering is possible, but not until your mom says so.
- The path to the cessation of suffering is lined with stupid berries.
Meanwhile, I was blissfully lost in meditation, sitting on a tree stump, picking another quart.
We picked about three quarts of huckleberries altogether and then headed back down the trail, the first dark storm clouds riding up through the valley. My children, normally worried about such things as being struck dead by lightning or being eaten by wild bears, were, I think, just too wiped out to even care.
The trek up the hill, the day in the sun, the unanswered complaining, the humidity and impending downpour, the introduction to new swear words painted on rocks, the hobo quoting Twain, the hours peering down into tiny green shrubs, getting stuck in sticker bushes, searching to find plump berries to pick and eat and eat and eat and eat, and then the bugs and the chanting and the mother who just didn't seem to care...all successfully worked in concert as a sort of enforced refreshing of oneself in mind and body and spirit through rigorous relaxation.
And isn't that what summer vacation is all about?