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“Knock knock!” called the Resident Carpenter through my bedroom door, far too early on a Saturday morning, “Wanna go pick chanterelles?”

Uhm…in the wilderness? Where there are bears that rip off your limbs and eat you and angry mooses that run you through with their antlers and army ants that swarm over you until you are a mass of shiny black fury, chitterchewing down to clean white bone like some whacked-out Indiana Jones movie?


The RC and Brenda-the-Physical-Therapist are in cahoots, having decided that anything that gets me out into Wilderness is great for strengthening The Leg and edging me that much closer to Normal.

The Road to Normal

I am determined to become a Normal, someone who just gets up and walks or runs wherever. Who thoughtlessly parks in something other than handicapped spaces because they can. Who doesn’t wince if The Leg lands wrong, and doesn’t wonder when those 40 extra wheelchair pounds are going to magically disappear. Who goes hiking and camping and mountaineering, swims in lakes and fishes and camps and probably skydives and skis and such.

Normal is an attainable goal. I don’t particularly need or want to achieve SuperNormal, which is where the Resident Carpenter lives.

SuperNormals perform great feats of athletic prowess. They do exhausting and dangerous sporting events for fun. You see them on the Wide World of Sports, deadlifting trucks out of the mire in the Yukon to rescue grateful polar bears.

They crawl along trails examining wolf poop. “Uh-yup, mama wolf with a limp on the right hind foot, three cubs, one wearing a hat, ran along here two hours ago, heading east. Carrying a Nieman-Marcus bag and a box of Godiva.” 

Nathan pretty much grew up in the wilderness–one reason he now runs around with William/Willow-the-squirrel dancing on his shoulder–and doubtless would be living there now were it not for the exigencies of the modern world. His understanding of animals and woodlands and waterways and the way they all think is amazing.

His understanding of me is a bit hazy. I’m about as thoroughly cityfolk as it gets and have a hard time picturing Wilderness as anything but a gorgeous horror movie. This puzzles him; I suspect he thinks that, once I’m actually IN Wilderness, I’ll succumb to its charms and, like him, become one with Nature.

Even in my prior Normalness that was about as likely as a goat on rollerskates. And now, at my mobilemost, I walk like a drunken sailor, which makes this even less likely.

Or so I thought. One really good medical catastrophe was enough to convince me that my time on this planet is finite, Wilderness is part of this planet, and I ought to take advantage of it while I’m here.

If I’m going to be a real Normal, I need to “get” Wilderness. Embrace camping and fishing and hiking. Make friends with a bear or something.

Actually, I like hiking. As long as you exclude stinging insects and teeth, I’m very fond of trees. Besides, there’s a SuperNormal living in my house and, if you’re going to develop a taste for Wilderness, they make pretty good guides. I’ve got actual hiking boots, 4-wheel drive SUV, and everything.

First time off-trail in…

So that Saturday gave me another first: I went mushroom hunting in the woods. It was the first time I’d abandoned a paved trail in, well, in several presidential administrations. We went into the mountains, past the logging roads, and into the forest with only a cane.

OK, it was kinda glorious. The RC carefully blazed a path for me, beating down the clinging blackberry vines that kept tripping me up, moving aside branches, watching for holes, calling out interesting finds.

I poked and prodded and mostly photographed. When I got tired, he found stumps and fallen logs for me to sit, pulled up ‘shrooms and brought them back for my inspection.

I had ample problem-solving opportunities. Normals and SuperNormals, even with the best intentions, simply don’t see the obstacles in my path: The vines that sneakily creep ’round my boots and rein me in, the slightly rocking stones and twigs that head south at critical moments to send me flying, the lack of handholds for someone used to grab-bars wherever there’s an incline.

Figuring out how to take the next step could sometimes take a couple of minutes…or ten. But I did it. And the lovely thing about the RC is that he understands my fierce need for independence, one of only a handful who do. He keeps an eye (and ear) peeled for signs of trouble, and smooths the road ahead, but otherwise leaves me to my struggles and victories unless I ask for help.

Offtrail in the forest, that translates to Nathan roaming within earshot but out of sight, while I slowly plot each step. I’m a cynic, though, so after one near-calamity I can’t help thinking that the only reason Nathan invited me on this trek is that I’m the perfect Wilderness companion: In case of bear attack, EVERYone can run faster than me.

Hello, Mr. Bear. I’m Cynthia, your blue plate special for the day.

On the other hand, SuperNormals like the Resident Carpenter would either wrestle a bear to the ground and skin it with their bare hands, or invite it to live in our backyard. Clearly, Nathan doesn’t need an ursine amuse bouche.

The birds and squirrels chitter and call. Ferns drip. The bark is very very orange. There are all shades of green and blue and grey. I wish I’d brought the good camera instead of just a phone. An elk barks.

Did you know elks barked?

We found fungi, lots of fungi. Not a lot of chanterelles, but some. Boletes. Plenty of LBMs, ‘shroomer parlance for Little Brown Mushrooms, the ones that aren’t really edible but grow all over the place. And amanitas, which are poisonous.

I didn’t know you could find so very many fungi in so many colors. I studied them in college during my brief stint as a mycology major and was fascinated by them–especially now that they’re discovering the parallels with biological forest networks and technological networks–but it’s incredible seeing them in person.

OK, Nathan, you’ve made your point: I need to get outside more, and get to know Wilderness. Brenda talked me into buying real trekking sticks, and I’ve got waterproof hiking trousers and gloves now. I’m ready.

Although I may change my mind the first time I meet a bear.