If therefore any shall affirm the joints of elephants are differently framed from most of other quadrupeds, and more obscurely and grossely almost then any; he doth herein no injury unto truth. – Sir Thomas Brown
About two months ago a friend and I were out west of town and, like Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont, we made our way along the Pipeline Trail of the state park we were at, with walking sticks in hand. Now, there is a peculiar etiquette concerning the walking stick that one ought to always follow. First, man should only get his walking stick from the dead limbs that have fallen or will soon fall from dying trees. It is best if this stick is slightly taller than the walker but not too tall lest it becomes more of an encumbrance than a help. The height matters when on trails heavily populated by overhanging trees which produce shade and scenery but also spider webs. A stick properly used keeps one from unwittingly getting caught in one of these webs, and the walker is best served by holding the stick slightly in front as if it had a light on its end and was guiding him, and he should, now and again, cry, “Attercop! Attercop!” for added safety measure against the spiders. This done, the stick of a walker should also be relatively smooth and firm. A stick with too many protuberances may cause physical harm to any fellow companions and a flimsy walking stick may falter if one meets with sharp inclines or rocky roads. Finally, every walking stick should be placed at the head or end of the trail when the ambler is finished with it, placing it back in its natural environment from whence it came but in such a way that other travelers may one day notice and use to their own benefit. There is, of course, an etiquette for discarding your staff. One does not merely set it down or fling it away as if it was mere utility for a good walk. No. But when one returns his stick, he must, if it has served him well, proclaim some benediction over it before replacing it. Such a benediction should be thoughtful, and the best ones are witty or rhyme and rely on puns. A few humble benedictions I have heard consist of the following:
O stick! You’ve served me well. May your bark be ever better than your bite!
Stick! You have gotten me out of many a sticky situation. Be free!
Stick! If they made you into a club, I would join you!
Stick! If they made your bark into a bark, it would sail the seven seas o’er and o’er and never cease to remain afloat!
And so on. Thus, the proper etiquette for obtaining, using, and returning a good walking stick. If it was a bad walking stick, then a curse should be pronounced, it should be broken in two, and hidden from sight.
Making our way across the Pipeline Trail with two hardy sticks, my friend and I spotted wild turkey. Unable to catch any, we kept our eyes open until we at once spotted a blue object in the distance. It is very common for man to seek opportunities to both explore and discover. And so we set out to discover whatever this object happened to be, unsure if it was some type of stagnant bird or inanimate treasure. Leaving the path and using our sticks, we weaved our way in and out of pine trees, chanting “Attercop!” and keeping our eyes peeled on this object. It occurred very quickly that the object was not sentient. It remained fixed in its position as we approached. But the thing about forests is that one often backtracks or proceeds around lines of trees, rarely making a direct beeline to his destination. So with eyes fixed on the item we made our way sometimes to the left of it, other times to the right, always coming a little closer to our magnificent discovery.
My friend who accompanied me that day has often bemoaned the sad fact that he will never have the opportunity to name something. That nearly every area of land in this country has been previously trampled on is a sad fact indeed. And so in the genuine simplicity of his character, the man, some weeks later, said to me that since he cannot discover anything new, he may as well be small--as small as a mole perhaps. For then we need much less to be contented and happy. The 1200 acre state park would afford an explorer many years of discovery, if he is the size of a mere mole. The pond is a great lake that can be crossed by the bark of that walking-stick which now seems more like a limbless tree than a stick.
And the world becomes so much more dangerous. A spider bite may mean losing a limb; the majesty of the great blue heron grows into a very real terror when it soars about you like a sentient 747. The true explorer needs this element of danger if he is to have any satisfaction at the end of the day. If the element of danger is completely taken away, the wild becomes nothing more than another type of playground.
And while I am on it I must state that the smaller a man is, the happier and more contented he is. How much better if you are so insignificant that no one is actually thinking about you? If you could go through your day without worrying about what anyone thinks because you have a true view of your own worth, would you not be free from a need to be liked and accepted? But we tell our students that they are the most important beings on the planet, and then we wonder why narcissism and selfishness are so rampant. We tell our students in writing classes that they need to “look within themselves” to write well, and in doing so we create a bunch of writers who create works that are meaningful to a select few but largely useless on a universal scope. True originality and creativity come from speaking Truth in such a way that has not been done before; it comes in making oneself very small, so that he can write about everything else that has become rather large and wild.
Our exploration continued as we dodged trees, all the while convinced that we were doing something unprecedented and illegal, convinced that we were the first souls to make our way out to this area. As we neared the object, its size shrunk and the initial blue tint was discovered to have a good bit of silver and some red. The object was situated near the foot of good old pine; it had been sliced down the middle, though its oval shape still remained, and as we got close enough to take in our first true glimpse, our spirits sunk within us and we groaned, cursing the modern world. For the object which took us from our path was nothing but a Red Bull can. We, at least, rested easy that this time it was not Bud Light*
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
August 23, 2014
Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II,
After Much Delay and Vexation,
September 2, 2014
Image: "Papa's Walking Stick"
By James Rannie Swinton
Oil on Canvas, n.d.
*I say, if one is going to roam around this world and litter it with his trash, the least he can do is litter it with a higher quality beer than Bud Light. His reputation would be somewhat salvaged if it was a Guinness or a Boddingtons. Better yet if he littered his own parks with the brew of his local land. Better even if he locked himself in his house and trashed that instead of spreading his filthy disease of sloth where everyone else has to deal with it.