Monday, February 27, 2006

Urinating on Wildlife

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t like to camp. This seemed an injustice to me until I tagged along with my friends’ families a couple of times and came to the realization that I, too, didn’t like to camp. There are a lot of reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that I feel the great outdoors gets obnoxious after awhile. Sure, I like nature and forests and hills and dells and whatnot, but it’s a relationship that requires some distance and a great deal of time apart. A few hours communing with mother earth is all I usually need, and then it’s right back to the paved and filthy city, with its indoor plumbing, ethnic restaurants, and foo-foo coffee drinks. I understand why people like to go camping, I just don’t share their enthusiasm.

One of the earliest hints that this form of recreation wasn’t for me came when I was still in grade school. It was towards the end of summer break and my friend Adam invited me to go off into the woods with his mom and dad. During the daylight hours, it was pretty cool. We got to eat a whole bunch of hotdogs, muck around in a smelly swamp, and ride our bikes in circles until we wanted to throw up. Thinking back on it, I guess the campfire was alright too. Kids always like to light things on fire and I was no exception. While the adults droned on interminably about the allure of the wilderness and the peace of the countryside, Adam and I were rolling unopened pop cans into the blaze to see if they’d blow up and attacking each other with flaming S’mores.

My problems started when the fire died out. Adam’s parents shooed us into our tent, told us to be quiet, and retired to their camper. I was unnerved. I had never slept on the ground before. My sleeping bag was itchy and smelled like our cat. It wasn’t warm enough and what if it rained? There would be just a thin layer of plastic protecting us from the storm. It didn’t seem like enough. And what if it was a lightning storm? A tree could get knocked right on top of us. We would then, I had to assume, die. I didn’t worry about dying in my warm, dry bed in St. Paul. Such things simply didn’t happen. Nor did was I ever concerned about a bear mauling me, a moose goring me, or a band of rural Satanists kidnapping me for a virgin sacrifice.

Adam, by that time already a seasoned camper, fell asleep right away, leaving me to my anxieties. I mean, what about depraved, inbred hermits with hooks for hands? Those were still a concern, weren’t they? And wolves! Didn’t wolves go foraging at night? Shit, I hadn’t even thought about wolves? Why had I agreed to come in the first place? Why had I volunteered myself to be eaten by wolves? Goddamn it, why wasn’t I back in the beautiful, safe city where there weren’t any fucking wolves or depraved, inbred hermits with hooks for hands?

I worked myself into quite a state. Before long, I had to pee. This only made me worse. I was a prissy lad: there was no way I could find my way to the outhouse in the sick sort of darkness they have out there and the prospect of just letting it go in the open air was deeply unappealing. There were insects out there, after all, insects that might just take the opportunity to creep up my urethra and render me sterile for life. And, for all I knew, I might just brush up against some poisonous plant that would cause my penis to wither up and fall off. I was still a child, but I was old enough to know that it would soon become my most treasured body part. It seemed unreasonable to expose it to the cruelties of the natural world.

Still, I needed to go. It only got worse and worse. Soon I was thrashing around in my sleeping bag and I could tell that Adam was stirring. Just get it over with, I told myself, and I marshaled all my courage. I got up, grabbed the flashlight Adam’s dad had lent us, and unzipped the tent. For a moment after, I was staggered by the pure and utter night out there. Unlike night in the city, which is electric and purplish, this was night for real: unbroken black all around. I tiptoed out into it, my unease defeated by my bladder. With the flashlight’s yellow beam to guide me, I shuffled over to a nearby grove of trees. Before I did anything, I turned off the flashlight. I wanted to be modest, true, but I also didn’t want any serial killers roaming the woods to know where I was.

What followed then was great relief followed by an even greater concern when, halfway through this unusually long voiding process, something on the ground started to hiss at me. I turned on the flashlight again and that’s when I saw a very angry and surprised raccoon. It was rearing up on its hind legs, baring its fangs at me. The hair on its head was soaked, which gave it a strange, altogether evil appearance. I didn’t look for long though: I let out the mother of all little boy screams and ran away. I don’t know how I found my way back to the tent, but I leapt through the flaps, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and laid there trembling, waiting for the raccoon to take its revenge.

“What happened?” Adam asked.

“I just peed on a raccoon,” I said.

“You peed on a raccoon?”

“I peed on a raccoon.”

“You peed...on a raccoon,” he said, and then he was asleep again, leaving me there alone with my panic. Sure, the raccoon hadn’t torn my throat out yet, but it was probably just biding its time, gathering its raccoon allies, and waiting for an opportune moment to strike. I knew how raccoons worked. They were vicious. They were the worst of the rodents. Plus, they carry rabies, so even if it didn’t kill me right out, I still be doomed to die a lingering, foaming-at-the-mouth death. How horrible the world is, I thought, how filled with horrible creatures that hide in the dark. I wanted nothing to do with it. I laid awake until almost dawn, convinced that sleep would only make me easier prey.

And that wasn’t even the worst thing. The worst thing was that I still had to go.