Last week my grandfather mailed me a letter. It arrived right on time.
I was packing for a weekend excursion to Mammoth to ski and visit some new friends. The drive was going to be long and monotonous but it looked like El Nino was about to dump all over the Sierras.
I opened BopPop’s letter and a printed note and newspaper clipping fluttered out. It was a New York Times article by Roger Cohen, “Ways To Be Free.”
“When you grew up in an unmapped, unwired world and find yourself in this one – observing panic when GPS fails or the extent of online status anxiety – you can’t help wondering if somewhere along the way freedom got lost.
As I read I could picture BopPop huddled over a pair of scissors cutting an outline around the article, tucking the newspaper clipping into an envelope. Then he shuffled to the front door to clip the envelope to his mailbox, sending it off to California.
I liked “Ways to Be Free.” It was the philosophical stuff that got me going. Freedom. Technology. Happiness. What’s the relationship there? It got my brain clicking. It also referenced Barbarian Days (one of my favorite books) and praised the author, William Finnegan, as a genuine Kerouac – a true disciple of “suck-cess.”
I tucked the newspaper clipping into by bag, loaded up on coffee and sour patch kids and hit the road.
In Mammoth I found myself bouncing around in the backseat of a Dodge Durango nicknamed “Bruce.” Our merry crew cruised along frozen back roads, dipping into potholes, hydroplaning through massive puddles. We turned right at a dilapidated, blue church and pulled into a parking lot, just as the sun began to lower herself below the horizon.
I don’t know if the world is freer than a half-century ago. On paper it is. Yet minds feel more crimped, fear more pervasive, possibility more limited, adventure more choreographed, politics more stale, escape more elusive.
I turned off my phone and stored it out of sight, deep in a backpack pocket.
We left the car and walked onto a path of wooden planks, embarking into the darkness. My senses lurched awake – my boots crunched on the frozen ground, a cold wind stung my bare knees, I clutched a wine bottle.
We arrived at our destination and began stripping off our winter coats and wool socks, crawling into the hot spring. The water was warm and smelled like sulfur. I tried to picture the magma chambers bubbling deep beneath the surface, boiling molten rock.
We stayed for two hours – passing around the red wine, shooting the shit underneath a cloudy night sky and when the bottles were light and apparently empty and our fingers had turned to raisins, we plotted a mad dash across the frozen tundra to get back to the Dodge Durango to crank the heat.
It was slow going and we fumbled to dry off and put clothes on our sticky, wet bodies. “Come on!” someone yelled as they jogged ahead, eager to be warm again. I lagged behind. Not because I wanted to be left alone but because it was dark and I was tipsy – sopping wet on the frozen tundra.
It felt good to be alone in the cold, bare-skinned and grinning. Really good. I relished the moment, stopping to stare at the mountains, my mind soaring – unrestrained and wild.
“Freedom is still out there. We all have our idea of it, the deferred dream. Your psyche builds layers of protection around your most vulnerable traits, which may be closely linked to that precious essence in which freedom resides. Freedom is inseparable from risk.”
With my wool socks tucked into my jacket pocket, I walked towards the Durango. But suddenly it dawned on me that I’d left my bathing suit back at the hot spring.
“Be right back!” I yelled, turning around, sneaky happy to be back on the dark trail.