HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 1, No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 1 No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Trip Home
Brandt Morgan
[Brandt Morgan (who you all know from the Tracker Association and previous articles) wrote this letter to us after a visit to the Tracker Farm.  We thought you would enjoy reading it.  Brandt is also the co-author of Tom's new survival series of handbooks by Berkley Books.  The first in the series "Wilderness Survival Skills" will be out in the spring.]

Dear Tom, Judy, Frank, Karen, Craig, Eric, Lauri, Joe, Paul, Tommy, dogs, cats, horses, owls, woodchucks, opossums (road kills included, rest their souls), weasels, deer, ants, turtles, ticks, blackbirds, and other assorted wildlife in the vicinity of Tom Brown's maniacal menagerie,

This letter's been hanging around for quite a while, done but not quite finished.  So now, two weeks out of date, I send it on its way.

As I say, it was a real jolt to drop down into Seattle and take up life where I left off (with some notable exceptions which I won't discuss).  To fill you in on the mundane history of my homeward expedition, I got bumped from the first flight and managed to get book for a continental cruise out of Kennedy at 6:30 p.m.  It was a sure thing, they said -- seat and all.  So I hopped a shuttle to Kennedy.  The bus threaded its way through Sunday beach traffic, passing bums and picnickers lazily clinging to kitestrings in the afternoon sun.  Ever so gradually it circled around the towers of New York City, offering whiffs of salt air from the Atlantic as it homed in on the world's greatest skystation.  From quite a distance I could see the steel cigars nosing their way into the sky, hot on each other's tails.  But the Pine Barrens are slim pickings in some ways.  Right, Joe?  Ha! Ha!

It took almost two hours to reach the airport, but soon enough I was sealed into one of those cigars myself, staring out the window toward a squadron of no less than nine jet aircraft of varying sizes (from Lears to DC-10s) all lined up for takeoff.  A whole family of steel-winged monsters shimmering in the sun.  Ours was one of the big birds, and it left the ground more reluctantly than I had hoped, inspiring silent incantations to the Great Spirit.  Then, on the fringe of the Atlantic, it did a series of spectacular 360s around the Big Apple, corkscrewed up to 39,000 feet, and leveled off for the long haul.

God, what a flight!  Feeling no less fortunate than a space traveler, I glued my eyes to the window for the better part of five and a half hours.  I interrupted my personal survey of the Earth Mother's complexion only for quick gulps of coffee, mouthfuls of veal and chocolate cake, glimpses of the more exciting scenes from "Chariots of Fire", periodic journal writing, and occasional exclamations to my fellow passenger.  He was a red-bearded medical researcher who had done some landmark work on the physiological effects of placebos and written a 500-word article on it for Psychology Today, for which he'd been paid a dollar a word.

"Easiest money I ever made", he said.  "After that, I got to thinking I might be in the wrong business."  I reassured him it was only a fluke.  I also asked for a quick synopsis of his findings and he said that placebos have a measurably positive effect on pain reduction.  Stress, pain, and the belief that the medicine will work combine to make the body produce a substance that acts like morphine.

But all this is beside the point.  Outside was a kaleidoscope of water, clouds, earthscapes, colors, and reflections that somehow made the eight-mile-high action on the movie screen seem ludicrous.  Here are a few paltry descriptions of the visual treats.  I inhaled along with my veal and pepsi:

"Cruising at 39,000 feet, northwest of Duluth, Minnesota -- about halfway home in this airy, globe-encircling envelope.  We're chasing the day and losing the race ... A huge thunderhead below, mushrooming like a hydrogen bomb, cascading outward like a raging avalanche ... We push our way through a pink-stained sky above a landscape of checkerboard green.  Beautiful, deep, groaning greens. I'd always thought of North Dakota as a parched land ... Ah, the Missouri River -- there's the answer!

"Seems like I can't take a plane flight without imagining what it would be like to spread my wings and float down to Mother Earth from such heights. What an inspiring last leap that would be -- so carefree as one dropped through the clouds. (Well, up to a point, anyway.) The clouds, those milky puffballs, are floating with my thoughts. Thoughts of this sphere sailing so gaily through outer space; thoughts of how precious life really is, and how it ought to be savored like tea and incense beside a rich swamp.

"Gary stayed over at Tom's farm for a couple of days. Said it was the weather. Can't help but think it was partly his reluctance to release the spirit of the Pine Barrens. I see him hunched by the fire, a bulky figure wrapped in wool, alone, savoring the warmth of the coals in front of the barn. I see him on his motorcycle, too, burning up the road to Colorado, feeling the wind in his face, living with no tomorrow ...

"Now the clouds are like waves. Great undulating rollers on an ocean of cotton. And beneath them the green folds of the Montana Rocky Foothills. Rivulets thread their way through the mountains in almost explosive patterns. The earth's circulatory system finally seen from afar by a displaced corpuscle. Reminds me of Bill Foster, the old mathematician I met ten years ago on the Crest Trail, talking about getting to know the country through its veins .

"Sun glints off the leading edge of the wing. That wonderful plate of steel and rivets that holds us aloft actually fills up more than half the view. The sun shines like a red fluorescent ball. It seems to be hanging there waiting for us, goading us on, enjoying the chase. Gray-brown flatlands show up now through a thick haze that makes the earth nearly featureless as pressurized passengers (many of them wired with plastic earphones) belt drinks and "Chariots of Fire".

"Snake River Canyon, a crack in dried mud.. The Idaho Rockies -- deep bowls spiraled with snow. Glacier-carved cirques and horns, knife-edged ridges sweeping northward to Canada ...

"Roll on, mighty Columbia, roll on! Darkness descends as the river snakes north. Now the Cascade billows begin, roiling up in huge gray clumps. Cumulous mushroomheads salute the last of the day with blasts of pink and red. I look out to see varied strata. Wide, deep blue of space, fiery horizon, cloud mantle, cold steel, mist mountains. Playgrounds of the gods. And there, to verify the thought, is a fun-loving squadron of cumulo-fantastic shroom-shaped Columbia peppercorns bouncing and scudding across the sky ...

"Wild Cascade country. The descent begins. Jagged mountains, deep chasms, swirls of ice and snow, memory-packed rilles and valleys, steaming cauldrons of beauty and power. This is the rumbling home of the avalanche lily. There's Mount Baker off in the distance. In my mind's eye I can see the Coleman Glacier licking its flank like a great tongue with hide as tough as elephant skin. And there's ice cream cone Rainier, glinting ghostly from porthole to porthole until the plane drops back into the soggy sponge of Puget Sound country and finally comes to rest among the twinkling lights of Seattle."

Well, that is a taste of the journey, but there were other aspects, too. For instance, throughout the flight I frequently pestered my fellow passenger, the doctor, who for some reason kept closing his eyes. ("Look at that! My God, do you see that CLOUD? Christ, it looks like a hydrogen bomb blast! ... Hey, sorry to wake you but I thought you might want to see the Missouri River -- it's glinting in the sun down there ... Jeeesus, those are the BADLANDS down there .. (yawn!) ... OK, I'll let you know when we get to Montana... .. Hey, you're gonna FREAK when you see the Cascades in the sunset. You're from California, you've never seen anything like this. You won't believe it!"

Normally, I wouldn't have been quite so obnoxious. But, you see, something got into me in New Jersey. It's hard to trace it back. It might have been when I bumped my head on the roof of the Land Cruiser as it leaped into mid-air along the road to Good Medicine Waters. It might have been in Good Medicine Waters itself, where a measure of contentment and self-control were swept away with the current. Then again, it might have been the effect of being buried to the nostrils in warm muck and wondering whether skin can sprout green orchid tubes, or burst into golden boils.

On the other hand, it might have been on the farm, where any number of events could have triggered a temporary insanity. The pre-dawn flutter of swallows searching for a way out of the loft. Turquoise-bodied dragon-copters raking insects from the sky. Spinning around under the stars, tethered to the wings of an owl. Thrashing dumbly through the oats with Dexter in quest of deer. Gallumphing in the fields with Tommy and the frogs. The jeep-light sight of a grown man hunched bare-assed in the middle of a raging river, yelling, "I GOTTA FEEL THE POWER!". A sinewy roof repairman climbing a mountain of hot slate toward a pair of airborne hawks. The arousing hugs of shapely women (notice I didn't say what kind of shape -- Ha! Ha!). The mountains of food consumed. The replusively hairy, ratlike feet of a crippled, hunchback hypochondriac. The insane rantings of Tom Brown, Jr. about the importance of keeping an eye peeled for rabbits and raccoons while gulping a burger with fries and concentrating on blonde hair and hindsight.

Yes, my friends, these things can have an effect on the mind. I left none too soon, I suspect, to readjust to my natural habitat, for Seattle has not seemed quite the same since my little sojourn. Far too tame. Far too civilized. Far too nice and proper for my liking. What I need now is to hear the screech of barn owls, the declarations of frightened frogs, the squeal of subterranean whistle pigs, or just one calm, rational voice saying, "Let's get crazy!".

WILDNESS, my friends, that is what is missing here. Wildness, rape, red headbands, mystic warriors, hopeless dreamers. But don't worry. Somewhere, somehow, I'll manage to get enough ... until we meet again.

Love to All,

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