Who am I? That’s a question we all ask ourselves from time to time. Usually, it arises in connection with a fork in life’s road: a new job, a new love, a new home… The list is as long as it is varied. But every now and then the question assumes immediate, practical importance. A while back, Farwell went over the ‘bars of his bike. He wasn’t going very fast at the time — 20 mph or thereabouts — but he landed hard, scrubbing off much of one cheek on the asphalt and ripping an eyelid in the process. These were the least of his problems, however. Notwithstanding his helmet, his brain‑housing group took most of the impact, and he lay unconscious in the road for several minutes.
The real trouble began when he came to. For one thing, he couldn’t see. Blood obscured the vision in his “good” eye. But that wasn’t his worst problem. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember his name. Who am I? he asked himself. And answer came there none. Nor did he have any idea where he was, or why he was lying in the road, surrounded by bits of broken bicycle.
Luckily, Farwell’s story had a happy ending. After several more minutes, during which he staggered around more or less aimlessly, the fog that had settled over his wits began to lift. He remembered who he was. He found his cell phone (and miracle of miracles, the cell phone found a network). And he got himself to hospital, where a nimble‑fingered surgeon stitched his torn eyelid back in place. Then, over the next several weeks, his face healed. But his predicament during those first few minutes after regaining consciousness was a salutary reminder. Every time any of us ventures off the beaten track, we’re gambling with fate, and if we lose the bet, we may be unable to answer even the simplest questions about ourselves. This could be more than embarrassing.
It’s something I often think about. With millions of acres of well‑watered, densely forested public land almost on my doorstep, I have a wide choice of places to explore. So I make the most of my good fortune by straying far from the madding crowd. I leave the popular, publicized destinations to the folks who don’t have time to pioneer. Pack canoe, bicycle, and compass give me the freedom of the hills, a freedom denied once‑a‑year holiday‑makers with a schedule to keep and a long drive home to look forward to. But the freedom that I enjoy isn’t free. It carries a hefty price tag. If I get into trouble, and if I happen to be alone at the time, I can’t rely on someone coming down the trail (or over the portage) in the next few minutes. Nor can I rely on cell phone coverage. I also know I might be unable to give a good account of myself should a stranger find me. I might not even be able to remember my name.
And I do enough solo wandering for this concern to weigh heavily, particularly with friends and family. I take reasonable steps to keep the odds on my side, of course. I expect that things will go badly wrong now and then, and I prepare for those times. I stay on the qui vive, too, even when I’m on my home waters. But this may not be enough. All activities involve an irreducible element of risk, and nemesis delights in confounding any mortal whose pride outstrips her prudence.
That being said, what else can I (or anyone) do? … Read more…
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