We pulled my mom's '64 Chevy into the dry chaparral and each grabbed a grocery bag as we approached the rocky precipice that towered above us. I clutched at manzanita branches and sandpapery granite boulders as I scrabbled up the steep mountainside, trying not to drop the bag or scrape my knee. I paused at a small ledge which featured a rope tied between two trees, a cowbell dangling in the middle. My diminutive size meant I was the only one who could stand there and get past without "tripping the wire" and clanging the rusty bell. I waited for my mom, who got the bell clanging, and we rounded a pine strewn rocky knoll together, and found ourselves at a sandy alpine plateau.
A wolf hybrid froze in his tracks as a lanky man in torn stained jeans and wild crazy long hair turned our way, his scraggly beard wiggling as he mumbled a greeting. I dropped the bag and cans rolled past me as I ran into his arms. My dad embraced me, the smell of campfire, cigarettes, dust, and sweat tickled my nostrils yet made me smile. My parents seemed tense and awkward with one another as they often did, yet you could still see a spark of love in their eyes as they watched me play with the dog. I wanted to stay there forever, climbing rocks and staring into the campfire with my dad and my dog, but we had to get home before it was too dark to navigate our way to the car, and besides, my dad told me the boogeyman would be out soon, so we sad our goodbyes and left.
I think everyone has a part of their life which they find normal but others find abnormal, things we realize are indeed abnormal once we grow up. It wasn't until my late twenties that I realized this abnormality, the reality that while growing up, there was a period of my life where not only did I live with a single mother, but I had a father who battled homelessness. I think it is all perspective, because for twenty-five years of my life, I thought and believed my dad was merely camping, a "survivor man" of sorts, the mountain man of pioneer days, living a sustainable existence among the coyotes and lodge pole pines. I still don't quite see it as homelessness, because my father loves nature and seems more at home in a tent in the woods than in a house in the 'burbs any day.
I refuse to look at my dad as a victim or a "hobo" or man hard up on his luck because he was and is my hero, my dad. He taught me all I know about the flora and fauna of my local mountains, and instilled in me a respect and love of nature that I feel is a core part of me. Maybe I romanticize his stint with homelessness, but his "camping experience" to me just seemed part of what makes him, well, him. If the topic is brought up, am quick on the defense to say, "he was camping" because in my mind, that's what he was doing. I missed my dad terribly during that time, not having him home, but visiting him in the middle of the forest was the highlight of my week, and I can still remember the joy I felt and awe I had for a man who could survive in the wilderness alone.