Feeling somewhat at the end of my rope, I took my dog and myself on a 3 night camping trip to Uvas Canyon this week. (Note: I have probably never been as ready to go on a last-minute camping trip as now if for no other reason than I’ve simply never had all my camping gear organized and (notably) all in one place before.) Also, five trips to Burning Man have finally resulted in a ready-to-roll master plan of logistics, organization and glorious human efficiency. So I say. (My exes might disagree.)
Packed the SUV, bought food & firewood on the way, and had to drive only an hour and a half. Silicon Valley truly is a valley – i.e. between mountains. That means the aforementioned mountains, hiking, and nature is always close by.
I arrive and setup my tent in less than ten minutes – all while completely blindfolded. Just kidding, no blindfold, but it was damn fast. Several people complement my dog on her looks. It also helps that she is well behaved. I feel proud about that, since it truly has been a lot of work (1-2 hours of training a DAY – since she was a rescue animal, previous history unknown and really needs a lot of work to break habits like simply being able to walk wherever she wants).
Pretty quickly I make friends with the couple at the campsite next to me. They are in their mid 50’s; they tell me they used to bring their dog, Shadow, all the time (and they say she looked just like Midnight, my dog), but now she is too old to come along :(. Noticing I’m camping alone, the guy brings over some amazing pork-and-cheese-stuffed-in-a-jalapeno-wrapped-in-bacon things, which are delicious.
I make my first wood fire (wood orientation No. 341: French Teepee [alt]) and bond with my dog over this new fire concept and teaching her some new words, like ‘bacon’ and ‘critter’. I drove a steak through a ratchet strap (other end tied to the dogs leash), which I thought was fucking brilliant, since it let the leash swivel around a center point. Leash didn’t get tangled once. #proudofmyself
Midnight was so awesome to camp with. She LOVED every minute of it. She wouldn’t even sit down or lay down for the first three or for hours – she just wanted to sniff everything and look at things and play. (Now that I’m back home, she is so completely and utterly exhausted now). At night, she would alternate between sleeping in the tent, and crawling through the tiny tent opening (she learned how to use her snout to push the zippers apart and open the tent within minutes..) to patrol the outside perimeter. If the Zombie apocalypse ever comes, I am SO set with this dog.
We get up early the next day, plausibly the first one up on our side of the campgrounds; and we set off exploring with lots of water and a finely tuned sense of curiosity on both our parts. Uvas Canyon is littered with waterfalls; the creek drops over 500 feet within a 3/4th mile stretch! Midnight and I stop here and there, stopping to smell the flowers as they say, and stick our feet/paws in the water, etc. And, yes, I was terribly nervous when she was running so fast on the rocks near the top of the waterfall; careful dog!
Back at camp that afternoon I decided that I was going to change my firewood plan. I had brought enough firewood for a satisfactory fire once each night, but not an afternoon fire too. I changed my mind at that point, deciding to pilfer my woodpile, and taking on the task of going out to purchase more firewood when the time came. It’s worth it, I told myself. That’s living on the wild side, I know.
Then, more campers started arriving at the campsite on the other side. A group, mostly girls, diverse in ethnicity and age. I immediately thought church group or cult based on the demographics.
Then the “leader woman” (my term) asks me if I knew how to get to the beach.
Sounds like an innocent question, yes, but, dear readers, there is one mildly important point of note here. There isn’t any beach. There just isn’t. We’re in the middle of the woods at a place named “UVAS CANYON”, and we had to drive an hour into the mountains to get here. What the hell was she talking about?
(Editor’s note: At home, I have now verified there is no beach within 1hr drive with Google Maps. #idonteven)
I asked her, “…sorry, what beach?” avec one eyebrow raised.
The rest of the conversation was awkward and weird. I tried to give her an “out” by saying it was my fault; I’m new here and probably didn’t know the surrounding area as well as she did, etc. At that point I think both of us just wanted the conversation to be over, so she gladly took the out and that was that. Oh, and she promised a plate of food. I told her that sounded wonderful. (And meant it.)
In the meantime, other members of the group struck up conversations with me, largely generated by the nature of our dogs interacting (they brought two adorable but untrained and unwieldy dogs). At one point, both of their dogs broke free from their bondage. The older Indian woman comes running over, and I point out the broken metal carabiner, “KAISER PERMANENTE”, I read off the promotional inscription on the carabiner. “More like KAISER TEMP-OR-ARY!” Oh, the groans.
It was truly one of those moments. I have had that joke in the back of my mind, for years. Just waiting for the right moment. I had them hooked!
Someone then challenged me to come of with an evening cheesier joke, to which I responded, “well, sometimes I prove with others … but mostly I provolone.” Crowd goes wild. Etc.
So by that point, when the aforementioned plate of food is brought over to me, I ask if I could eat with them. They warmly welcome me, and we have dinner. I am even offered wine; I accepted and returned the favor with a couple PBRs.
I learn they are Jehovah's Witness. I obviously knew the term, but honestly couldn’t recall any of their specific teachings; I only remembered how negatively my family and school/church system spoke of them. Oh, they also knocked on people’s doors. Yeah, that was their ‘thing’.
I continue bonding with them, mostly wanting to see where this goes. They lament having an excess of firewood, but no fire ring to burn it in (they had a stone stove in their particular campsite, instead). I mentioned how I had a fire ring, but a dearth of firewood to place in it. If only there was a solution!
Nine seconds later the twelve of us are migrating to my campsite. We go from Zero-to-Kumbaya in record time. Okay, not kumbaya, more like Beatles songs. Hey, something everybody can enjoy! But seriously, I always enjoy a good sing after a few beers, and I seemed to get along with everybody. Except leader woman, who seems to be asking me more and more questions about what I believe, religiously speaking.
But the rest of us are getting along super well, mostly bonding about shared musical knowledge. The Girl With the Guitar asks for any requests. I ask, if perhaps, she could play some guitar accompaniment while I tell a story? Perhaps something in A minor, 6/8 time signature? (I mostly made up the last music bits to sound cool, admittedly.).
“THIS STORY IS CLEAN, RIGHT?” asks leader woman. God, this woman is getting on my nerves.
“Yes, it is clean,” I say. Eye roll…
I pick up the nearest piece of firewood. Okay, admittedly I pre-selected a really nice looking piece and had it on standby. “Hit it,” I cue Guitar Holding Girl, and I think I actually hear an A minor chord follow… :)
“Does anyone know where the bulk of the matter in a tree comes from?”
“I mean, this piece of wood,” I say, “it is quite heavy. Maybe 1 to 2 pounds of wood – where did the atoms in this piece of wood come from?”
“From the ground!” says one.
“From the seed!” says another.
I take their points and address them in the friendliest way possible, one by one. The seed is not a likely candidate, given that the seed has a known mass already, and clearly more material came from somewhere. The ground is an excellent guess, and the conclusion that I would have made myself had I not already known the answer to the “riddle”.
“From the air,” I say as a few people (ironically) breathe in a gasp.
“That’s right. Check this out. This is really cool, actually – “ I state.
“The air contains carbon dioxide, or co2; you already know that plants ‘breathe’ this is in, and humans conveniently exhale it. We’re all taught this in schools. But there is just a little more knowledge that will give you the complete picture and I think you might enjoy the answer.”
“Carbon dioxide, c02, literally is just one carbon atom connected to two oxygen atoms. That’s what scientists mean by C02. And that bond between carbon and the oxygen atom atoms can’t be broken unless there is energy to do that. A lot of energy.”
“Like the sun,” I continue.
“The sun’s energy,” I say as motioning with my hands, “knocks the carbon atom off from the Oxygen. Now you have a free Carbon (C) and Oxygen (O2). The sun’s energy has split CO2 into Carbon – which goes into the tree – and Oxygen, which is released by the plant/tree which you now breathe.”
“The tree is mostly made of Carbon. Carbon from the air that was carbon dioxide, and Oxygen for us to breath as a my byproduct.”
Next, I spoke with sincerity, “I don’t mention any of this to sound superior; I, Brian Klug, just learned this myself last week, at the age of 37. I thought that trees came from the ground until just last week.” I was hoping that, perhaps deep down, the point of the lesson might become apparent with that anecdote.
“Here’s the cool thing,” I added, “this carbon in wood … stored as carbohydrates … takes quite a bit of energy to break it apart,”
“Have any of you played the miniature golf hole where there is a big mound with the hole in the center, and you have to hit the ball with just enough energy to make it over the hump but not over altogether? Separating carbon from the carbohydrates takes a lot of energy, but once you provide right amount of energy, it will knock the carbon off, and release more energy, which will knock off mole carbons from nearby carbohydrates. And that creates a terrible catastrophe,” I say, at this point nearly plagiarizing one of Richard Feynman’s talks, “and that terrible catastrophe is what we call fire.”
“When you burn wood, that light and heat that you experience is the light and heat that was stored in the wood from the sun. You are releasing the energy from the sun when you burn wood.”
Which, I found absolutely incredible when I learned about it. And so did most of them, I think.
The leader woman jumped on this in enthusiasm, and how she recently read an article that said science has been “discovering lots of things”. I wish I were making that up.
Anyway, it was a cool story, was well received, and I said most of the praise really belonged to Guitar Playing Girl since her flawless delivery of music is what required the true talent; I was merely playing back a bit of knowledge I recently picked up.
We sang more, played with the dog, and generally enjoyed a PG-13 type environment until leader woman wanted to know why I thought the bible might not be 100% true.
“Well, look, that is a weird way to phrase the question; to believe the bible is true in 2016 is an extraordinary claim; I think you need to start the conversation by explaining why you think the bible might be true.”
She asks if she can play a four-minute video about Jehovvas Witnesses on her iPad for me. I decline, politely offering that I’d be more than delighted to hear her own personal take instead.
I then ask her how many different religions she has been. She avoided the question. I thought it was a fair question; she is so certain about this one, I wonder how many other religions she looked into and decided against.
One of the younger girls explains to me, “because the bible says it is true, that is how we know we are right”. I asked her, but have you read the Kuran?” “No…” “Then how do you know that isn’t true? Do you know how many Billions of other people – really Billions of other just like yourself -- on this planet have their own Holy Book which says it is the one true book, and they believe that with just as much conviction as you?”
At this point, I knew that they would soon be leaving. So I decided to make the most of the situation (how often do you have the 110% complete attention of 11 cult members at your own campfire?) and just started revealing some truths about the bible regarding genocide, slavery, and how Jesus brags about breaking apart families in Matthew 10:34.
Anticipating the typical “divine revelation” argument next, I tell them: “Look. There are millions of other people that have had their God – not yours – ‘reveal’ themselves to them. Some would say it felt like an electrical shock, they saw the light of god, they heard angels, you name it, but these stories are a dime a dozen and they are all about different gods telling people they have found the true God. So, are such anecdotes as they claim or possibly some delusion?”
At this point, leader woman instructs her fellow witnesses to leave.
“Just remember. Jesus says he came to bring the sword, not peace. That is whom you are following. Please, please read the bible cover-to-cover; it will make you an atheist. Have a good night, and I wish you no ill will.” I leave them with, as the last of them leaves my campsite.
The next day, not a word was said except one of the girls wished me good morning, to which I returned in kind (sincerely so).
Then they left .. for the entire day .. possibly driving 1+ hour each way to a beach just to prove me wrong? Ha, who knows.
As soon as they got back they packed up and moved their camp.
I kept to myself; we had no further encounters the rest of my camping trip. At least everyone was peaceful.
Later that night, the campsite on the other side, the one with the 50s couple, the guy keeps coming over and giving me amazing free food. I shower him with compliments, and make special note of how the shrimp was not overcooked, something that 4 out of 5 restaurants get wrong in my own opinion. Being born and raised in Baltimore has me having a high bar for any of our sea friends that make it to the porcelain plate. His wife (cooking the shrimps was her contribution) was thrilled to hear it.
Look, if someone is giving you amazing free food, it doesn’t hurt to let them know how amazing it is :)
And, of course, had this been a pre-planned camping trip of mine, I’d have some esoteric, obscure, or otherwise impressive food thing to offer them in return. Not this time! “Okay, this is the fanciest thing I’ve got … “ handing over a plate of pancetta instead. Despite the obvious inequality of offering, my food is received with gratitude. Sometimes it is the gesture that counts.
The rest of the night was peaceful, enjoyable, and quiet. I made a nice fire (wood orientation No. 48: Log cabin extended B). Midnight was a lot more chill without insane-o dogs nearby. The night was colder and she cuddled right next to me in the tent. My dog is amazing.
(Editor’s note: and oh my god she is EXHAUSTED right now … just a pile of sleeping fur on the couch the last few hours…)
For the third day, Midnight and I thoroughly explore all the same waterfalls a second time. And investigated the camp water infrastructure, which was pretty interesting given the fresh water supply from the Santa Cruz mountains. Then I spent a couple hours playing with my HAM radio; I was able to receive quite a few repeaters but my transmit capacity was #gooseegg, most likely due to the fact that I was in a CANYON.
Mentally, I struggled with what had happened the night before. I had, essentially, befriended 10 people, and it went sour when they found out that I didn’t believe in their Holy Book. And then it went super sour once I was able to argue against their prothletising with intellect. And it super sucked because I wasn’t the one that brought up religion.
Here! Ten friends! What? You aren’t a Jesus freak like us? Well enjoy loneliness, Brian!
The last morning, I took my time getting up, making the dog and self breakfast (firewood orientation No. 6: only three logs left), and just enjoyed nature best I could.
I thought a lot about that group on the drive home. So many young people being indoctrinated into a belief system that isn’t just untrue -- but harmful to society.
In addition to singing fun songs around campfires, JWs are pretty firm about the whole ‘homosexuality = hell’ thing. They even have a CARTOON intended for CHILDREN on the topic:
The cartoon even includes instructions on how our JW child can approach her classmate (the one with two mommies) and how she can convert her to the correct faith.
It all makes me sick.
And these people will continue recruiting more and more members. Growing stronger every day. Yet one more person that will vote against me in LGBT related topics California polls. Eleven of them, actually.
But maybe, just maybe, one of them is going home thinking, “Well, if I was wrong about the tree thing…”