Movies, television, books, comics, and every other type of conceivable media has had an obsession with extraterrestrial life, UFO’s, and all interconnected subject matter for ages. There’s some people that even go so far as to say that ancient peoples have had UFO sightings and encounters with aliens from other worlds (see Ancient Aliens). Some authors and presenters have dedicated their entire lives to study of this subject. The big event that spawned the majority of of our modern pop-culture surrounding this was the Roswell incident back in 1947. Shortly after that, it seemed as though everybody was being abducted by aliens and seeing flying saucers soaring through the skies.

I enjoy a good sci-fi movie, but I’m not convinced that the entire matter is anything more than science fiction. I tend to think that our obsession with aliens and finding life elsewhere is simply part of the human condition. In attempts to validate our own existence we have a need to find other beings existing elsewhere to prove that there is something more to life than what we all know and experience here on Earth. It’s part romanticism, part fear, and a whole lot of hope.

For Christians, I would suppose that if there were to be life found elsewhere that it would potentially destroy their entire faith. Finding out that their god is not the only god or perhaps realizing that there is no god and that everything is occurring by chance may allow them to break free from their stifling shackles and start to live and experience life rather than mindless pursuit and prayer of that which does not exist. Or perhaps it would give them some sort of validation that their mysterious god works in mysterious ways? It’s hard to say when dealing with such an open ended subject.

I’ve never had a true sighting or encounter with anything that I would dub otherwordly, by any means. The closest thing that I experienced happened when I was very young. My sister and I were riding in the mountains with our father. He had this nice Jeep. Back then, it was fairly common for folks to head out into the mountains around dusk, armed with a spotlight, and creep slowly down the road shining the spotlight out the window in hopes of seeing wildlife. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see dozens and dozens of whitetail each night. You could come across the occasional bear, raccoon, possum, and so forth. On this one particular night, we were with our father and one of his brothers riding across a ridge. The ridge is still accessible today, but you can only travel part way as the one descending section of road is closed permanently due to downed trees and rockslides (I found this out the hard way many years later).

As we made our way across the ridge, someone saw this light in the sky. Further, they noticed that the light was moving almost in parallel with our vehicle. Dad stopped. The light stopped. His brother pointed the spotlight out the window and flashed the beam a few times. Much to our surprise, the light responded by flashing back and equal number of times. Dad drove forward a bit and the light followed. He put it in reverse, the light followed once again. His brother tried the light again, and it responded.

I’m not sure what happened after that, beyond the fact that we left and went home. I was too young to appreciate any grand ‘awe’ factor that would have been present had I been aware of things like aliens and UFO’s. Back then, I just wanted to seem some deer. The memory has stayed with me ever since. I can’t explain it away easily, only recount what we observed. It was a bright light that had no accompanying sounds and moved freely, plus possessed enough intelligence to respond to our light. Had I known what I know now, I’m sure I would have been trying to prove or debunk the light to some degree.

I have appreciated some interesting skyward phenomenon over the years. One of my favorite events was a meteor shower back in 2001 at my buddy’s house. We smoked a lot of weed, drank a lot of beer, and watched a spectacular light show. In 2004, I got to see the Northern Lights for the first time. Being in Pennsylvania, getting a chance to see them was simply amazing. It was in October. Initially it started off as just a reddish colored blob in the sky that changed shape. As the night progressed it turned into this shooting beams of light that came from behind a mountain and shot across the sky. It was really something. I stayed up late until my girlfriend got off work around 2:00 AM to take her out to my place to try and see them. Of course, by then the show was over.

There’s certainly an entire system that exists beyond the scope of our immediate world. The Voyager I space exploration vessel has recently departed our solar system and is travelling in outer space. The fact that the thing was build 36 years ago and is still beaming back data is fantastic. But in all that traveling, it hasn’t yet beamed back any sort of proof that there life beyond this.

The scientists have no way to rationalize or quantify space and often refer to it as infinite. We lack the ability to properly measure the exact expanse. They say that it’s always expanding, growing, and some may argue that it is ‘alive’, to a degree. Obviously, the immeasurable nature of space can lead people to try and create theories as to what’s out there, why it’s out there, and try to chalk it all up to some grand design by some god. For me, it’s impossible to see all of the various facets of living organisms on this planet, the existence of other planets, all the asteroids, other planets, and everything else out there and believe that it was intelligently created by some architect. It’s impossible. Everything is truly random.

Would I like to find that there is life elsewhere? Absolutely. It would not change me in any way. My view on life would not be swayed. Just because there is life elsewhere does not mean that my immediate existence has to be altered. Life would continue to move on here just as it as forever. People will be born and others will find death; nothing can change that. There is no immortality. There is no heaven hiding up there in the sky waiting for some great ascension upon death. We are only but a mere instant. We are a blink in time. The universe does not care about us, whether we live, die, get cancer, or lose a loved one. It is indifferent to us. There is nobody ‘up there’ piloting this ship.

If other people do exist, that’s great. I would love have sex with a space girl! But I also realize that improbability is quite high, even if I did find Douglas Adams to be a fine author.


Camping Memory

I arrived at the campgrounds early. The idea was to get the site established before my fiancé arrived after she got off work. I had a 300-yard uphill climb from the parking area to the spot I selected to call home for the week. My first order of action was to head to kiosk so and make my deposit for the weekly stay. The campgrounds that are more isolated and unused by larger crowds rely upon a self-serving check-in/honesty system. The state assumes that you will be honest and deposit the appropriate funds into the lock-box to pay for your stay. They don’t send as many ranger patrols through the isolated areas and assume that the folks camping there will have enough integrity to assume the registration process on their own volition.

After depositing the funds, I went back to the SUV and started unloading the gear. It took about 7-8 trips to move the makeshift homestead from the back of the vehicle and up the hill to the site. I was fairly winded afterwards, but had a lot of work to go. I spread out the tent, spiked the corners, and then started the pole erection process. I actually found that setting the tent up alone was easier than working someone else. With aid of a few Siberian hitches and some 550-cord, stabilizing the structure and using leverage to get everything into position is rather easy. After the tent was constructed, I had to create our living-room, which consists of a large canopy. I quickly got it set and then unpacked the chairs. I sat down for a moment and then decided to start a small fire to prepare a quick lunch.

With the fire ignited, I poured some water into my pot and positioned it atop the grate so that it would come to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, I could then pour it into the dried soup mix and allow it to soak into the less-than delicious mixture.

While waiting for the water to boil, I setup the first cot. It’s large Cabela’s Outfitter Series XXL cot. I started using these a couple of years earlier to get my body up off of the ground. We would often camp in early spring when the morning and nighttime temperatures would dip down into the 30’s and being elevated is critical to staying warm. The cots are incredibly difficult to assemble, but strikingly sturdy when complete. I readied the cot with the help of a rubber mallet and cussing. Next was moving it into the tent. Along the side of the cot I have a nice accessory piece that holds a variety of gear. In the corner of the tent ceiling I have a large three-tiered Coleman accessory that that holds the toiletries and other necessities.

By now, the water was boiling and poured it into that plastic pouch and allowed my food to cook. While waiting, I had a visit from a friendly chipmunk. I grabbed my digital camcorder and filmed him playing around, inspecting the site for this week’s visitor. I devoured my food in the late afternoon, enjoying the complete peace and utter isolation. For a misanthrope, this is a great escape.

I sat around admiring my work and observing the various bugs that were starting to get settled on the new stuff that was in place. I saw a few weird spiders and flying creatures that loved to taste the sweat on my neck. What can you do, I’m taking up residence in their space now.

As the day continued on, the sun started to set behind the trees. Deep in the woods, when the sun sets, darkness quickly begins to encapsulate the area. I started to get slightly concerned because my fiancé hadn’t shown up yet. Just before darkness fully consumed the woods, she finally showed up. I walked down the long path to great her and show her the way up. You couldn’t see the site from the parking lot—we were basically tucked away in a small cove that nobody could stumble upon without direct intent. It was around this time that we both realized that the closest bathroom was a good 400-500 yard hike from our immediate spot.

We sat around for a bit and I prepared a nice toasty fire for our enjoyment. We reclined back in our chairs and stared up into the stars, watching the occasional sparks from the fire try to fly up high into the sky. As the night progressed, we decided to go to bed and rest-up for the next day’s adventures.

The following few days, we explored the park deeply and fully, immersing ourselves in the rich history of the area. Years ago, the place was a fully-functional CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps). The CCC was the invention of Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Young men could join the corps where they would pack their bags for hard work, food, and discipline. They would get paid for their work, but the bulk of the money was sent directly home to support the families rather than filling the pockets of those doing the work. Supporting the family was the virtuous thing to do, rather than mindless indulgence in unnecessary fleeting pleasures.

Exploring the site led us to some incredible finds. Hidden up in the mountain via a barely recognizable trail is an old oven that used to be part of a large dining hall/kitchen. The crumbled remnants provide little familiarity with the conceptual oven aesthetic, but with a bit of imagination one can clearly see what the decaying skeleton could have once looked like. Climbing deeper into the woods we find a large crypt-like structure. I have no idea what it was, but its presence was intriguing—nothing like coming across a great archaeological find, but interesting to us, nonetheless. As we continued around we find the lasting remains of old buildings, primarily large chimneys extending up into the sky, the foundations of the building long eroded by years of rot.

Forgotten memories linger hard. I vaguely recall visiting the place as a kid. It used to be bustling with people. Families having picnics, kids swimming in the medium-sized lake, and the smell of charcoal and wood smoke permeating the atmosphere. Now, the dam is leaking, the lake is drained, and there is not much left of what was once present. People don’t frequent the area much anymore, save for the occasional drunks passing through on mountain rides. It’s also an active rest stop for folks making their way along the Appalachian Trail. I even remember my grandmother telling me stories of how my pap would take her up to this spot when they were first dating. Groups of young adult’s double-dating and spending time at the lake, enjoying the seclusion and privacy the mountains would provide. While the romanticism may be gone and the part of mere corpse of its once great life, if you look close enough you can almost picture the greatness it once held.

We spend the evenings walking the entire circumference of the park, taking in every possible sight that exists. We find small pieces of wonder and beauty that the passersby can’t appreciate from their vantage point. As night comes, we head back to the campsite and wait for darkness to fall.

I create a shower-like structure around a shepherds hook. The solar shower bag is held from the top while a tent provides a certain degree of privacy. The lukewarm water is more invigorating than refreshing and the camp-safe soap leaves behind a distinct film that, while it smells good, doesn’t exactly give you that truly clean feeling. Changing into clean clothing at night time prior to going to bed always seems like the most logical choice. The semi-fresh feeling of crawling into your cot in clean clothes helps to promote relaxing feeling—fresh socks and clean underwear give comfort!

Sleep comes easy in the mountains. It’s the only place I can experience the deepest and purest forms of sleep. All of the outside distractions are gone, nobody can contact me, and there is no alarm clock to annoyingly rouse me from a deep sleep. Instead, the warmth of the sun beckons me to wake and the fresh mountain morning smell is better than the smell of a hot cup of coffee. Breakfast is made every day while camping. Sometimes it consists of powdered eggs and bannock, other times it may consist of sausage and real eggs. I try to avoid taking coolers along, that way I’m not concerned about ice. Instead, I bring canned goods and non-perishables, keeping things as simplistic as possible.

Occasionally we will play card games, mainly 500. Even the odd Yahtzee game is not out of the question. There are no digital games to play and the more primitive games bring us closer together and enable us to spend time together having fun. Technology is not really needed out here.

As the week draws to an end, the uneasy feeling of reentering society begins to take hold. In some respects, the thought of taking a real shower and having some takeout seem reassuring, but the vacation will soon end and my limited time away from the mundane is abruptly coming to a close. On the last day we begin packing up. Cameras take as many pictures as possible so that we can capture as much of the experience as possible, even though the cameras are entirely unable to capture the very essence of being there.

We haul the last of the loads back the car and scour the campsite to make sure our tracks are covered. Then it’s time to head out. The drive back is made slowly, almost painfully. While it is rather disheartening to see the decayed park disintegrating into nothingness, leaving it is even worse, for the beauty I see is apparent in the stories and visions of what once was. For me, it was an escape—time away—but, the time to reenter is quickly coming.

Reaching the highway and trek down the mountain is surreal. Other cars, people, and life still exists. The world is still out there, even though I couldn’t see it for the past week. And in a couple of days, I’ll have to go back to work. Back to deadlines and responsibilities. Back to serving others and not living for my own vital existence.

Walking in the house is always strange. You encounter the smell of home. When you step into the shower, the stale smell of wood smoke wafts around as you wash away the last of the trip. Eventually, you download the pictures from your cameras and try to remember, try to grasp that feeling of freedom, but only in vain. The realization that 12 long month now stand before you and your next chance to depart this reality and trade it in for the primitive life where the essence of living is truly tasted and the trappings of civilization are long forgotten.