Geology is destiny

For a time in late childhood, I would spend a week every summer at a Christian summer camp in the mountains north of San Luis Obispo, in central California. Typical of that region, the wild- of its wilderness was not provided by, as it is in the Northwest, a density of trees and brush and water and leaves. The land itself—its small sagelike scrub, infrequently encountered live oaks, dirt— did not resist its wanderers. But stray too far from established paths, and you are still confronted with the impossibility of moving forward: a valley that ends in sheer cliff, a sudden drop of elevation, the crest of a ridge that magically leads to more ridge.
In front of the camp’s parched dining hall and main building, there was a small courtyard landscaped with the black slate rock found in the area. I have many tactile memories of this rock: the treachery of its seemingly orderly and level surface, the way its sharp edges always seemed to end up between my toes and my sandals, the way it would become so hot in the naked ultraviolet August sun that I felt like I was being cooked from above and below. The most interesting thing about those rocks were how they were both hard and fragile at the same time. These rocks—Wikipedia tells me it is because they are metamorphic—have tiny little fracture points. Hit the rock from one angle, and it will break skin, a window, damage concrete. Exert even the smallest amount of pressure on one of those fracture points, even just the gentle friction of your finger pads, and it will flake off as though it was always sand.
There was a young man named Jeremiah there. He was both our drill sergeant and our first among equals, a young seminarian with an intense scowl and an affect that now I might recognize as a byproduct of an intense struggle for self control. He was reading a book called Wild at Heart, a Christian book from the Promise Keeper era about how men are knights and need a cause and women want to be rescued and all men are like this and all women are like this and you will never be happy until you embrace your knight and. Jeremiah was reading this book by the pool and because I was a boy that liked reading, I asked him what the book was about. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” Jeremiah scowled, because he was the worst.
I haven’t yet been able to release that exchange into forgetting. At the time, I didn’t believe that there there was anything that I would understand better with more time—the delusional belief in my own maturity has remained my most immature trait. Later, I’m fascinated by this exchange because I cannot believe that Jeremiah could not see with his own eyes how wrong he was.
I’m not going to tear into Wild At Heart, because I have not read the book and it would kind of feel like a step backwards for me to really fight those old internal fights. But sometimes I think about those assumptions: all men want a cause to fight for, a dragon to slay, so that they can get the girl. I think about those people, the Good Christian Men and how different I would be if I didn’t end up in social situations with different conditions. How long would I have held on to that model of manhood? Would I have been more unhappy? I can’t imagine I would be less unhappy?
I don’t think Jeremiah was particularly happy. Instead of a picture of him in my head, memory has dimmed to an emotional tone palette, swatches of color, none of them very bright. Young men with beliefs have a hard time because the world is such a persistent contrafactotum. Sometimes I think that all “life experience” is is an either/or condition, a binary, of accepting that, shit, anything can happen. [n.b. Remember obnoxious false maturity] Reconciling the belief and the hope and the want for consequence requires either tremendously painful reflection or a massively willful reordering of reality.
I had to leave those people and those places behind, because I no longer believed that they were doing good in the world. I’m still looking for my dragon, how messed up is that.

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