Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mount Bachelor

Mount Adams
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Here in Oregon, there’s a mountain called Mount Bachelor. This isn’t it. This is Mount Adams, which is, in fact, in Washington. Isn't that misleading of me?

Periodically, I sign up to go on hikes with one of the several hiking clubs we have here in Portland. I’ve never not had a good time. In fact, I’ve often had a great time. In part, owing to the fact that these hikes invariably attract bachelors of a most eccentric variety.

On Sunday, I went on one of these hikes, a wildflower ramble on the north slope of Mt. Adams. A “native plant expert” met us at the trailhead.

I may not be able to tell the difference between a subalpine fleabane and a Cascade aster, but I do know all the distinguishing features of an eccentric bachelor and our native plant expert was unmistakably of that species. My first tip-off was that he wore one of these Lawrence of Arabia-style sun hats. I'm sorry, but wearing one of these is a one-way ticket to dorkdom. I'd rather get skin cancer than wear something like that. I know that's not the right way to look at it, but we were in the state of Washington, thousands and thousands of miles north of the equator. The guy also had his pants stuffed into his socks (an alternative route to dorkdom). I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to accomplish. Is it to keep mosquitoes from flying up your britches? Whatever. All in all it made for a pretty outlandish get-up!

Don’t get the wrong idea. Just because I don’t exactly approve of the guy’s sensible-to-the-point-of-absurdity hiking attire, it doesn’t mean I don’t approve of him as a person. The guy—who will henceforth be known as The Guy Who Knows Everything (TGWKE)—really did know everything. You could point to anything in sight and ask him a question and he would have an authoritative, and often multipart, answer for you. What's the name of that peak over there? Out come the binoculars. Not only would he identify the peak, he'd reel off the names of three or four hikes in the area and suggest campsites. What's that flower? Is it native? What’s the Latin name for it? Out come the superpowerful, yet miniaturized, set of magnifying glasses. What's that tree? Is it sick? What’s wrong with it? What kind of grass is that? What kind of lichen is that? What’s the the most difficult climbing route on Mt. Adams? Where can we get a huckleberry milkshake in BZ Corners*?, Who won the English Football Cup in 1949? Jay-sus! One of the other guys on the hike started referring to the TGWKE as the Encyclopedia of Mt. Adams. I was totally impressed and awed.

How does one come to be an eccentric bachelor of that caliber? I should have some idea, because I seem to know an awfully high percentage of them. In fact, I suspect that before B met me (and the process was arrested), he was well on his way to becoming an eccentric bachelor. And quite a few close male friends of mine are now bonafide eccentric bachelors. I've observed the trajectory—a passion/interest, unimpeded by obstacles like relationships/commitments to other people, becomes an all-consuming and isolating obsession. Not that that's necessarily a negative thing. It's absorbing and fascinating to hear about these obsessions. Really, the only reason I myself haven't become an eccentric bachelorette is that I lack the requisite stick-to-it-ive-ness.

Anyway, I will keep collecting data and will perhaps be able to refine my theory. Don’t forget that I recently joined the Oregon Mycological Society, which virtually guarantees that I will soon be meeting even more eccentric bachelors. Fine with me. I’d much rather hang out with someone who has an obsession a passion for something—native plants, postage stamps, antique vacuum tubes, edible fungi—than a noneccentric, nonbachelor whose interests extend no further than what's on the dinner table or the TV.

*The hamlet nearest to where we were hiking. Probably about 20 miles away as the Clark’s Nutcracker** flies.
**A bird with an intensely harsh squawking call, identified effortlessly for us by the TGWKE.***
***If this post makes any sense to anyone, I will be highly surprised. I started writing it late at night, and it totally got away from me.


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