Moving: Part 2

Habits to Feed

The following day included many ordeals, the details of which I don't expect you particularly want to hear. Gene accomplished a feat of majestic proportions, compacting all my earthly possessions into three linear feet of a Mack truck (which I hope he will describe at concrete skyline). In sum, we disassembled the furniture, disposed of all the garbage, rented and returned a U-Haul truck, had a farewell dinner with my best friend, and I cleaned all night while Gene slept so he could drive us away in the morning. My opinion remains unchanged regarding the everyday details of people's ordinary lives, but if you disagree, you may write to the following address and register your complaints:

What I find more interesting is the repercussion of watching my best friend hoist seventeen loads of books, weighing the equivalent of one home blacksmithing kit each, 12 feet into the air. While he never complained, he did point out that there could hardly be a need for so much media in hard copy. I had had a sneaking suspicion when my collection grew beyond the floor-to-ceiling seven-foot shelving system that perhaps I had a problem. When it grew beyond the three-foot shelf extension I added, I knew that I had formed a habit, an obsessive compulsion to acquire books. While I reflected with some chagrin on the floor to ceiling shelves still filled at my parents? house, I still felt every one of them necessary, or at least, not expendable. Who could ever give up a book?

Still, long ago I gave up collecting other unnecessary items. I had purged bags of clothes from my closets, paper from files, even sentimental gewgaws, why not books? Horrifying as the analogy seemed, the possibility had stuck itself somewhere in my subconscious, glued in place by the guilt of having used my best friend so ill. It would haunt me throughout our journey.

The first day we drove straight through Illinois and Iowa to stop in Sioux City--just window-gazing, no need for books. The following day we carried on through Nebraska to the badlands. Along the way we passed historical Indian monuments, such as Wounded Knee and the Great Sioux Reservation. As I tried desperately to recall the names of all the most prominent chiefs, their tribes, and the conflicts they fought in, I found myself craving references, signs, pamphlets—text of any sort. A thought welled slowly up inside of me until it pressed on my heart and made my breathing shallow: I needed Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I took a deep breath and pushed the thought back down somewhere below my stomach.

When we reached the campsite, we went for a walk down the riverbed and I collected leaves, rocks, roots, and other things to identify--if only I had had a field guide! We began talking about camping necessities and the possibility of living in such a desolate environment. I found my thoughts turning to my US Army Survival Guide. I was jonesing for a fix and didn't know how I was going to get it. "Maybe we can stop by the visitor's center next" I suggested weakly, but it was already 7:00 and I knew they were closed.

Upon arriving for dinner at the famous Wall Drug in Wall, SD, a cursory review of the map revealed a Western books section just off the main dining area. My heart leapt three feet out of my chest and my pupils dilated just thinking of all the beautiful information, neatly packed into the consummables I truly feed on. I turned to Gene with big pouty eyes and promised I would be strong, “I won’t buy anything, I promise. I just want to look.” Somehow it didn’t even feel like a lie.

Gene had helped me devise a system earlier that day for determining those books I could buy, and those I needed get from a library. If there were seven places I wanted to mark in the book, that justified having my own copy; otherwise, I was to take notes. As I hurried off to the book store, my hands trembled. I was fiending to take a book in my hand, rifle through its pages, and bore holes through the page with my eyes. I went in search of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and first lighted upon The Audubon Society's Guide to Birds of the Western Region. Now, as a serious researcher, I knew the only authoritative birding guide to be Sibley's or Pearson's, so the temptation to snatch it up and purchase it was mitigated by a knowledge of its inferior quality. Instead I used it to identify the large black and white jay-like birds we had been seeing around camp: black-billed magpies (pica pica). Though I was tempted again by the plant and butterfly guides (which I had dearly wished for on our walk) I resisted. How could I go back to Gene with three new books, no matter how useful?

So I asked the lady who worked in the shop if they had Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and she found it for me. I analyzed the table of contents and turned straight to the passage on Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. I began reading, hoping against hope for a quotable sentence, an important fact, a perspective-shifting interpretation… but alas, it was just good history (on that page at least). It was not a seven-mark book. I would have to get it from the library instead. The balloon of desire that had filled my chest deflated and I resigned myself to the sad reality of withdrawal. Empty-handed but dignity- intact I returned to Gene. Despair would have been the appropriate term were it not for relief of not having lost face before him.

Later that day I found out that there are public libraries within Yellowstone. Gene is suspicious of such endeavors, wondering how they can insure that books are returned, but I see it as sanctuary. The gods are looking out for me and have created a Phaiakia of my very own.

On arriving in Yellowstone, we went first thing in the morning to the visitor's center and bookstore, where the kind lady who tried to get me to donate thirty dollars to the Yellowstone Association confirmed Gene's pessimistic predictions: there were no lending libraries. I decided not to ask how large a donation they would require to establish such an institution. I would have to buy the books I wanted, seven marks or no. Gene, of course saw no problem with this, but to me it was earth-shattering. I had made so much progress, had turned over a new leaf, had begun to change my way of thinking about maintaining access to information, and now he was letting me fall off the wagon. He may as well have just handed me a rubber hose, a bent spoon, and a rusty needle. I attempted to contain myself, to behave rationally. I accepted the field guide the kind lady pointed out (though I knew it would not likely contain all the species we would see), which Gene thought would be very useful, and then attempted to keep from drooling on the floor. There were so many, and they were ALL pertinent to our trip in Yellowstone. Geology, rocks, history, the Nez Perce, trail guides--It was like finding your dealer's stash right before a circuit party. I instantly narrowed my gaze to those addressing my two favorite topics: geology and the Nez Perce. Since I already know more about the Nez Perce than most of the books you would find in a visitor's bookstore, I decided to cut my losses and opt for the $1.95 pamphlet "Chief Joseph's People and Their War" put out by the Yellowstone Association. Surely a twenty-page pamphlet couldn't seriously count as a book.

I was already purchasing two items and had not even begun to sate the urge. Geology still loomed large in the center of the display. She asked how much I wanted to know, "Everything," I said. The tone in my voice must have surprised her since she took a step back, wrinkled her forehead, and said, "Oh, are you a geologist?" A red tinge crept up my face as I acknowledged that indeed, I had no right to be so voraciously interested in the information. She showed me two books, one with more pictures and short enough to finish between sights and one hardback, longer volume that would take weeks to read cover to cover. At last I accepted the cheaper and more readable looking of the two, hoping to reaffirm my good standing in the world of tourists.

With my well-rationed stash we left the bookstore and headed out to see the geysers. The trip from then out would be okay. There was a bag of fiction behind Gene’s seat in the car and I now had most of the informational bases covered. I could survive the trip, but what of the seventeen boxes now heading steadily for Oakland? What would I do when it came time to unload? Where would I store them all when I found a tiny San Francisco apartment?

The answers to these questions and more in “Moving: Part 3!” Coming Soon!

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This page contains a single entry by published on August 24, 2003 10:29 PM.

Moving, Part 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

Moving: Part 3 is the next entry in this blog.

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