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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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