Tuesday, April 24, 2007


by Bryan Snyder

(Many thanks, Bryan for all the stories and photos :) Carmen & Ake)

What is making all that racket? With growing irritation, I leave off packing and trudge outside to investigate. Around the corner, two wild turkeys are crashing into my screened bedroom door, thrashing their wings furiously and threatening to take their battle inside the house. The ruffians are too busy shoving their beaks down each other's throats to notice my presence three feet away, so before they can wrestle their way into my bedroom completely, I decide to break it up."Look, I can have Frank Perdue here inside of five minutes," I threaten. Two pairs of avian eyeballs turn to stare at me in horror. Dumbfounded and beaks open, the turkeys look like a pair of schoolboys caught by the principal. They scurry off quickly into the brush, and the bedroom door slams shut again.

My name is Bryan Snyder, an outdoor science teacher originally from Norwich, New York, and yes, this is my day-to-day life. I sleep in a log cabin in an oak forest, thirty minutes from the beachside glamour and million-dollar homes of Santa Barbara. It's a humble sort of existence; I could never afford to purchase a house in southern California, but I can afford four-month summer vacations if I'm willing to cook my own food and sleep under the stars. You'll be hearing of my adventures in the Rocky Mountain high country throughout the summer, as well as a few hitchhiking stories from Iceland and Norway… if I can ever finish packing.

Most critters fail to disturb me these days. My cabin is more or less its own complete ecosystem. Spiders prowl the shadows and prey upon herds of potato bugs - armored scavengers that roam the carpets for crumbs. Ants patrol the perimeter of each room, intent on finding fresh resources for their queen. Acorn woodpeckers hammer into the outside walls, drilling holes for acorn storage. It's a benign sort of siege, and since I'm about to hit the road for four months, I feel content to give up the fight for a while.

A breeze blows the front door open, and by the time it slams shut again, an alligator lizard stands in my living room, unmoving. It looks vaguely like John Wayne might after striding through the saloon doors in a Hollywood western. Appropriately, the creature has an reptilian glint in its eye and wears an alligator's shrewd smile, even as I approach it. It looks up and gives me an unspoken challenge: "You may chase me out now, but soon you'll be gone, and I'll be back." The wind opens the door a crack, and with a flick of its tail, the lizard is gone. For now.

I probably didn't need any further help saying goodbye to this place, but a few days ago I made a final camping trip to Little Caliente Hot Springs. Two hours of rutted, winding dirt roads brought me to a cleft between hills where stone and mortar had been placed to collect the flow of heated groundwater. When night fell, I lounged in the middle of three pools beneath the starlight, feeling hopelessly decadent. Leo's reflection rippled upon the steaming water, and I glimpsed the ethereal current of the Milky Way for the first time this year as it rose above the eastern horizon. Scorpio's right claw drifted into the glow of distant Santa Barbara city lights, and a shooting star flashed in and out of existence in the western sky. I need to remember these sights because I'm traveling to the edge of the Arctic Circle next week and may not see stars or absolute darkness for a long time.

The next morning, temperatures rose quickly into the 100s and every biting fly in the county seemed to come out and celebrate the occasion. Feeling a bit out of place next to a hot spring in summertime, I packed up and sought out some shady swimming holes which served to cool my blood until I could put myself in the path of Pacific ocean breezes once again. With memories of those brutal temperatures strong in my mind, I believe it's time I finished packing so I can take my gear up to San Francisco and catch a plane to Iceland. The lizards and turkeys can have full run of the place while I'm gone, and I won't envy them a bit.

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