Friday, July 05, 2013
It always amazes me when I see people who look perfectly comfortable in their surroundings. I don't know how it's done. I think I'm just naturally gifted at being really, really awkward.
Some folks are photogenic and warm up to a camera. Others float through life with an aura of comfy coolness. But look in the background of those pics. That's where you're bound to find that one accidental photobomb who looks horribly ill-at-ease. You know, the guy with the weird expression that says "I don't belong here" mixed with "I may have spiders in my pants." The guy so out-of-place that you'd swear he's been Photoshopped into the situation directly from his home world of Weirdtopia? That's usually MY role in life. I bring the awkward, and I bring it hard.
Nowhere is that more evident than when you stick me in the country.
It's no big secret that nature and I tend not to get along very well. Winter's too cold, summer's too hot. If it's icy, I'm bound to slip in it. If it's green, I'm bound to be allergic to it. If it's an insect, I'm probably terrified of it. If it's a bee, I'm terrified AND allergic. Rain makes me wet, snow makes me shiver, and the sun gives me a rash. As far as I'm concerned, there are about two good weeks of weather all year and the rest is for the birds.
I suppose, then, that I should gravitate towards big city life. After all, if there's one thing that keeps Ma Nature in check, it's a concrete world. Pollen doesn't grow on blacktop, and that pesky sun stays at bay thanks to all that sweet smog. It's paradise on Earth, right?
Well, not quite. I also hate sharing space with lots of people -- and sadly, they've yet to invent a lightly populated metropolis. Big cities might have tons and tons of neat stuff to do, but that also means there's tons and tons of people DOING that stuff. The traffic is insane and half your life's just wasted getting from A to B. Maybe I just need to stay in my living room forever and find a job where the only interaction I have with society is when the pizza guy rolls up.
But sometimes, I surprise myself.
It was late on a Friday afternoon when my friend Linn called me at work. I had zero plans for the night and was looking forward to a beached-whale evening on the couch. Linn had other ideas. In fact, she had an extra ticket for the Barnstormer concert at Codfish Hollow that night. A few minutes of peer pressure later and I found myself in a car on my way to (gasp) nature.
Everyone should experience a Barnstormer show at least once in their life. Codfish Hollow is a farm hidden in rural Maquoketa, and for a few weekends every summer, it transforms into one of the most unique concert venues in the Midwest. Upon arrival, guests park in a pasture. From there, it's just a game of dodge-the-cowpies to get to the hayrack ride that takes you down the winding treacherous road to the Hollow.
At the farm, you're free to roam the grounds, view the art installations, and check out the live music, which happens no-frills style in a barn that's almost entirely free of any air circulation whatsoever. You usually end up witnessing some of the greatest musical moments of your life, but you do so while sweltering elbow-to-elbow with hundreds of the sweatiest, smelliest hipsters you could possibly dream up. It's not just nature, it's every aspect of nature that I hate, all tied together in a sweaty, stinky bow.
Then why do I love it so much?
On the way there, I was Joe No-Fun. I was the guy insisting we bring lawn chairs. I was the guy sucking down Claritin and covering my body in Deep Woods Off. I was the guy complaining about EVERYTHING. Then why was I also the guy who stepped out of the car into the middle of a cow pasture to feel entirely at ease? Suddenly I didn't care about anything. The stress of the work week, the worries about whether we'd left something at home, the fear of looking awkward around others... it just melted away.
I guess when your biggest worry is whether or not you're about to step in cow poo, you really don't have much to complain about. It was fun being with friends in that pasture, it was fun on the hayrack, and it was fun being sardined inside that God-forsaken oven of a barn. I wasn't just dealing with nature, I was actually (gasp) enjoying it. Okay, when a bee flew by me, I still ran away like a chicken, but I did it without screaming like a little girl. That's a triumph.
By the end of the night, I had some serious un-Shane-like activities under my belt. I hung out in the sun. I hiked. I played horseshoes (Note: anyone who thinks horseshoes is a wussy sport needs to have a chat with my right shoulder. It's two days later and I still feel like I pitched a no-hitter over the weekend.) I poked a hornet's nest. I tromped out into the middle of a field of fireflies to check out the Supermoon. And at the end of the night, when the skies opened up and rain poured down, I welcomed it. I was a sweaty, smelly mess -- and I kinda loved it.
Anyone who knows me wouldn't believe how much fun I had in the boonies. But there's one thing that a lot of people don't know about me: I grew up in the boonies. A 50-acre farm, to be precise. Well, not a FARM by definition, I guess, because we didn't farm it. My folks just liked the country -- and so did I. I remember days of hiking around pastures trying not to scare the bulls. I remember eating wild raspberries off the vine in our woods. I remember playing in the creek when a rough green snake swam between my legs -- and at the time, I thought it was COOL instead of terrifying. I remember swingsets and bike rides and dirt and sweat and bugs and clouds and stars and grass.
At some point, I lost touch with country me. I'd estimate it to be about the time I discovered video games. Country me didn't stick around long that weekend, but it was nice to make his acquaintance again.
I'm certainly not made for the country, but I'm not made for the big city, either. I guess I'm both Donnie AND Marie -- a little bit country AND a little bit rock & roll. I'm more of an in-between, and I guess that's why I like it here in the Quad Cities. We're big enough to never be boring but small enough to escape down a gravel road when the need arises.
So maybe I'll always be the awkward guy who never wholly fits in. But I'm okay with that -- they call it a HAPPY medium for a reason.