Black Friday? No, Black Mountain

Choosing mountains over mayhem, I end up finding the best deal in town.

In an effort to buy nothing on our Western consumerist ritual Black Friday, I succeeded, save one small purchase: a York peppermint patty. In my defense, the acquisition of such divinity was hardly a gross deviation from normal purchasing habits, and I was most certainly not taking advantage of any holiday sale.

Claiming innocence, your honor.

Stay with me, the York is related. This purchase reminded me of a quirky commercial, where immobile geriatrics bite into peppermint candy only to be instantly whisked away into a winter wonderland, luging downhill. On this day, I had similar hopes of immediate escape. In the midst of our frenetic buying bonanza Black Friday, I wished to sneak out the back alley, to finger dark corners of a wardrobe looking for alternatives, to go some place distant from this bloated celebration of material—of cheap, disposable toys arriving from invisible shores, feeding our growing affinity for distorted pricetags.

I wished to shoot the luge.

But giving! They say. We shop to give! Giving is beautiful! Fully agreed. To gift is an incredible symbol of love, recognition, and selfless thought towards another. Perhaps I expect us humans to be slightly more conscious in this act, to reconsider both the source and creative possibilities of celebrating another. Is it too novel to think that in such economic times, the most cost-effective solution may be locally crafted item? Handmade? What about heart-made?

No. This won’t do. Today’s marketing forces weigh too heavily. No, instead we park in cold asphalt feedlots full of carbon terrorists rushing toward consumer cathedrals worshipping lives they seek to live through things they don’t yet have, while merchants squirm desperately to resuscitate a dying economic system.

Find a pulse? Barely.

Anxious about the prospect of braving human herds this weekend? Worry not, digital devotee, for Cyber Monday will catch your introverted fall and buffer any possibility of dealing with other fellow humans entirely. I wished to avoid this sickening surge in spending like bubonic, and so I did.

Visiting family in the San Francisco Bay Area, I decided that the best way to revolt was to spend my day (and not my money) getting lost in the mountains. Black Mountain to be more, ahem, specific. Pops drops me at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve trailhead, where the PG&E trail takes me express-route high above the noise, away from steals and deals. Air crisps. Sun fights to show its face and I invite it to come play, as the favorable Northwest weather back home has certainly taken its mortal blow.

During the first ascent I encounter families hiking and conversing, squirrel and crow weaving playfully through forest. I am consistently impressed by the abundance of life this preserve orchestrates. For a few relentless miles the trail climbs steeply, and from the top it slopes severely downwards towards a canyon below. Lactic acid takes a backseat on this descent and I coast, relishing in anticipation for my favorite segment ahead, a perfect morsel of singletrack rollercoaster rounding atop ridgeline golden with expired grasses and sweeping views. Resisting little, I befriend gravity.

Photo: Vince Zammit

Reaching the reservoir in an hour marks the beginning of the second climb, a grinding 5-mile section up to Black Mountain. On this sun-soaked exposed trail, I discover rhythm and softness in thought, something I struggle to find when entering a place of purchase, malls or oversized shopping stores. There I am bombarded by a gauntlet of logos and colors, bright lights and artificial plants. I find myself distracted, comparing myself to others, worrying about money, prodded to purchase, to fill in the “Gap” of my inadequacies.

Here, I simply take refuge in foot on dirt.

Halfway up the climb I am startled by rustling in the scrub nearby. Mountain lion? Gooses quickly bump, for a prior visit to this preserve last year included an intimate encounter with two young kittens and their large mother, all within certain lunging distance. Examining more closely, I identify two deer. Exhalation. They seem good friends, siblings perhaps. Unusually close to me, they are inquisitive and confused by my condition—no shirt, crazy-haired, pasty and breathing heavily. I would be equally perplexed.

Immediately, I find myself launching into a public apology, a stuttering confession of guilt for the direction my species has turned, for the blatant ecological imbalances we humans have both created, accepted and encourage. Holiday sales they know not, and I sulk in envy. Gazing into their non-human eyes, I travel through their primal veins and scrape desperately for sameness, for kinship. And with perhaps a wink of reciprocal understanding, the moment wisps with the wind and so do they, unamused.

Two hours into my foot travels, the grid-matrix of commerce in the distance, one of anthropophilic obedience and control, retreats as I make the final steep bid to the top of Black Mountain. Elemental bliss begins to take precedence. At the summit, I see two mountain bikers ahead, and immediately identify them as Pops and Tim, one of my father’s old friends. What are the odds?! Two separate routes, two different modes of transportation, two departure times, both reaching the same point in both space and time. We embrace eachother and share this incredible moment together, an unplanned familial congregation atop a mountain among many, cheeks brushed lightly by crisping air, cloaked together in sunshine.

After some time together, we part our separate but seemingly interconnected ways back to the grid. Back to traffic. Back to the place of Carl’s Jr. and frappuccinos. Back to Midnight Sales. Back to a place where trampled consumers, uninsured, must dip into debt over their exorbitant medical bills. Back to an urban tragedy where shoppers pepperspray any obstacle to their sale items, a tactic now ubiquitously employed against both peaceful protestors and shopaholics alike.

I let go of the terror for a moment and settle into a graceful return.

Descending off of Black Mountain, I think a lot about family immediate, extended and non-human. Pops. Dirt. Grass. Scrub. Deer. And me. This day, I experienced, if only for a fleeting moment, an affiliation with both forms, and returning to the dinner table that evening with family, my gift to them took no tangible form. No annoyingly thick plastic casing to rip with their teeth. No gift receipt to preempt dissatisfaction. It was a simple recognition of their importance in my life, and mine in theirs. To serendipitously cross paths with my father on the top of that mountain was a gift from beyond, more meaningful than any product purchased.

I discovered that, on this Black Friday, 18 miles up, down and around a mountain might just be the best deal out there.

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9 thoughts on “Black Friday? No, Black Mountain

  1. Great post. You’re a wonderful writer. I know, it’s crazy about the pepper spray in stores. Looks like you had a great day with Pops and just being outside. Good for you.

  2. I like this, Nick. I like this a lot! While up here in Alaska, I was able to escape from a majority of the mayhem the lower 48 was subject to by living, largely outside of the consumerist society. Sure, the call to buy was present here too, but fortunately, making a purchase here supports people–actual people you know and speak to and not giant corporate firms looking for another easy million. I applaud your views and the forum in which you share them. This was my introduction to your blog? and I appreciated it. AND, how you handled the madness in the bustling Bay Area. My pop lives in Dublin and I find solace in knowing solitude and nature are still within grasp of the family, and that I can find a trail of my own on my winter visits back home.

  3. This is one of the many beautiful passages that touched me:
    Immediately, I find myself launching into a public apology, a stuttering confession of guilt for the direction my species has turned, for the blatant ecological imbalances we humans have both created, accepted and encourage. Holiday sales they know not, and I sulk in envy. Gazing into their non-human eyes, I travel through their primal veins and scrape desperately for sameness, for kinship. And with perhaps a wink of reciprocal understanding, the moment wisps with the wind and so do they, unamused.
    Thank you/
    Yasmin

  4. One of the best pictures of you and pops for sure! My family also participated in “buy nothing” Friday. Fortunately, we had stocked up on booze so that part of our day was not effected.

    I have been feeling the lull of “too much snow to run, not enough to ski,” but this too shall pass. Keep searching for our natural tendency to exist in balance with our world, despite the coercion toward the contrary that exists at every turn…. you will find it no doubt. And help us to find it in the process.
    Much love this Season of Joy!

  5. I’m with you all the way Nick. After I killed my TV (metaphorically speaking) for the last time I’ve felt somewhat immune from the media assault for BF. I even lobbied my family to cease and desist from giving each other gifts of anything but each others presence…. presence instead of presents. It works for me and I’m glad the spirit is alive for you too!
    Mark

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