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.