Palouse by vwl
Into the Wilderness – August 1992
A Month Later
They arrived in Boise, Idaho, after an eight-hour drive followed by an overnight stay. Betty and Stan had driven the van while Micah sat in the back seat, irritated that he was being placed in this situation, but knowing he had little choice. They had parked in a plain, small shopping center. The sign alongside the door said Eagle Crest Wilderness Treks. What the sign didn’t disclose was that these treks were not designed for yuppies from Seattle and San Francisco, but for troubled teenagers.
There were several other family groups waiting in or near their automobiles – parents with rebellious teenagers, Micah thought – waiting for the doors to open at 9 a.m. He caught a flash of blue hair on one boy trying to avoid his parents – parents who wore clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch’s racks designed for people 20 years their younger. Their incongruous dress looked especially out of place in this small Boise shopping center. They looked overly confident, as if money alone could buy a sure solution to their child’s attitude. Micah offered a friendly nod toward the boy, but the response was a look that said: who-the-fuck-do-you-think-you-are? Micah shrugged. Another blond boy dressed in Nordstrom’s best was leaning against the wall of the neighboring business. Looking at Micah’s well-worn farm boots, he somehow must have convinced himself that Micah was a hick and therefore not deserving even of a nod of the head. Micah rolled his eyes.
At five minutes to nine, two cars drove up, parked in the reserved spots, and disgorged three people dressed in mountain-casual jeans and flannel shirts. The first to the entrance took out her key and unlocked the door, reached around the doorframe to turn on the inside light and beckoned those outside to come in. She went to the counter and plugged in the coffee machine and then took some half & half and juice out of the small refrigerator sitting on a sideboard. She set some pastries alongside the drinks, leaving them in their opened bakery package.
“Help yourself, everybody. The coffee won’t be ready for a half hour, though. There’s some instant or tea if you can’t wait.”
Micah looked around the room. There were a couple of dozen molded plastic chairs in orange and pea green. The walls were painted institutional beige. The floor tile was a similarly dull color. Over the walls were tacked a number of maps, a number of prints of mountain scenes and posters with anti-anger slogans. At one end of the room were two easels with paper pads, ready to be filled with words. Doors led off to a kitchen/break room, some administrative offices and a utility room.
Eight mostly surly teenagers and their parents filed into the room and found chairs, some having stopped first for food from the sideboard. For most teenagers, there were two parents there, but some had only a father or mother. One boy was bracketed by two women, and Micah found himself speculating on whether they were both his parents.
Judging from the looks and actions of the others in the room, Micah thought it was going to be a long day, and it was. These kids weren’t like him. They were losers. He could tell from their looks, their facial movements and their dress. Micah knew that he possessed more talent than they could muster with all their being.
The long day was spent telling the kids and their parents what was expected and what could be accomplished. It was all bullshit as far as Micah was concerned. Furthermore, he thought that searching them and their belongings, as they had been forewarned would happen, would be an invasion of their rights. But the brochure sent to each kid announced that a search and inspection was exactly what would happen.
Besides, Micah didn’t feel that he really had an anger-management problem and he didn’t think he was that troubled. He was in that room only because the judge had told him to be there or face time in prison. He would cooperate, though, because he wanted to go home; he wanted to see Amelia again; he wanted to feel himself inside her again.
At the end of the afternoon, the parents were dismissed. Betty and Stan gave Micah a hug before taking off for the long drive home. They probably would have to stay overnight on their way back to Endicott – another expense that Micah felt bad about.
The eight kids were shepherded into two sleeping rooms – one for boys and one for girls – leaving their bags outside for the announced search.
* * * * *
The morning air felt bitter cold to Micah. It was late August, but at 6000 feet elevation the temperature dropped sharply at night. There was no one around him. As far as he could see, the terrain was blank: no people; there was just sagebrush silvered by the dryness of the winds and the summer dry period, rock outcroppings, and steep slopes dropping thousands of feet into a river valley. He was a boy on a survival trek – part of the Eagle Crest Wilderness Trek program. He had been out for three days. He was cold; he was hungry; he was tired from sleeping fitfully with only a thin pad between him and the hard earth. The morning was silent except for the wind that stroked his ears and the scree of an occasional hawk circling for prey.
He was trying to start a fire so that he could cook some of what he was carrying in his backpack and could warm his icy fingers that a few months before had celebrated the neck of a Guarneri violin; now, he could barely get them to cooperate to hold a lighter and spin the wheel. Now, all he wanted was to warm some water for hot tea and for mixing with a package of freeze-dried macaroni and cheese. He flicked his lighter again and again on some sagebrush that he had gathered. Finally, there was flame, and Micah threw on some twigs that he had gathered and set alongside the fire he was trying to start.
Triumph. The fire burst into stronger flames as he blew on it. He fed some twigs onto it, and soon the fire was putting off palpable warmth. Micah quickly pulled a pan from his backpack, poured some water in it from his canteen and placed it over the flame. He pulled out the packet of macaroni and cheese and added the contents to the pan. He held the pan over the fire for several minutes, relishing the warmth on his fingers. He fed the fire with more twigs, and soon the water came to boil under the macaroni. He could smell the food, and his stomach rumbled in anticipation.
He had been on his own for three days, not spotting anyone else though he figured that the trek staff was keeping an eye on him. The trek leaders had left him off not far from where he now was with a full pack of food, water and fire-making equipment along with his sheltering tent and sleeping bag – plus a compass and map. But the weather had been wet and windy earlier, so it wasn’t until this clear but cold day that Micah was able to get the fire going.
To an extent, this final exercise of the trek was easy for Micah. Micah was used to the outdoors; he was a farm boy; he was born under the big sky of the Navajo reservation. So this wild sagebrush and grass land was only a small step away from the stark beauty of the open land that surrounded the wheat fields of his home. Moreover, Micah had always been a self-starter; the intensity of his devotion to the violin was transferable to other areas, such as this wilderness experience – and his sex with Amelia. He could accept and overcome a challenge. No problem. He thought about these things as he gratefully sipped a cup of hot tea, enjoying the warmth of the sun that had broken through the clouds and their rain. He felt good being alone with just the elements and his small survival kit. Maybe it was time to become a recluse, he mused.
More seriously, he believed he was planning to be on his own – he had been adopted by the Kingmans; he wasn’t fully one of them. He was beginning to build an island of independence around himself. His world had shrunk from the wide circles of the music world to narrow borders of his life in Endicott.
He realized that the result of this wilderness trek would not be controls on his anger – he really didn’t have an anger problem – but would be a personal test of whether he could fend for himself in his life.
* * * * *
Two weeks earlier, Micah and the other seven young people had been transported by van to this remote part of eastern Oregon, along with two guides and a counselor from Eagle Crest Wilderness Treks. The parents and their teenage charges had been given a lecture on what they were attempting to achieve with the anger-management training, the Eagle Crest approach, and the nature of the trek.
On that introductory day, they had had to stand and introduce themselves and speak about what made them angry. Micah felt fairly docile compared with the rest of the young people. One had drawn a knife on his parents; another had broken the living-room furniture in a fit of anger; still another, a girl, had had fights both with her fellow students and a teacher who was trying to break up a fight. Micah thought his offenses were trivial in comparison with what he saw around him. He felt little kinship with the other trekkers at the outset, and he was sure that the three weeks of the trek wouldn’t appreciably change how he felt. Besides, he was certain his career as a musician was assured whenever he chose to pursue it in earnest.
The group – eight teenagers and four adults – started out the next morning in a large Ford van, with the back and top rack packed with equipment and supplies for three weeks in the wilderness. It took most of the day to cross into Oregon. They ended up at the hills above the Owyhee River where rounded, steep, grassy slopes plunged 5000 feet down into the valleys leading to Hell’s Canyon, with a glint of the streams at the bottom of the slopes. The highland country was the type of area that Micah was familiar with – sere, treeless and sagebrush covered, with vast empty vistas similar to land down along the Snake River near Lewiston and Clarkston, where some of his basketball games had been played. The difference in the Owyhee was in the deeper valleys on their way to the Snake River and the sea beyond.
The van journey ended at a small state-park wayside, where they all unloaded the equipment and supplies. Their 40-pound backpacks had been packed with the essential supplies and equipment for a several days’ trip, but reprovisioning would be done a few days out. Packs for a longer trip would have been too heavy for many teenagers who may or may not have been in physical condition for a heavier burden. Shortly, a horse trailer appeared, and two horses were led out and fitted with packs that would carry the heavier gear and the provisions for the second half of the trek.
Each teenager had been instructed to bring sturdy boots, layers of clothing for varying temperatures and jackets. It was clear that Nordstrom Boy had been down to Filson’s, the most expensive outfitter in Seattle – probably even when it was founded in 1898. Blue Hair was sporting a pair of boots that looked too flimsy for a hike. Micah had his work boots from the farm. His jacket was designed for the harsh Palouse winters, and he had packed a shell jacket in case of warm weather.
Because they were nearly ready to go when they arrived at the wayside, the group of teenagers and counselors was able to start out immediately even though there were going to be only a few hours of daylight. They would hike for an hour or so, set up camp for the night, and follow that with a full day of hiking the next day.
The hiking pattern was simple. One counselor would accompany two teenagers and use the opportunity to talk closely with the two – either together or separately. Micah had been paired with Blue Hair.
One of the counselors, Megan, had caught up to Micah in mid-morning, leaving Blue Hair to trail behind. “How’s it going, Micah?”
“Fine,” he replied, but he really thought that this trek was an intrusion in his life. He didn’t need it; he didn’t need anybody to intrude. He didn’t need to be there. The only reason he was there was to stay out of jail.
Megan sensed the real answer to her question wasn’t ‘fine’, but she also knew from Eagle Crest records that Micah was a far-less-troubled kid than the others on the trek. His problems were really different from the others’. She was highly skilled at drawing out and working with deeply troubled kids. She would have been happy to have had all her charges on these treks be only as troubled as Micah. However, she was in virgin territory with Micah and somewhat at a loss as how to proceed; she relished the challenge.
“Tell me why the hell you are here,” she finally said.
The way she asked the question raised a grin on Micah’s face, but he was hiking in front of her, so she didn’t see it. What she saw was Micah shrugging his shoulders. That, she understood. So many of the angry kids that she counseled appeared not to care, and a shrug was often a response to her questions. She waited for Micah to respond.
“I fucked up,” Micah said finally as he turned back to her. “I did something stupid – me and my friends.”
“Tell me. What do you want to get out of these three weeks?”
I want to get my parents off my back, was what he really wanted to say. “I want to be able to get my rebelliousness under control.”
That’s what you think you’re supposed to say, Megan thought, but what is your real answer, Micah? “What is it that makes you most angry?” Megan said, patiently.
“I don’t know,” Micah said with another shrug.
“Yes, you do know,” Megan responded.
Micah faced a large decision in his life. Should he tell this stranger what was really bothering him, or should he keep his problems to himself. He knew he didn’t have to say anything, and he knew he could resist Megan’s entreaties if he wanted to by concocting plausible stories. But did he want to? Did he even know why he was rebellious much of the time? He thought he had everything under control in his life, and he couldn’t see why his actions bothered his parents so much.
He decided he wasn’t ready yet to talk about his problems. He would make up the story as he went along.
“Do I?” he finally said.
“Yes,” Megan responded, now confident that she was closer to getting Micah to open up.
Micah hesitated then struck out with, “My father thinks he owns me. I’m almost his slave when it comes to the farm.” Thank you, brother Robert, for the idea.
“This has nothing to do with your music, then,” Megan commented, although there was an implied question mark in the way she said the sentence. And, in her mind, something did not ring true in what Micah was saying. The reports she had read about Micah said nothing about having to work on the farm as a “slave” laborer. She realized she was not close to opening Micah up to counseling. Sometimes, it was the smartest ones who were the most difficult trekkers to truly help. It wasn’t as if they were difficult to relate to. Like Micah, the smart ones could be charming, polite and personable, but what they hid under the pleasant façade was difficult to get to. Sometimes too difficult.
Micah didn’t feel enough need to change. Sure, a few moments of rebellion had turned to anger that had gotten away from him, but he felt he could keep those to a minimum in the future. Over the next couple of days, he tried to give enough to Megan, his counselor, to keep her off his back. She knew exactly what Micah was doing and couldn’t force him to open up no matter how hard she tried. Micah was always a step or two ahead of her. Micah always said the right thing, and she responded in the right way, but she knew he was spinning lies and misdirection; there was no other polite way to characterize what Micah was doing.
“You’re not helping yourself, Micah,” she said in frustration one day. “What’s troubling you is going to come back to hurt you, and I wouldn’t like to see that. You are a fine person, but you’re in over your head.”
Bullshit, Micah thought, I’m seventeen and old enough. I have enough talent on my little finger to be a star. I am native American – half, at least. I have friends in Endicott who can support me. I have a girlfriend in Endicott. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me that I can’t easily fix.
You’re over your head, Megan thought, and you don’t realize it.
“You think your talent will get you through everything. Don’t you, Micah?”
Micah said nothing.
“Talent without hard work and dedication is not enough. You realize that, I hope, Micah.”
Gee, thanks for your view; I’m well beyond that, Micah thought, but his response to Megan was a simple shrug of his shoulders.
I hope you don’t fall too far when things don’t work out as you think they will, Megan thought. You are a nice, self-sufficient, talented and, I think, wonderful kid, but I think you are headed for a fall.
“Here’s the question I want you to think about after this trek,” Megan said. “Is your anger and your recent behavior just a way of hiding from having to choose between your using of your talent and going where that will take you or remaining in the life you can have in your home town? From my professional perspective, I don’t care what your choice is; I want you to be happy in life. But I think at some time you are going to have to choose. So think about my question over the next few weeks and months.”
With Amelia – August 1992
Two Weeks Later
Over breakfast a couple of weeks after returning from the trek, Micah’s thoughts kept returning to the night before. He and Amelia had driven to Colfax and rented a motel room. They hadn’t even stopped for dinner. Their clothes were off the minute they closed the door to Room 14. Micah threw the bedspread and blankets onto the only chair in the room. Amelia lay down on her back almost immediately, with her legs spread. Micah lay between them and sucked softly at her nipples while his finger felt the moisture in her vagina. Soon, his mouth was adding to the moisture, and he was ready to enter her, which he did with a single, soft but urgent thrust. Amelia lifted her legs around Micah’s waist, pulling him into her, accentuating his thrusts against her clitoris. In only a few minutes, she heard Micah moan his release, and she felt the moisture rise around him.
She didn’t reach a climax the first time, but the next three times she did, hugging Micah to her tightly as the keening of his sounds heralded his releases.
The evening was entirely about sex. There was no conversation that didn’t complement their lovemaking. There was no movement of hand or body that didn’t have as its goal the enhancement of physical pleasure.
It was after four before they got on the road, freshly showered with the white cake of soap and dried with the small, stiff white bath towels. Micah dropped Amelia off at her house, seeing her to the door, and drove home; he was in bed by five a.m. without Greg noticing his late arrival.
Betty noticed it, though, and her expression was angry expression and her lips pursed she silently made Micah breakfast later that morning. Micah realized that he wasn’t scot-free with his behavior. Micah knew his mother wanted him to change – to settle down, to respect her and the Kingman family – but his hormones were swirling, his rebellion unabated.
“Micah, I don’t know what you’re doing,” Greg said as he rubbed Micah’s back in their pre-bedtime ritual the next night, “but you’re freaking out Mom, Dad is barely able to hold his cool, and I’m trying to keep the peace. I don’t know how much longer I can do so.”
“That’s okay, Greg. It’s not you. I… I just can’t seem to control what I’m doing. I like Amelia a lot, and the sex is a drug, but I don’t know where I’m going with my life – is it music, is it Endicott, is it something else? I guess until I figure it out, I can’t help but be a pain in the ass. Sorry. And thanks for sticking by me.”
* * * * *
“Stan, it’s not working. Micah is letting his future slip away.” Betty and Stan were having coffee in the morning while all the kids were away from the house. “Actually, he’s letting his present get away.”
“He’s still young, and he’ll adjust, I’m sure of it.”
“But if he knocks up this girl, his music career is over.”
“Like yours was?” Stan said with a trace of bitterness in his voice.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Stan, I’m happy with what I…we chose, believe me. Sure, every once in a while I think about what might have happened otherwise, but there was no guarantee that my piano career would go anywhere. The field is very competitive. I probably would have ended up teaching piano – which I do now.
“Stan, I love you; I love our family. I’ve had a wonderful life here.” Betty kissed her husband, pulling him to her.
“But Micah…” Betty sighed and took a sip of coffee. “He really can go farther than I ever could, and I will not let him undermine his future irretrievably – he needs time to come to his senses.” A look of determination – a look that Stan knew very well – was on her face.
“So what are we going to do, Betty, if he takes up with the same crowd that he did?”
“Let’s figure out some alternatives.”
A week later Betty was determined that the backup plan that she and Stan had worked out for Micah couldn’t come soon enough. Micah’s behavior around home hadn’t changed; in fact, he was rarely around home.
For only a few days after his wilderness trek, had he been more respectful, but his behavior began to drift back to what it had been pre-trek as he resumed associating with his old friends. She feared they were trouble.
Stan spoke with Micah about the drift in his behavior. Betty and Stan had made a two-week deadline to allow things to settle down. The next two weeks were trying for her. Micah’s behavior didn’t change, and something had to be done – a second time. She knew Micah would resist. She was aware that the family was at a crossroads.