The year was 1976. Big shoes were in. So was big hair, big pants legs, big belts, big hats, big sunglasses, big neckties, and collars on men’s shirts that were so huge it was like having your head stuck between two skateboard ramps.
I don’t know why everything was so big in the 70’s. I think it had something to do with all the drugs people starting taking in the 60’s. I think when everyone realized that drugs are horrible for you and make you crazy, they stopped taking them–but then still wanted everything to look the way it had back when they’d been popping major hallucinogens.
Hence the introduction into our culture of disco balls, lime-green polyester jumpsuits, and the Bee-Gees.
That’s just a theory, though. I really don’t know.
In 1976 I was 18 years old and basically homeless. (I moved out of my house just after turning seventeen. My home situation was … an outstanding one to leave.) I had a friend from high school, though, who, as a new student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, was staying in the dorms there, and she allowed me to spend the nights in her dorm room.
(Um … this might be a good time to mention that this was 20 years before I became a Christian–and that my choice for where to spend my nights really did boil down to that dorm room, or outside somewhere. And I’m here to tell you: the nights in Santa Cruz are cold. I’m not by any means saying that staying with my friend was right, but only that it didn’t even occur to me not to be glad that I at least had a place to sleep.)
The good news is that I had a place to sleep. The bad is that my friend had a single-occupancy room on a dorm floor wing dedicated to girls only. At that time, at that school, all the dorm floors were co-ed. Girls and boy weren’t put together as roommates–but two girls would room next to two guys, who’d be next to two girls, who’d be across the hall from two guys, and so on. All the floors of all the dorms were like that.
All of them, that is, except for the one on which my friend had ended up. That hall was strictly for girls only.
Point being: I didn’t belong anywhere on that campus–and I sure didn’t belong anywhere on that wing of that dormitory on that campus.
Which meant I had to spend my days being gone. I could sneak in very late at night after everyone else was asleep–but during the days it was definitely best if I acted like a banana, and split.
So where did I spend my days? But of course: In the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. UCSC is located right beside that massive spread of prime redwood real estate–I think it’s actually in the park–so every morning before dawn I’d grab whatever food my friend has filched for me the night before from the dorm cafeteria, jam it into my pockets, and head out to spend yet another day being Fern Boy of the West.
You spend enough 12-hour days alone in a redwood forest, and you know what happens to you? You go a little insane. But besides that, you learn some stuff about nature. Nothing that’ll ever do you any good, or anything–but after a while you can’t help but pick up a few things about Woodland Creatures, and flowers, and … I don’t know … dirt.
Especially about birds. Birds seem to be the one thing that kept, like, happening to me when I was out there. You know how birds are: They’re so … intense about everything.
Anyway, I used to have a lot of time to kill out in those woods. So one of the things I used to do was find a spot that seemed like it had Optimum Viewing Possibilities–my favorite, for instance, was on the edge of this vast meadow–and then sit in that spot and basically try not to move for, like, eight hours.
The idea, see, is that I would just sort of blend with my environment, and then, after awhile–after all the animals either got so used to me or simply forgot I was there–I figured I’d get to see like, Top Notch forest stuff! Wildlife! Deer! Other … wildlife! Gnomes, maybe! Snow White and however many of her dwarves would still be alive! Who knew?
But definitely animals. That was the point: To see as many animals as I could.
Ergo, I found it wise to sit, freeze, wait and watch.
And that’s what I was doing the day I spotted, in the crook of a large, gnarly, non-redwood tree almost all the way across my Fave Rave meadow, a giant bird’s nest.
And that, I’m afraid, is where all my woodsy troubles began.