“It is with gratitude and respect that I submit my resignation from Xenocorp, effective immediately.” The blue send button sat motionless, daring me. It’s funny how certain seconds in your life carry so much weight. Life-altering moments that seem so trivial yet pass by in an instant. One click is all it took, and the life I knew before vanished and my life unplugged began.
I had to get away. Beyond the reach of the digital environment. The all-seeing eye that watches and follows everyone and knows everything. Is there even a place that it doesn’t see? If there was, I was going to find it. I needed to find a place that was still wild. Still Free. So I went north.
It must be the cold. Something about sub-arctic temperatures keeps places wild. People do not want to brave the elements or be inconvenienced by snow and ice. They give up on the freedom and beauty of the natural world for the comfort, safety, and familiarity of their connected lives. Well, I was ready to reboot myself. If my theory was correct, the cold of the north has stopped or at least slowed the spread of digital oppression.
My past life had been a prosperous one. A career as a computer scientist had allowed me to deep dive into all of the modern world’s conveniences. Most of them were unnecessary. Everything I ever needed was a button press away. Food could be delivered with minimal brain engagement, along with anything else that entered your thoughts randomly. At your door before you even had time to regret it. Nothing had to be earned, everything was instant. My life of comfort and complacency had created a hunger for something more. Something untamed and perhaps even dangerous.
Pilots in the northern reaches of Canada generally won’t fly anyone into the bush without a return itinerary. Liability and whatnot. I get it. Luckily for me, finding a down-on-his-luck bush jockey at the local watering hole wasn’t difficult. He was more than willing to turn a blind eye for a lump of cash. What did he care if some city boy disappeared in the woods? A quick flight north and he would be set to drown his sorrows for at least the next few weeks. A few hours after this mutually beneficial agreement, I found myself standing in a sea of green. I found myself alone at last. Unseen by anyone.
I wasn’t prepared for the silence. Such an odd thing to be mesmerized by, the lack of sound. There are so many little things that make noise in our lives. Various pings, dings, or rings emit from the plethora of devices that surround us daily. Out here, noise is all-encompassing, rather than a distraction. Leaves hum as the breeze passes through them. The trickling flow of a river draws you in to be memorized by the life it holds just beneath its surface. You are connected to it. There was no stronger affirmation that you had escaped the grasp of technology. I have found the silence to be intoxicating.
Food would be the biggest problem. I brought a fishing kit, some snares, and a small breakdown .22 caliber rifle. There was also the bag of camping meals I brought to compensate for my lack of woodsmanship. I had hoped I could ration them out between wild-caught meals. Maybe I was too optimistic.
As the rod sections unraveled from the canvas tube, childhood memories of fishing flooded my mind. We never caught anything particularly impressive. Bluegills, perch, and occasionally a walleye were the extent of my known fishing ability. Such warm memories, watching my dad bait a hook for me. Showing me how to cast. No distractions, just us and the fish. No devices or monitors pulling us away from the moment. A sense of thankfulness hit me. I hope Dad is doing alright.
My first trout was a feeling I will never forget. I flicked out a small spoon from my fishing kit into the current, targeting a pocket of still water in the river. The lure drifted down and everything went still. I was already thinking about which freeze-dried meal I would have to open that night. My dinner planning was interrupted as the line tightened. I have never been so happy to see a palm-sized brook trout. I had caught food. I had caught life.
Night brought with it a darkness that was not familiar. On cloudy nights it was like a black fog that consumed you. Even my brightest flashlight seemed to barely cut through it. Yet clear nights felt otherworldly with different hues of blues and milky whites of the cosmos lighting up the camp like an interstellar nightlight. It was intensely breathtaking. I found myself thinking of my family on those nights. I had traveled out here to escape the constant connection to everyone. Curiously enough, when faced with the indescribable beauty of this place, my strongest desire was to share the moment. To connect with those I loved. Nights would begin to turn colder as the days moved on. I would need a more permanent shelter.
Snow began to drift through the air sooner than I had anticipated. The tent had been replaced with a small log hut with a vent hole in the back to let the smoke out. I had begun to stockpile fish and small animals by smoking them. I knew the winter was going to test me. In the old world, help was just a few clicks away at any moment. Disconnecting from technological luxury also meant disconnecting from the safety it provided. Surviving the long cold season was my only option.
Cold is a sensation that everyone is familiar with. Very few, however, have had the luxury of experiencing the deep penetrating cold that freezing in the Northwoods provides. My camp rations were gone at this point. I was surviving on stockpiled dried fish and rabbit. Fishing was unproductive, and my snares began to stay empty. The fire didn’t even seem to warm me anymore. Its smoky aroma brought flashes of Christmas dinners at home. Every nibble of fish I imagined as a juicy slice of ham. Just needed salt.
I needed a belt for my pants now. I sat there staring at the wrappers of my camping meals stuffed into the corner of the hut. Back home with a few clicks, there would be five more boxes of them headed my way. It was like a cruel joke. Dried fish was all I had now. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was dried fish. Hard work always pays off, right? Except it doesn't.The forest doesn’t care how hard you work. It will slap you in the face and laugh at you as you keep trying.
The fish is gone. Once in a while, I find a rabbit caught in a snare. I find myself struggling more and more to muster the energy to check them. They are not occurring at any kind of sustainable rate. I’m always hungry and cold now. I might try fishing more. It is not as physically demanding to sit there and tend lines. It may be delusional, but I need something to eat.
There was an open area on the shoulder of the river. I tied some lines to a few branches and attached an array of spoons to them, letting them drift downstream. The current would suspend them in the pockets I targeted. I built a fire and sat down in the open within view of my new fish traps. The fire melted the snow off my boots. I felt like I was skiing with my family and sitting by an open fire with a warm drink. I missed them.
Thoughts of everything I left behind overwhelmed me. I began to feel regret. I hadn’t told anyone where I was. They knew I’d be out of touch for a while but they didn’t know for how long or where I’d be gone. I had intentionally looked for a way out. Out so far, so disconnected that I’d be sure to escape everything that followed. Well, I succeeded. Perhaps a little too well. The only person who knew my location was most likely slumped over a bar stool right now.
Maybe I was wrong. Was I focused on the wrong thing? I had hated the synced-together world so much that I gave up everything to get away. My hatred of technology blinded me to the love of my family. I was foolish and impulsive. Now freezing to death, alone in the Canadian wilderness was an impending reality. I should have come with my family. My dad would love it here. I just wish I could share the beauty of this place with him. It’s harsh, unrelenting, beauty.
There were no fish on the lines. The fire was starting to die out. I forced myself to throw some snow-covered sticks in an attempt to keep it alive. Dry wood was impossible to find. The wet sticks smoldered and smoked. I couldn’t even find the strength to move as it drifted into my face. I’m so hungry. Maybe I would forget about the cold if I took a little nap. At least for a moment. I didn’t even put up a fight as my smoke-filled eyelids began falling shut.
The cold disappeared. I looked up and saw my dad standing in the river next to me, flicking his fly rod back and forth. I called out to him but he didn’t seem to hear me. He is so focused, so peaceful. I called out again. Without turning to face me, he says, “Gosh, it’s so beautiful out here”. He remained fixated on casting into the hole he was targeting. “Dad, what are you doing here?” I asked. He replied without taking his eyes off his fly rod, “We miss you, son. It’s time to go home.” This made no sense. I asked him the question again. He stopped and looked at me for the first time. “It’s time to go home, son.”
Slowly, the sensation of freezing returned to my body. Pulling my eyes halfway open, I saw my feet next to the fire. Smoke billowed into the air above. I turned my head to the river where I saw my dad. He was gone. My head fell back into the snow. There is no more strength left. My eyes closed again, maybe just a little longer this time. In the moments before I drifted back out of consciousness, I swear I heard the growing drone of a plane engine coming closer. Probably another dream, I think to myself, as the cold disappears entirely.