For the looted, stripped minivan on my favorite backwoods hike, sung to the tune of “The Sound of Silence”:
“Hello Honda, my old friend. I’ve stopped to gawk at you again. Some tweakers brought you up here joyriding, Jacked you from the the Skyway Burger King, With a 308 they put you down when you ground out here, Like a crippled steer, Far from the sound of sirens.
“Up here the law is hardly known. Hill folk wanna be left alone. Crimes go without much a-reporting By the felons with whom they’re consorting. Silent trees are mute to mischief that no man sees, And authorities Can bring no sound of sirens.
“You’re just a basic CR-V Lacking 4WD A soccer mom’s tender minivan Unsuited to this rocky wasteland. When you bottomed out they shoved over the steep cliffside In the trackless night, Far from the sound of sirens.”
I had my first encounter with one of the hill dwellers who, I’d been cautioned euphemistically, “isn’t real social.” As it turned out, we just ignored each other. I was taking a break at the side of the road, he was watering Some Kind of Plant Life 100 yards away, and neither of us acknowledged the other. Moments later I was on my way.
When you wander far into the boonies alone, it is an act of faith in people. Where phone service is hours away and the sheriff another hour or two after that, anyone you happen upon with a vehicle or a friend has an almost insuperable advantage over you, and if they wished you harm, they could do it with a free hand and complete privacy, and they would probably get away with it forever.
And yet the people I meet in the middle of nowhere prove cordial and downright benevolent. Most recently it was a couple of thick, rough men with neck beards in a Suburban who stopped to exchange a few words and offer water or a lift, and as they rolled away their parting words were “Stay safe.” I marvel at how nice people are even when they have no reason to be.
I’m not offering an ecstatic panegyric about the innate goodness of humankindpersonkind, just noticing that we are such social animals that even in settings where we can harm people with impunity, we mostly still do the opposite.
It doesn’t hurt that both parties can virtually take it for granted that the other is armed: an armed society really is a polite society. But by itself that would only explain a wary indifference, not the warmth, concern, and fellow-feeling that’s actually out there.