The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

War Games

On the Oregon coast, there’s a giant sand dune conveniently located next to a microbrewery where kids and families slog up and then roll down, before climbing back into their mini-vans dizzy and with sand in their shoes. As a kid though, I enjoyed the backside of the dune—a warren of sand paths in coastal greenery—even more than sledding down the sandy slope. You could crawl through a maze of plant tunnels, sneak up and spy on the other kids. You never knew what was around the corner. There could be nothing, or you could find yourself running into a suburban dad or a white-tailed deer. You were always close to others, but if you were stealthy, they couldn’t see you. I got a certain mischievous thrill when they had no idea you were crawling circles around them.

Crouched in the Hong Kong foilage near the border with China holding an automatic weapon, I remembered how exciting that feeling was. When you’re crawling around trying to remain hidden, you become aware of every movement and every sound around you. Even if you’re just waiting in the bushes, time seems to stretch out, and you’re aware of every moment.

A couple of weeks ago, a few friends and I got roped into playing war games. I’d imagined something akin to the paintball experiences I’d had: We’d run around a small field, getting shot at by teenagers on birthday parties. But when we got to the bus stop, we realized we the people shooting at us wouldn’t be rank amateurs. Everybody was in full fatigues and many wore genuine military helmets with built-in radios. When we got the field, everybody took out their guns and lovingly assembled them, comparing sizes and models with the people around them. We were the only people—out of about 80—without our own automatic rifles. We just referred to as ‘the rentals’, and with our inferior gear we made easy targets for the military hobbyists and their high-powered BB M-16s and sniper rifles.

The BBs don’t hurt a great deal unless you’re hit at really close range. Of course, we didn’t know this in the first round when we were dumped into a labyrinth of forest paths. There was no team strategy or goal. We were just told to shoot the enemy. We’d recognize the them, we were told, because they’d be shooting at us. Fair enough, I thought, but the reality was you’re almost always in total confusion about who’s around the corner. In the fog of war, one constantly wonders, ‘If I crawl down the path, will I find myself staring down the barrel of an enemy rifle?’ Usually, when you crawl around a corner, you meet an empty path, but enough of the time, you find yourself getting shot in the face that you became hyper-sensitive to the sounds around you, listening for any clue about who’s in the neighborhood.

In the end, I don’t think the world’s armies will come recruiting me after my first effort as a foot soldier, but I didn’t do half bad either. Maybe crawling around the Oregon coast spying on other children taught me a thing or two after all.

Resting by a Mountain Lake.

I watched their flight, butterfly after butterfly; a flutter of wings in the scree, a zig-zag in the grass, and one monarch probing my sun-tan lotioned feet with her proboscis. I tried to count them as they darted around the volcanic rock: two, five, seven. Ten, because three flew from behind all at once.

Just one. I noticed a Great Blue Heron right in front of me, unimpressed by my presence. After inspecting the lake and finding the amount of fish simply unacceptable, she flew up to another mountain lake, hidden deep in the talus fields to my left. I lost her as she became a flattened ‘m’ against the snowfields of South Sister, like a bird I would draw in elementary school. A few minutes later, she flew away from the hidden lake, curving left and right as if hanging from an invisible pendulum as she floated on an updraft.

Eleven, twelve. The monarchs were still wheeling and swirling in the grass around me, distracting me from the heron. Two of the butterflies at my ankles were surely new. They had a fleck of green in their otherwise orange wings. Zero. The blue heron had disappeared by the time I’d looked back up—thirteen, fourteen—but the butterflies were everywhere.

The backpacking trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness was exactly what I needed between my time in Manhattan and my adventures in Hong Kong: a time to simply relax and count the butterflies.

See related photos: here, here, here, here, and here

Lunch Break at a Meadow

If you squinted your eyes, the meadow could have looked like the Serengeti from those nature shows on the Discovery Channel: tall, light grass all around (though perhaps a shade too green). Years ago, this was exactly where the greying professor had seen a mountain lion. But with open eyes, the mountain meadow looked liked any other meadow: pretty but not something that makes a unique imprint on one’s memory. We stood where the lion had been, imagining scenes from television of lions crouched in the high grass. We hiked on; we had a few more days in the wilderness. I guess for now, I’ll just have to squint and picture Planet Earth™.

See related photos: here, here, here, here, and here

The Magical Powers of Hot Chocolate

I think everyone can agree that certain foods and beverages have magical powers. Tea—particularly proper British tea—has the power to cure the sniffles. The chicken and rice from a cart on 53rd and 6th in Manhattan has the magical ability to allow young, urban adventurers to keep walking six more hours all the way through sunrise. However, the most magical of all is hot chocolate.

The first night in the Three Sisters Wilderness, my soul had gone into hibernation. Souls tend to do that when it gets cold and windy. I was left with only my reptile brain, giving me a vague fantasy of basking on a rock in full sun. Despite my desire to crawl into the tent and continue dreaming of warmer weather, the professor insisted that we stay outside and wait for him to make hot chocolate. He would share, he promised. After shivering for a while, we could all finally stir the chocolate powder into the boiling water.

Sipping the hot chocolate elixir, the heat spread from inside my soul to the tips of my fingers. I could think human thoughts again, and I remembered all the other times that hot chocolate had magically brought me back. In elementary school, Mrs. Knab dispensed Swiss Miss after every rainy day of traffic patrol with the same enlivening effect, and I realized that throughout human history, people have realized this exact same thing that my gradeschool teacher must’ve understood. For example, Montezuma drank hot chocolate several times a day, from gold beakers which were destroyed after only one drink. Though Aztec backpackers would have been out of luck; only Aztec leaders were allowed to drink hot chocolate. They wanted to themselves the special powers it gave them. I finally understood the big deal: hot chocolate is magic.

“Now was the hot chocolate worth it?”

I smiled. It wasn’t really a question; he could see that I now understood the powers of hot chocolate too.