Part the Second: You Are What You Eat, or the Macrobiotic Cult Goes a'Courtin'
Some time back, I posted an entry about the chaos that ensued the first time I entered the Tahoe National Forest. this project ended up being so full of strange stories (involving everything from collapsing canyon roads to dangerous modes of transportation to driving through freak snow storms, and so on and so forth) that I had intended to write a series detailing these stories in the sequence in which they had occurred. As you can tell by the fact that it is now a year later and this series has not appeared, I flaked.
Instead, I have decided, I will write up a "greatest hits" version of the series, with the stories out of sequence, as that will allow me to write what interests me at a given moment. Perhaps I'll work all of these out and provide a correct sequence somewhere down the road. But, then again, I am a bit of a flake.
So, today, I will tell of a weird experience in which a coworker and I encountered a strange forest-dwelling cult.
My coworker (who I'll call Stacy for no reason other than I haven't asked the coworker if I can use her real name and Stacy is the first name to pop into my head) and I had been assigned to perform archaeological surveys in order to determine whether or not any sites might be impacted by the relicensing of hydroelectric facilities located in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests. Because of the history of the project, some of the recreation areas, including campgrounds, were considered project facilities. As the project changed, new facilities were added to the project description, and so after my first trek into the wilderness, Stacy and I had to return for a second round. On our schedule was a survey of a large campground.
The campground in question is available by reservation only, and so we had originally intended to call the Forest Service and find out when it would be empty and we could easily do our survey. After talking to the boss and considering some of the personalities involved, we finally determined that it would be better to just go. After all, Summer Vacation was over, we would be out there on a weekday, there was little reason to think that any significant number of people would be at the campground, and so we should be able to go about our business in peace.
With our docket o' surveys full and a rented truck loaded with equipment, Stacy and I headed east towards the Sierra Nevadas. It was a three hour drive to the foothills of the mountains, and then a two hour drive up twisty and narrow mountain roads to get to our destination (entertaining ourselves along the way with talk of jive-talking sock puppets delivering papers at archaeology conferences). Although we had several locations to survey, we decided to head first to the campground to get it out of the way, and so, five hours later, we were pulling into the campground's rather expansive parking lot.
The first thing we noticed is that the parking lot was packed with cars. the second thing we noticed is that an large number of the cars had license plate holders indicating that they were from Santa Cruz, which was decidedly odd. We didn't look further, the campground was obviously crowded, and we had a few days in which to work, so we decided we'd come back a few days later and see if it was less crowded then.
Over the next two days, we managed to survey everything that we needed to. We stared down steep cliffs, wound our way through long-forgotten forest trails looking for facilities that had been mis-mapped, we crawled through poison oak in the deeper canyons, and we got rained on while trying to avoid trouble on steep mountainside-roads. On more than one occasion, I said the phrase "hey, take the car keys, I'm about to do something stupid."
...and on our last day we returned to the campground only to find the parking lot still full. After a short discussion, we realized that we could still work with the campers around, we'd just have to play "dodge-the-tourist" a bit more than we'd like and be a bit vague when asked why we were there (archaeological sites tend to get looted, so if we found any, we didn't want to broadcast it). And so we parked the truck, climbed out, grabbed the appropriate gear, and began walking to our starting point. As we started our oh-so-purposeful march, someone called out to us. We turned to see who it was, and found ourselves face-to-face with Jimmie Carter's reanimated corpse. Well, it looked like a zombie Jimmie Carter, anyway. He was gangly, buck-toothed (though his teeth seemed to be rotting), grey of palor, and generally looking like he should not be ambulatory. I was shocked that he was capable of lurching towards us as he was, and I was instantly grateful that Stacy had shorter legs than me and that this creature would feast on her brains before it could catch me.
As the creature continued to amble towards us, he shot out his hand and announced "Hi! Welcome to the macrobiotic camp-out."
Stacy and I each shook his hand in turn, as he attempted to explain macrobiotics* to us. Being from Santa Cruz**, we were both already familiar with this particular fad, but we humored him and continued to nod and smile as he explained it to us. He finished off by saying "well, I expect that you're both here to look for gold," I explained that we were not, and that we were in fact environmental consultants working ona hydroelectric project. "Well if you want to find out what's really important in life then spend the day with us. You'll give up the gold search and look to better things."
With that, he turned to walk back to a large tent that had been set up in the middle of the campground, and upon which hung a banner that read "MACROBIOTIC BOOKSTORE". But as he walked away, he briefly turned back and told us "we're not some weird cult, just a group of people who are looking for a better life."
The location where we were working was ground zero during the Gold Rush, and it remains a popular area for recreational gold panners, so his assumption, while a bit odd, wasn't too terribly crazy. However, his refusal to accept that we wren't looking for gold struck Stacy and I as sorta' loopy. Also, it seems to me that if you feel the need to inform others that your group is not a weird cult, that should be clue number 1 that perhaps you actually DO belong to a weird cult.
Stacy and I split up and approached the main campground. For people who felt themselves to be on the forefront of healthy living, the people at this campout/convention were rather amazingly unhealthy looking. Everyone there was either emaciated or morbidly obese, there was no middle ground. Many of them had the same greyish complexion as our greeter, and all of them appeared to be sullenly going through the motions. If an advocate of this diet wants to convert others to their cause, I suggest that they never let their target actually see other dieters.
As we worked, Stacy and I were both appraoched by several different campers. In each case, the conversation followed essentially the same script:
Them: "Hi. So, you're looking for gold."
Us: "No, we're environmental consultants working on the relicensing of a hydroelectric facility."
Them: "Oh. Well, Gold isn't all that important, you know.
Us: "Which would explain why were not looking for gold. We're environmental consultants."
Them: "We're macrobiotic dieters," sometimes they'd say 'lifestylers', "and if you'd stop looking for gold and spend the day with us, you'd find out what's really important in life."
Us: "As I've said, I'm not looking for gold, I'm an environmental consultant, and while I appreciate the invitation, I have a job to do."
Them: "Oh. Well, come back and join us when you're done."
And then they'd walk away, about half of the time stopping to say something along the lines of "we're not a weird cult, just people who've found what's important in life."
Finally we finished in the campground, and Stacy and I met back up. As I approached the truck, where Stacy was waiting, a disturbingly obese woman was lecturing my coworker about the macrobiotic diet lifestyle, Stacy looking as if her mind were off in Norway somewhere. I walked up just in time to hear the woman say "but we're not a weird cult, just people who've found meaning in our lives!" as she left. Less than a minute later, a fellow who was skinny to the point of being skeletal walked past and called out, in a chanting call, "Ten minutes to chanting."
Stacy and I looked at each other to confirm that we both heard what we thought we had heard, got into the vehicle, and headed home, laughing all the way.
* Macrobiotics, for those who don't know, is a psuedoscientific approach to creating a healthy diet. There may be some health benefits to some of the practices - although the assortment of humanity on display in the campground seemed to be a firm argument otherwise - but the same and more could easily be gained from other better thought out vegetarian diets (and no, I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't deny reality and I'm therefore not going to deny that a well put together vegetarian diet can be quite healthy). However, those benefits that do exist are likely the result of accident, trial-and-error, or lifting from more thoughtful diets without regards to macrobiotic rules, as the mystical basis of the diet is rather nonsensical.
** For those unaware, Santa Cruz is one of those places that tends to be on the forefront of whatever manner of New-Age idea is floating about. This can lead to us seeing some very cool stuff (or at least having some interesting conversations with people), but it also means that alot of really stupid nonsense tends to come our way as well.