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From the Court to the Trail

“I know what I want for my birthday” Jennifer said excitedly, barely able to hold it in.

I sat down for dinner and quickly realized that this would not be our typical dinner conversation which usually didn’t stray far from “So, how was your day?”

The truth is that I had known that this conversation was coming. I had been dreading it but I was also prepared for it. It was her fiftieth birthday. What was she going to say? And more importantly, how much was this going to cost me?

My mind immediately drifted back to a conversation that I had with a Judge I worked with. He told me to “be prepared for the fiftieth birthday.” He said that his wife expected an extended trip to Europe for her fiftieth birthday. He told me that he had heard of another guy whose wife, apparently a Prince fan, expected “a little red Corvette.”

“A fiftieth birthday is a big deal for wives” he said. “Be prepared to spend a lot.”

I had been thinking about this for a few months. I thought about planning a surprise birthday party with all of our friends. I could send out invitations and get an authentic blues band to play at our farm. After all, we lived in central Mississippi, just a few miles from the Mississippi delta, birthplace of the blues. Jennifer loved going to Blue Front Café in Bentonia, one of the few original Mississippi juke joints still going strong. Throw in a slow cooked pig for pulled pork, some Mississippi tamales, and lots of beer. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Barbeque, blues and our best friends!” A theme party! And it had a nice ring to it. I was on a roll. “She will love it” I thought, trying to convince myself of my great idea.

“It is going to be a lot of fun” Jennifer said, snapping me back to reality.

“What?” I said.

“The hike!” she said. “Weren’t you listening? I want to go hiking in the mountains for my birthday!”

“Hiking? Oh, yeah, sure” I mumbled.

Hiking in the mountains, I thought. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Heck, it is probably even cheaper than a surprise party. I could find a resort in Colorado. We could spend a long weekend walking for a few hours before making our way back to the lodge for cocktails and dinner. In the afternoon we could even spend time in the spa getting massages and relaxing. After all, I could stand to get away from the office for a few days. A mountain getaway might be just the thing that I could enjoy. And, it sounded a lot less expensive than a European tour or a fancy sports car.

“The John Muir Trail is a little over 200 miles long” she said. “We will begin in Yosemite National Park and walk south. We are going to hike across nine different mountains passes, through three separate parks, experiencing some of the most beautiful natural landscape in the world. And, after about four weeks, the trail ends on top of Mount Whitney, at 14,500 feet it is the highest point in the continental United States.”

Four weeks? 200 Miles? The highest point in the United States? I heard what she was saying, but I wasn’t completely comprehending.

“Is there a resort?” I asked, clearly not understanding.

“No, silly!” she said. “We are going to carry a tent and all of our food. We can drink from the mountain lakes and streams. We will be away from civilization. No phones, no television, no internet. We will be away from the news, from work, and from people. Just the two of us immersed in and surrounded by all of that natural beauty!”

This still wasn’t computing with me. Despite being born and raised in Mississippi, I’m not the outdoor type. You could count on the fingers of one hand the nights I had slept outside.

In Mississippi, kids grow up in the woods, hunting and fishing. In a rite of passage, each winter boys and girls alike accompany their fathers to deer camps across the state. These camps can be quite elaborate and some are camps in name only. They can have private bedroom suites, large dining halls, and lodges with large windows overlooking lakes stocked with fish and water fowl.

The higher end camps have swimming pools, hot tubs, large screen media rooms, and of course, poker tables for a friendly late night card game. They consist of hundreds of acres of land stocked with exotic game. For the right price, a sportsman, as they are called, can spend a weekend hunting exotic animals such as an African Addax, Hawaiian Ram, European Red Stag, or even a zebra.

Of course, food is an important aspect of deer camp. The cooking at these facilities is often overseen by African American women with southern soul food recipes that have been handed down for centuries. Grits, cathead biscuits and gravy, and deer sausage can be found alongside eggs, bacon and pancakes for breakfast. Vegetables are cooked with enough fat and grease to make a cardio vascular surgeon wince. But, there are never any complaints about the food at deer camp.

Hunting is a way of life in Mississippi. Fathers and mothers can be seen accompanying children in a quest to kill that first deer. During hunting season, families will spend a weekend in the woods getting away from the routine of their daily lives. Harvesting a deer, as it is called, is a family activity. Once the deer has been killed, it is hung upside down and drained of blood before skinning and processing the meat. During this time of year, Mississippi social media posts can look like scenes from some bad horror movie, with young kids standing over dead animals in the darkness of the woods. In what is reminiscent of an ancient ritual, the blood of that first deer is rubbed on the proud smiling faces of Mississippi children.

I was not one of those children. I still get squeamish at the sight of a fish flopping on the end of a fishing line, gasping for breath like a movie astronaut in a malfunctioning spacesuit. I went to law school not because of some lofty ideal of protecting the downtrodden. I went to law school because I don’t like to get dirty.

“This really is going to be an amazing experience for us” Jennifer said. “Think about it. Just the two of us, away from all of our worries and routines, away from telephones and work, just us, alone in this beautiful and remote mountain wilderness paradise.”

“Wow!” I said, faking a smile. “Just us, alone in the mountain wilderness..”

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