Why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute?

Making, and unmaking, rules amid Deep Creek’s majesty

By Captain

The Ad Hoc Rules Committee of the Patio Boys, Inc., met for three and half days with intermittent breaks for hiking in the Deep Creek region of the Great Smoky Mountains amid the bustle of an arriving spring which ─ with a magnanimity only the planet can muster ─ provided near perfect weather, a cascade of early season wildflowers, and abundant water from the circulatory system of tiny streams that keeps the mountains' heart beating and kept us hydrated for the grueling work of establishing the institutional architecture of our esteemed organization.

Everyone longs for a functioning democracy, glorified by give-and-take and sanctified by consensus not gridlock. Whether in nations or in hiking clubs, that government which governs least may be, as Jefferson assured us, best; but least presupposes some governance not none. While the current political discourse in America might suggest an affection for anarchy, any serious reading of American history will confirm that the Founding Fathers wanted structure. Hence, the Constitution. And if was good enough for Ben Franklin, George Washington, and, for God’s sake James McClurg (a Virginia delegate who favored a lifetime appointment for the president and federal primacy), then it should be good enough for the Patio Boys. We’ve been walking together for a decade or more, so maybe we should take a page from another of America’s leading thinkers, Paul Simon:

I was walking down the street
When I thought I heard this voice say,
“Say, ain’t we walking down the same street together
On the very same day?”
I said, “Hey Senorita that’s astute”
I said, “Why don’t we get together
And call ourselves an institute?”

The Patio Boys have been walking down the same street together on the very same day far longer than the senorita. It was time to codify. Time to get together and call ourselves an institute.

Conditions were ideal for the arcane task of considering and concocting rules. Had  Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti conducted their first negotiations at Deep Creek during a spring spell like the one we enjoyed, Peter Edward might now be in Gamblers Anonymous and the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Angelo Bartlett would have been spared premature death of a heart attack at age 51 and instead be living quietly at age 78 as baseball commissioner emeritus and perhaps back at Yale teaching English Renaissance literature. 

Deep Creek is situated in Smokies' southeast corner just across the Tennessee border into North Carolina. The area is, as the Park Service guides say so well, “celebrated for its streams and waterfalls,” which attract laconic day hikers, over-equipped fly fishermen as well as real ones, and tubers, who float down Deep Creek as if it were a waterpark. While some of that distracts, none of it destroys. There is beauty here. Abundant beauty. In the same way that corporate types retreat to the mansions, golf courses, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras Parfaits of The Greenbrier, we could relax along Deep Creek and its tributaries, albeit with a slightly less upscale dinner menu. But don’t knock instant mashed potatoes reconstituted with boiling water in a Glad freezer bag until you’ve tried them. Just like foie gras, they go well with bourbon.

Here we assembled a quorum on the evening of Thursday, April 14, 2016, at 10:30 p.m. for what would become the aforementioned Ad Hoc Rules Committee. We would have gathered earlier but three of us – me, John Hennessey, and John Curtin – drove down after work and so were just arriving. Bob Pauly, Mark McGinnis, and the brothers Ankenbauer, Bill and Jim, were already settled in, campfire blazing and music blaring. Meetings have their preliminaries. Attendees check in with each other. Kids. Job. Weather. Sports. Lawn care. All are safe topics before digging in. Politics. Religion. Rules and regulations. Not so much. It’s the cocktail hour. Loosen up. We’ll buckle down later for the tough stuff. Campsite 51, our situs for the deliberations ahead, was imperfect, or as Bob described it, “The worst campsite in the Smokies.” But the Constitution itself was drafted in Philadelphia long before cheesesteaks and the Rocky movies. If the Founding Fathers could persevere through their 18th Century food desert without Netflixing Stallone, surely we could handle 51’s hilly tent sites, scraggly footpath to a trickle of water, and peculiar deer, wandering about with no more fear of humans than the deer that nibble at our petunias back home.

Besides, we had music; which, I might add, has gotten more sophisticated. I don’t recall any music in the early years, except when we sang "Oh Mona!" to scare off bears. Then a few of us began to carry iPods with ear buds for personal listening. Bill Ankenbauer, a gadget magnet at birth, stepped things up a few years back with a portable, battery-operated iPod dock connected to a mini-amp and speakers. We started listening to Johnny Cash (“Johnny!” someone would always shout upon hearing the first, distinctive Cash strum), the Eagles (why did they ever have to exist, those snotty, overproduced, hateful men who stole Joe Walsh from his true calling and went on to contribute one lasting thing to pop music, overpriced concert tickets, and maybe one good song, “Lying Eyes,” which is a thinly disguised, narcissistic tribute to the band’s groupie entitlement complex), and Otis what’s his name (the guy from Indiana whom Bob adores and who sings flatter than Ringo, if that’s possible). Gibbs. That’s his name. Otis Gibbs, though clearly not of the Bee Gee branch of the Gibbs family. Asking Otis to seek harmony on “Jive Talking” would be like asking a Ford mechanic to fix your Ferrari’s transmission. Unless you want that beautiful, throaty purr replaced by a grinding grate, don't.

These days, the music we listen to is Blue Toothed to us from playlists on iPhones piped into a Bose wireless speaker smaller than a breadbox but impressive at rendering music across a 20 Hz to 20 kHz spectrum. It’s just a little weird being in the woods to get away from it all and seeing someone pull out a phone and change songs without getting up from his Helinox, which is the La-Z-Boy of camp chairs. Backpacking is rapidly evolving toward the point where the Patio Boys will be, for all intents and purposes, on the patio while in the woods. We’ll need to watch that. Otherwise, what’s next, pool boys? Sloe gin fizzes? Speedos and house slippers?

Which brings be back to the rules. Without them, the Patio Boys might buy Winnebagos with trailer hitches for hauling ATVs and still think they're camping.

The Patio Boys have a rich history, dating back to the early hikes that Bob led on the Sheltowee Trace Trail through southeast Kentucky, following Daniel Boone’s footsteps across the Cumberland Plateau. We took on the name in 2005, or thereabouts, borrowing it from an insult. That’s a story for another time. Mostly, our hiking club with a drinking problem has functioned since its founding with guidelines that have been handed down orally, as I suppose Old Testament Law was handed down before various priests, profits, and scribes produced Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the like – sometimes to good end. What’s not to like about this, Deuteronomy 22:25-26?

“But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die. But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death.”

It’s hard to argue the overall sentiment, even if you oppose the death penalty. That said, itemized Deuteronomy doesn’t hold up well as a 21st Century rulebook. Consider the generational curse against bastards: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” Wow, that’s harsh. You begin to get a better sense of what a reformer Jesus actually was when he constructed a new testament built around love not law.

Mankind never seems to learn that if you start writing rules, who knows where it will stop? Proliferation propagates proliferation. Or maybe propagation proliferates propagation. Either way, rules are fruitful and multiple. First you get Leviticus, next Deuteronomy. Federal laws breed federal regulations. State statutes have chapters, sections, subsections and numbers like “KRS 186A.010.  Is that really what we want, rules upon rules, subject to interpretation, revision, and endless reproduction, like rabbits unrestrained by predators or food supply?

Our descent into rule-making started innocently enough, as anything wayward usually does. One day you take a bite of apple from a woman you didn’t even know was naked, the next day Cain, Judas, the Conferderate States, Hitler, Hiroshima, fossil fuels, junk bonds, and a pop chart song about, of all things, muskrat love, which inexplicably made one Patio Boy’s playlist. “They whirl and they twirl and they tango? Singin’ and jinglin’ a jangle?” Huh? It gets worse. Trust me. “Nibbli’n on bacon, chewin’ on cheese … Sammy says to Suisie, ‘Honey would you please be my missus?’” Listen, if we’re going to have rules, the first one should be no Captain and Tennille. As that Somali guy told Tom Hanks, “I’m the captain now.” What I say goes, and I say "Muskrat Love" cannot be removed from theplaylist fast enough.

The Ad Hoc Rules Committee got down to work after Bob posed this question: How many Patio Boys does it take to sanction a hike as an official Patio Boy hike, on which the nights out count toward your total?

It is an important question inasmuch as Bob tallies nights out and reports them to Mark McGinnis, who enters them into the official record found on www.patioboys.com. The nights out list creates a friendly competition to see whom can surpass whom.  As it stands, a night in tent only counts when it is spent in the company of the core group. But what exactly defines the core group? As Bob pointed out, there are more and more splinter trips these days. McGinnis hiked the Rocky Mountain’s Continental Divide Trail in 2014, and kindly invited all of us. No takers, so he went without us. But his trip planted with us the idea of going to the Rocky Mountain National Park in 2015, an official Patio Boys hike during which each participant accumulated four nights out. Meanwhile, McGinnis got zero nights out. Patently unfair.

Later this year, McGinnis is going to the John Muir Trail, and Jim Ankebauer is going to join him. The rest of us were invited, but declined. Meanwhile, three of us, Mark Goetz, Dave Heidrich, and me, are going to a different section of the same trail later  in the summer, accompanied by our wives. Once again, McGinnis inspired the idea and invited everyone. Once again, he stands to receive zero nights out. Goetz, Heidrich, and Neikirk will also receive goose eggs, barring a rule change.

So Bob’s question was debated, day after day, mile after mile, log after log, song after song. Maybe, he suggested, the rule should be as simple as: If three or more Patio Boys are on a hike, then that hike is a Patio Boy hike and the nights out count. But what then constitutes a Patio Boy? We have members who a lot of nights out (Bob is at 107). Others have precious few and two of those, Pots and Pansy (what a great trail name!) and Mike Murphy died after logging just two nights out. For the record, their deaths were not hiking related. Murph paid the price of military service in Viet Nam and exposure to Agent Orange, which in a Patio Boy context is especially ironic given that Agent Orange was a defoliant and hiking involves an affection and attraction to foliage. Muph hiked with us after a liver transplant, taking a few steps, then resting, then a few more steps. No one has hiked with more resolve or courage.

In the cold calculus of rule-making, Pots and Pansy and Murph are not relevant inasmuch as they can no longer accompany us, except in spirit, which the do every trip. But Walmart is anothr matter. He's a young man who has one night out and it was spent in a $1 poncho we ran into town and bought for him at Wal-Mart after a torrential rain. If he were on a trip with a couple of other one-nighters, would that be an officially sectioned Patio Boy hike? Walmart certainly put up with a lot for his one night. It was perhaps the wettest night in the history of the Patio Boys. It lives on in legend, and Walmart is part of the story. That’s cachet, is it not? But street cred wasn't making the criteria cut.

If one night out, or two, aren’t enough, then what is? Three? Ten? Twenty? Curiously, Dave Heidrich, away on a mission trip in South Africa, had found a bar with Wi-Fi and was on our same wavelength. He emailed this: “Sorry I missed what appears to have been the greatest weather in Patio Boys history. Working remotely from a hotel bar in South Africa now. Should that not count for something? Rules question: How many Patio Boys have to be on the trip for it to be an official night out- for scoring purposes? What is an ambassador?”

Clearly, there was a concern brewing internationally on this nights out question.

As for “an ambassador,” that term was being used synonymously with “super delegates.” We’ve been sadly influenced by the 2016 Presidential Primary, and the GOP’s fear that Donald Trump will need to be stopped at the summer convention. As I write this, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, two men who combined lack the looks and personality of Eeyore on the way to the glue factory, have combined forces to derail Trump, which is like putting a penny on the track. Nothing gets derailed. Something gets flattened.

There, at least, clear purpose is evident – saving the Grand Ol’ Party from a megalomaniac with no experience governing at a time of economic and military risk and social change. The Patio Boys face no such imminent threat. The GOP may be going up in flames. The only thing going up in flames for us is the occasional wet sock left too close to the fire to dry. Whatever acrid odor that might produce is not enough to put revolution in the air. We are content to be ruled by our benevolent dictator, Bob Pauly, who wears his crown with consideration of his fellow hikers. His very asking about a rules change confirmed as much for two reasons: one, he asked, and, two, the rules as they stand are to Bob’s advantage. No one will ever pass him on the nights out list. But if trips by splinter trips start counting toward nights out, the king could fall. Under the current rules, as most of us understand them, any night out that has Bob and at least one other Patio Boy is a sanctioned night out.

The ambassador idea would mean that any of us might be a sort of proxy king. That is, no Bob, no problem, so long as at least one ambassador was hiking. Or should it be two? Or even three? How many ambassadors equal one Bob? And just exactly how many nights out elevates a Patio Boy to ambassador status?

What, we asked, if Sean Hudson’s total, 48, were the minimum requirement for an ambassador? Sean was in this group from the start. A founding father. His quirks are part of our lore. He farted too much. He brought everything but the kitchen sink. No wait, he brought that, too. His dinner prep was an episode from the Food Network, and would likely involve pine nuts. His latest gear was a living version of Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award winners. His dog that ate its own waste, and then licked you with affection. A Patio Boy’s Patio Boy. That was Sean Hudson.

When we lost him to a presumed heart attack in 2013 we lost some of ourselves. A 48-night minimum for ambassadorship would be an exemplary way to commemorate Sean. And everyone under 48 would have a goal: live long enough, hike long enough to have more nights out than the quintessential Sean Hudson. Suddenly, the rules has a poetry to them.

On the discussion went, as such discussions do. Sooner or later, someone brings it back home and asks the question that should have been asked at the start: So what? Who cares how many nights out anyone has? What happened next was predictable, too. Someone asked the audit question. Has the count been confirmed? Can we trust it? Keeping numbers for fun is one thing; linking them to consequences is quite another. If one needed 48 nights out to be an ambassador, that is, to be “real” Patio Boy, then one might rightfully want assurance of an accurate count.

Let’s assume we agreed to the 48-night minimum. It would still matter how many ambassadors were on any given trip. Could two upstart Patio Boys with 24 nights each add up to one ambassador? Three divides nicely into 48, too, so may three Patio Boys with 16 nights each. And so on, ad infinitum.

Question upon questions. Complications upon complications.

And if we started making those rules, what rules would be next? Bob would surely favor a no cell phone rule, but only if it did not preclude use of a cell phone accessing his Patio Boy playlist for the Bose hour around the campfire. And some of us, who prefer crickets and gentle breezes, might want a rule that the Bose hour be indeed an hour, not five or six, as they were on this trip. Enough with the music! You start to sound like Larry David. Or Bernie Sanders. It’s hard to tell those two apart, isn’t it?

Indeed, a can of worms had been opened. Rules were being concocted left and right. Could a Patio Boy night out really be a night out if no one told a story about an old girlfriend or about Covington Catholic football? Could we ban the Eagles? Bob would ban any discussion of politics. The do’s and don’ts list could get long fast.

We began to worry about legacy. Already, three Patio Boys have gone to their eternal rest. We are nearly every one of us over 60. We cannot last forever. We need a succession plan. Sons should be involved. Daughters, too. But they’ll start at zero nights out, so if our successors were on a hike that otherwise felt like a Patio Boy hike every respect, it still would not be one if it lacked an ambassador. No eggs, no chickens. No chickens, no eggs. A Catch 22 if ever one was.

In the end, we decided: No rules. At least, nothing written and nothing added to the oral traditions long established. No Leviticus for us, much less a Deuteronomy. As His Honor Bob Pauly put it to me: “There should be no rules that are written. If they are written they could be misinterpreted.” Or worse yet, used.

So I hesitate even to share these, as the very writing of them makes then, well, written. So read this part of the essay aloud so that these rules stay oral only:

  • A Patio Boy hike involves Bob Pauly. It just does.
  • A Patio Boy hike probably involves Bill Ankenbaurer. If it does not, then it damn well better have some of the other elements. Bill is the tock to Bob’s tick. They’ve been friends for too long to permit these hikes to happen very often with Bill sidelined, as he was last year for the Rocky Mountain trip.
  • A night out is in a tent at a backpacking site. You must walk there with backpack on. Car camping won’t get you a night out. Don’t even ask.
  • Bourbon must be carried to the campsite. The more varieties the better. Range is good, bottom shelf to top shelf. They are all welcome. One day, someone will bring Pappy.
  • We’re a group. Every time we do something not as a group, we put the Patio Boys at risk of dissolution. Yes, we’ve gotten in the habit of leaving home at different times and arriving at the first campsite in mini-groups of two or three; but our optimal configuration is together. When we stray from that, you have John Curtin wandering and disoriented in the wilds of Glacier National Park, with two more nights ahead of him and in possible need of a rescue. Or a frightening night in the snows of Pine Mountain. Or a 14-mile hike on a trail in Tennessee that, if improperly followed, is a circle back to the cars and not a passage into Kentucky.
  • There is a spring trip, there is a fall trip. Each shall consist of three nights in a tent, at least two of those backcountry.
  • There is no penalty for eating Mountain House Chili Mac, although there should be. The woods would smell better during and after dinner if such a rule were implemented.
  • A good campsite had firewood, water, flat tent sites, and view. A top rated campsite is a 5, which means it has those four attributes plus something only a woman can provide.
  • The trip home involves a stop together for food, at a Sonic when possible – not because Sonic is all that great. It’s just a tradition.
  • Every log deserves a buddy. What’s that mean exactly? Who knows, but it needs to be said at least once every trip.
  • Wives are welcome. Always. Have they ever come? They have not.
  • No one sleeps two to a tent. This rule can be broken should a wife ever actually come with us. Of course, it can only be broken by the man whose wife is present.

I’m getting dangerously close to Deuteronomy now, so that’s it. The oral tradition, such as it is. The rules known but unwritten.

There is maybe one more, and it is that an account of the trip is required. Way back when, Bob took care of this with a trail journal, into which all attendees made an entry each evening around the campfire. I miss that tradition, though it was my essays and the website (built and maintained ever so graciously by Mark McGinnis -- again, how could this man not be an ambassador?) that killed off the journal. Maybe we could resurrect the journal. It and an essay are not mutually exclusive. The old journals are our Dead Sea Scrolls: original documents, beautiful in their real time capture of what was and how it was seen and shared at the time.

The journal’s resurrection pends, so I remain obligated to provide a true account of this trip, and what’s above is a portion of that account. It’s all true. Think not? Then stone me.

Bob is always telling me to write a more matter-of-fact account. Where did we go? How far did we hike? Where did we camp? What trails did we day hike? I half expect him to require me to report what color socks everyone wore. Mine were green.

I shall attempt to comply with Bob’s mandate. This was trip began on Thursday, April 14. McGinnis left early, driving to Lexington to connect with Jim Ankenbauer, who had driven up from Sarasota, where he now lives. Bob and Bill left Bob’s house in Fort Mitchell around 8:30 a.m. John Curtin was in Louisville for a business meeting, which let out around 1 p.m., whence he drove to Newtown Road in Lexington to meet John Hennessey and me. We left my house in Crescent Spring around 1:30 p.m. after our respective morning obligations. It was about six hours to Deep Creek, plus time stopped for gas, food, and urinary tracts. So Group A was on the trail (and on Facebook with a waterfall picture) by 3:38 p.m. and Group B was strapping on backpacks closer to 8:30 p.m., sharing a single bottle of Guinness before hitting the trail head.

This trail in is a boulevard for all intents and purposes. It was a bed of gravel, pressed into the dirt to make for an even walking surface. I, along with the Johns, hiked after sundown, our trail lit by a three-quarter moon supplemented the Petzl lumens, casting a faint, white light. Deep Creek, in water black in the night, plunged through the darkness beside us, alternately to our right or left, as the trail crossed over well-built pedestrian bridges. Unseen but not unheard, the little river reminded us: You’re here. You’re hiking. Welcome back to the woods.

Around 10:30 p.m., we caught a first whiff of campfire. The trail was a little rougher at this point – uphill and rocky, as if following a dry streambed for its way down the mountain, which is quite steep. One of the striking things about Deep Creek is that the mountains here are markedly more vertical than other parts of the Smokies. On the drive in, one passing view required a double-take, as the mountains were not only steep but also shorn at top of trees and soil, exposing sharp, jagged rocks as if we were back in the Rockies.

A couple of forks in the road were mildly confusing until we spotted sticks on the ground, configured as an arrow and pointing the way. Bob, ever thinking of his subjects, had placed it there, knowing we might be perplexed in the dark, as we were. The final few hundred yards were steeper yet, but this had been a short hike – under five miles. Soon enough, we could see a flicker of flame through the trees, still more bare than not with only the earliest of spring foliage. “Hudy who!’ we called, sending out the Patio Boys’ favored summons. “Hudy who!” they answered.

We stayed through Sunday, with Bob and Bill leaving before sunup so they could meet their wives in Lexington for a day of racing at Keeneland. Bill’s brother, Jim Ankenbauer, and McGinnis left next, and the last of us – the two Johns and I – left last, around 10:30 a.m., so that we might be in Bryson City, N.C., around lunch. We ate at the Derailed Café, where the local craft beer is very good, the burgers pretty good, and paninis best left on the menu.

If you want the trip by the names and numbers, it comes down to this: To get in, we took the Indian Creek Trail to Deeplow Gap Trail and set up Campsite 51, about 4 miles in. The campsite’s shortcomings notwithstanding, it placed us in proximity to ideal loops for day hikes, and we took full advantage. The first was 12 miles along the Deeplow Gap, Indian Creek, Martins Gap, Deep Creek, and Loop trails. The second was 6 miles on Deeplow Gap, Thompson Divide and the Indian Creek Motor trails. And on the last day, Sunday morning, we exited as we entered, four miles on the Indian Creek Trail to the trailhead at the Deep Creek Campground.

What’s that look like on a Fit Bit? John Curtin can tell you, rounded down:

  • 72,000 steps versus say a normal average of 28,000 steps over the same time period;
  • 33.2 miles, includes walking around campsite;
  • 29,000 calories versus say a normal 12,000---based on my personal stats; and
  • 510 floors climbed versus a normal of 50.

And just so you don’t forget, John adds: “This info is based on high-tech calculations by your favorite Silver Pops.”

There were some especially memorable moments, including conversations that did not involve whether or not to establish rules. Catholicism took a beating one night, as only true Catholics can deliver it. There is one seminarian among us, one convert, and a lot altar boys, one of whom as a 14-year-old was attracted to the girls his age who came up for communion with their eyes closed, their heads titled toward heaven, and their tongues out. Given their ages, that seems an appropriate attraction. The species has survived war and pestilence, famine and drought, disco and platform shoes because of this attraction, or its kin. Furthermore, Deuteronomy is silent on this matter of teen-age lust during mass and Deuteronomy isn’t silent on much. On a separate but related matter, I don’t know if the Catholic Church can retroactively restore altar boy status, but if it can then it might want to do so for John Hennessey, who at age 61, remains perplexed as to why he was benched as an altar boy. It was not he who looked upon the virgins with stirrings in his loins. He never had the chance, once banished from duty. “I don’t know what I did. I was a straight-A student.” A wrong could be righted, Pope Francis.

Other memories? A wild turkey stirred and flew off the side of the trail on Friday afternoon, its magnificent wings spread wide for lift-off. Birds chirped and sang each morning, as the night’s chill melted under the rising son. A very black black snake sunned itself trailside, looking about as sleek as a creature could look. A bear was reported on the exit trail, but there is good reason to believe the hikers who told us of it only saw a shadow in a hillside cave.

One of our day hikes took us to Horace Kephart’s old campsite. Mr. Kephart (1862-1931) loved these mountains, and wrote about them with an eloquence that persuaded the public, and the government, to preserve them. In “Our Southern Highlands,” published in 1913, he described what can still be seen today, including “that dreamy blue haze, like that of Indian summer intensified, that ever hovers over the mountain and forest…. It softens all outlines, and lends a mirage-like effect of great distance to objects that are but a few miles off, while those farther removed grow more and more intangible until finally the skyline blends with the sky itself.”

You start to understand how he persuaded the nation to hold on just a minute and not clearcut the hardwoods ─ something that worried Mr. Kephart immensely, as this passage demonstrates, “And yet these very mountains of Carolina are among the ancients of earth. They were old, very old, before the Alps and the Andes, the Rockies and the Himalayas were molded into their primal shapes…. And upon them today the last great hardwood forests of our country stand in primeval majesty, mutely awaiting their imminent doom.”

Their imminent doom? Let us pray not.

Mr. Kephart offers an inventory of trees, whose predecessors had graced these mountains for eons: “sycamores, elms, gums, willows, persimmons, chinquapins.” Climb higher and the mix changes to “beech, birch, basswood, magnolia, cucumber, butternut, holly, sourwood, box elder, ash, maple, buckeye, poplar, hemlock.” Elsewhere are “many species of oaks, with hickory, hemlock, pitch pine, locust, dogwood, chestnut” – that last species, the American Chestnut, now gone except where it lingers as logs in cabins built before the 20th Century blight that rendered what was once the eastern forest’s most dominant tree extinct. They were the redwoods of the East, imposing and seemingly eternal. Yet event as Mr. Kephart wrote “Our Southern Highlands” the blight was taking hold. Within 40 years, its devastation was complete and the American chestnut a memory that fewer and fewer of us have.

Mr. Kephart’s extraordinary inventory of the forest’s diversity is most amazing for being incomplete. As he puts it, “I have named only a few of the prevailing growths.” Want a rule? Here’s one. Save the forests. The Patio Boys are grandfathers now, and we feel some obligation to our little ones.

Finally, I also would like to note that we were in North Carolina at time when Bruce Springsteen was boycotting the state because of it draconian bathroom bill that was designed to dehumanize our transgender brothers and sisters who are just trying to find a little dignity on this cold, cruel earth. God knows Deuteronomy did nothing to make life easier for them over the generations. Hence the Christian fix. Odd, isn’t it that followers of Jesus 2,016 year later invoke his Gospel to revert to a Deuteronomy approach even though it was the same Gospel, the same Jesus, trying to teach us that Deuteronomy’s time had come and gone. If we had a rulebook, I suspect one rule would be no discussion of religion and this paragraph would have to go. As things stand, it’s a go.

In the end, we came out of the woods looking bad, smelling worse. So we pulled over at Deep Creek Campground's picnic shelter. One of its restrooms was marked for men, the other for women. Under North Carolina law, we would be required to use the restroom consistent with the gender of our birth. Two of us headed for the men’s restroom. One, however, headed into the women’s restroom, given that it was not in use and no would-be users were within sight.

There are three ways to consider John Hennessey’s decision. One, he was just being selfish and to hell with any woman with urinary urgency. That’s not John, so strike that one. The other was that he noticed the door’s labeling had deteriorated. It no longer spelled out “WOMEN" and half of the stick figure was missing. The half that had a dress on it. So John entered on a technicality. Maybe. But I like this explanation: Civil disobedience. Bruce boycotted to make his statement. John freshened up in the ladies room to make his.

With that, the Patio Boys took a final stand against rules that don’t need to be – and headed for home.