As we approached the overlook, I could tell something wasn’t quite right.
“What’s that sound?” my seven-year-old son, Evan, asked, stopping in the middle of the trail. I heard the noise coming from straight ahead, but I couldn’t quite place it. Was the sound coming from a bear, scratching rhythmically against a tree in the underbrush? Twigs cracking underneath a deer’s hooves?
As we edged closer, the sound took a recognizable form, the form of a top 40 hit, spraying into the woods from a speaker attached to a teenager.
“Dude,” I said.
“What’s wrong?” Evan asked.
“This is nature. It’s not supposed to have Katy Perry in it. Unless Katy Perry goes for a hike,” I said.
When I was a kid, you had to work really hard to annoy other people with your music. Boom boxes needed eight D batteries and weighed thirty-five pounds. Nature was safe, because nobody was going to drag a machine the size of a crib mattress into the woods just to shatter everyone else’s Zen.
These days, no such restrictions exist. A two-ounce Bluetooth speaker, paired with a lack of respect for social norms, can send any fauna within a three-mile radius bounding away to find peace. The flora would probably go, too, if it could.
“This is a good exercise in patience, Evan. Just ignore them and focus on the beautiful view,” I said as we walked up to the overlook, about thirty feet from the teenaged couple sitting on a second ledge, their music still blasting even after they noticed us.
“Okay, Daddy,” Evan said, enjoying the view.
“I’m super-annoyed right now,” I replied.
If nature is taken from us, there’s absolutely no place left where you can disconnect. You can’t even pump gas anymore without having ads screaming for your attention. Our local gas station just installed TV screens on all the pumps. You think you’re going to have three peaceful minutes while you help destroy the planet, but the pump has other plans.
“Here are the five stories you need to know about RIGHT NOW!” it shouted at me last week, making me jump.
“No, I don’t need to know about them,” I replied, facing my car.
“Here comes the entertainment airplane, into your brain hangar,” said the pump, using its rubbery arms to fly the screen in front of my face.
“Nuh-uh. Mm mmm,” I said, scrunching up my eyes and turning my face away.
“Loooooook at it. Loooooook. Buy things… Want stuff…. Looooook….,” it whispered, the numbers on its face turning into hypnotic spinning spirals. Looooooooooook. Thiiiings.
Anyway, I just wanted some peace out there with Evan. He had a half-day off from school and I’d taken off from work, giving us a precious, rare weekday afternoon together.
Five minutes earlier, he’d cried out: “I ate a bug!”
“Oh, that’s part of the deal with hiking. Gives you protein,” I said.
“It landed on my tongue. My tongue is the thing that killed it!” he wailed.
THAT is the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen out in the woods: miserable experiences that you’ll back on fondly later.
As the music continued blaring, I looked over at the teenagers. The girl had packed up, indicating that they would mercifully be leaving us soon.
The boy had his back to the view and was sticking out his tongue, mugging for the selfie stick that he was waving around. He tried several different poses with modified tongue angles.
The next day, the headline in our paper read: LOCAL HIKER FOUND IMPALED BY SELFIE STICK. In my imagination, anyway.
Actually, they wandered off, leaving me and Evan to enjoy the view in peace, finally.
“Thanks for taking me here,” Evan said.
And with that, everything was quite right again.
You can rock out with Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.