Sin in the Wild Outdoors, June 1997


How much is too much? I wouldn’t know.
By E. Annie Proulx

The latin gula — a hollow, gobbling word — stood for gluttony, ranked near the bottom of the seven deadly sins along with that other carnal peccatum, lust. Gula stood for the greed of the mouth, champing and bolting food, cramming in great lumps of pottage, swilling ale and spirits to the point of reel-and-roar.

Smeared on the bread of modern usage, it means excess of any kind, and applied to the world of outdoor activity we recognize a certain type: those unable to get enough of anything — endorphins, scout badges, campfire coffee.

I have two friends, Uphill Bob and Downhill Bob, who prefer to cross-country ski off-piste in the high-altitude puke zone. Their thighs resemble those of Tyrannosaurus rex, their lungs have the capacity of barrels. Up and up they go for hours, all for a brief 15-minute whirl down the steeps. (“You notice that thing back there sticking up out of the
snow? Just missed it. Sure do hate them steel fence posts. Well, let’s get back up on that ridge. Should be able to make six more runs before dark.”)

There is Ralph, the fanatic fisherman who cannot stop. He goes out on the lake with Mona to fish for perch one sweet morning. The sun hits the meridian, declines. There are 50 perch in the bottom of the canoe. The sun sets, the mosquitoes come. Poor sunburned Mona has been pissing in the worm can for five hours. The sandwiches are gone. Now they’ve caught hundreds of perch but
it doesn’t matter — Ralph won’t stop. He casts and reels; fish decay at his feet. The moon rises and Mona leaps overboard, swims for the darkling shore. Cast, reel, cast, reel …

Afflicted with true gula is the Hiking Hog, who brings roast chickens, bundles of energy bars, fruits, carrot sticks, wine, dehydrated lasagna, etc., etc., in the world’s largest backpack. The plan is a three-day hike, but inside an hour the Hog is ravenous and thirsty, and the pack is damn heavy. The chicken is eaten, two bottles of wine consumed
(to lighten the load), and so it goes half-mile by half-mile until all is gone and the choice is to turn back or catch squirrels by hand.

Stormy Weather Joe wouldn’t give up his daily jog unless a meteorite exploded directly overhead, and then only because he was incinerated. We live where the jet stream touches the earth; winter wind gusts of 75 mph are common. Stormy Joe is out there in the drifts, staggering along, quartering against the wind until it throws him down in the thistles and sagebrush. He gets up
and runs on and on. Down again. Up again. Go, Joe, go. You glutton for punishment, one day you’ll blow to Cheyenne.

There are mountain climbers who collect peaks, thrill-seeking snowboarders whose idea of living on the edge is to play avalanche tease, snowmobilers who love the loud snarl so much they break out the muffler baffles with barbecue forks, fishing rod collectors who can’t stop and whose walls are as thick with rods as an African porcupine with quills, all guilty of gluttonous
excess. Strangely related to the equipment-mad are the minimalists who exhibit a kind of negative gula by setting off into the wilderness with nothing but a book of crossword puzzles and a flint.

I myself am guilty of greed for stones and rocks. Years ago I rolled a fossilized tree stump a long distance to my parked truck and then couldn’t lift it in. This past summer I toted a 20-pound chunk of greenstone for six miles to have it for a doorstop. My youngest son likes bicycles. He has nine of them in a tiny apartment and is forced to wash his dishes while perched on the
seat of an old Raleigh.


Illustration by Jim Ludtke